In the fast-casual segment, Broomfield, Colo.-based Noodles & Company is carving out a premium niche.
The 400-unit chain, which is ranked 7th in our Top 10 Growth Chains, held an initial public offering in 2013 and has aggressive plans for growth with the goal of reaching 2,500 units over the next 15 to 20 years. In 2014, the company planned to add 42 to 50 company-owned locations and another 10 to 15 franchised units.
Noodles & Company is known for its customizable pasta dishes from around the world, from mushroom Stroganoff to spicy Indonesian peanut saute. Guests can choose their protein and sauce.
Noodles & Company chief executive Kevin Reddy often describes the concept as being in “a category of one” in a crowded fast-casual field because there are no significant competitors offering a similar menu. Developers are more likely to welcome a noodles concept as an alternative to the burger/pizza/Mexican chains that dominate the segment.
Keys to growth:
Broad appeal. Noodles & Company is popular with both families and consumers pursuing healthy active lifestyles. The menu is designed to capture kids young and keep them into adulthood -- they start with macaroni and cheese and work their way up as they grow to more exotic offerings. The menu is also popular with those with specific dietary needs, from vegan to gluten-free, because of the customizable selections.
Off-premises strategy. To-go orders account for about 35 percent of Noodles & Company sales, and the chain is rolling out a form of catering with the offer of larger “square bowls” that serve five to 15, which can be combined with salads and desserts.
Atmosphere. Guests order at a counter at Noodles & Company, but meals are delivered to tables on real china, which has helped build Noodles’ strength at the dinner daypart, in particular. In the evenings, the dining room is manned by a host/hostess who will get a second drink, offer dessert or coffee or tea. “You enjoy some of the benefits of sit-down, casual dining,” said Reddy at a recent analyst presentation. “We like to upserve rather than upsell.”
Seasoned senior team. In terms of unit count, Noodles has grown by at least 10 percent each year since it was founded in 1995, and the executive team has deep experience with growing brands. Both Reddy and president and chief operating officer Keith Kinsey are alums of both Chipotle Mexican Grill and McDonald’s, for example.