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How to win the marketplace, according to Zunzi’s CEO

The CEO of the two-unit sandwich franchise has an idea of how restaurants can win with loyal customers — and it’s not a superior product.


Chris Smith became a Five Guys franchisee right out of college, and for his whole professional career has been reminded of one very simple truth about restaurants.

“The restaurant business sucks,” Smith said.

These days, as owner and CEO of Savannah, Georgia-based sandwich concept Zunzi’s, Smith is out to make it suck a little less.

“Our vision statement is ‘the restaurant business sucks; we're here to change it,’” he said. “The restaurant business is tough. It doesn't mean I don't love the restaurant business. … It's really funny, when you're hiring and you say that, people laugh and they go, ‘Yeah, it does.’

You're immediately aligning with your applicants, and you're saying … here's what we're doing to fix these things.”

At Zunzi’s, which has two units open, Smith and his team are determined to make all stakeholders — from vendors to investors and employees to guests — feel more invested in the success of the business by making everything better, easier, more enjoyable — less, well, sucky.

And for guests, that starts with creating an unforgettable experience.

“If you can elicit a feeling with your product and make someone feel better than when they got there, you're going to win the marketplace,” he said.

Smith joined the latest episode of Take-Away with Sam Oches to talk more about how Zunzi’s is creating an experience that doesn’t suck, how its hybrid bar concept has tripled average unit volumes, and what this all looks like at scale as Zunzi’s franchises across the Southeast.

In this conversation, you’ll find out why: 

  • You should go all in on the aspects of your business where there’s brand equity
  • You can win the marketplace if you elicit a feeling from your customers
  • Bar service can be a win even for fast casuals
  • The restaurant business sucks, and any way you can fix it creates value for your stakeholders 
  • You can’t pay someone enough to be in the restaurant business; you have to give them something more
  • A simple, streamlined menu will allow you to focus on your experience

Contact Sam Oches at [email protected].

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