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Smiling Moose proud of what it’s not


Giant menu boards at Smiling Moose Rocky Mountain Deli tout sophisticated ingredients.

Close your eyes and imagine “tasting the Rockies.”

Speedboats, bonfires and deliciously cheap, canned beer come to mind, but one Colorado-based franchise is looking to shift those visions significantly upscale.

If Smiling Moose Rocky Mountain Deli succeeds with its dramatic expansion plans, evoking John Denver’s beloved mountain range will include high-brow flavors like cranberry chipotle mayo, lemon pesto, sriracha lime and red onion marmalade.

Led by Susan Daggett, a franchising veteran with experience at Burger King, Arby’s and the Einstein Noah Restaurant Group, Smiling Moose Rocky Mountain Deli is looking to expand from its current stable of 18 delis in the Dakotas, Montana, Wisconsin, Texas, Wyoming and its home state of Colorado.

Since joining the company in 2013 with a mandate to grow, Daggett has directed her swelling corporate staff to improve the menu, build a new website, beef up back-office technology and even tweak the name—adding Rocky Mountain to further differentiate its offerings from more traditional New York-style delis.

“We’re not a New York deli,” she said. “It really creates this great juxtaposition for us from a menu perspective—it’s really about bold, adventurous flavors served in a welcome, mountain town deli kind of environment. We don’t think anybody owns that space right now, and we think Rocky Mountain Deli gives us flexibility in how we define and grow the concept.”

Daggett cited the new Wicked Wasabi Tuna sandwich—one of 20 new menu items rolling out this year—as an example of how Smiling Moose attempts to create an upscale experience.

“How do you elevate a traditional tuna salad sandwich to something reminiscent of fine dining?” she asked. “You think of ahi and wasabi, so we created a sandwich with house-made tuna salad, cucumber, arugula and our own wasabi mayo—we differentiate ourselves from the competition with the boldness of our sandwiches.”

With hot and cold sandwiches, several salads, a kid’s menu and all-day breakfast, the company also has Create Your Adventure skillets that allow guests to fashion their own meals.

“We serve all dine-in skillets in a cast iron skillet thereby creating a campy kind of atmosphere,” Daggett said. “We were a pioneer in the customization arena and, while we are tremendously proud of our signature entrees, we are happy to provide our guests with exactly what they want if they want to create their own adventure.”

Smiling Moose

Smiling Moose’s new design is an intentional contrast to New York-style delis.

Smiling Moose’s hot sandwiches have meat that’s heated on a grill, rather than a steam oven, and are finished off in a toaster to create a “multi-sensory experience” that customers can smell and hear as they’re eating or waiting in line.

Beyond creating memorable menu items, part of the new menu’s goal was reducing the cost of goods sold by 2 percent.

Following two years in “a fairly passive mode,” Daggett said the company is now ready to implement a long list of customer-facing and back-office changes that were developed through market research and reaching out to existing franchisees.

“We’re now in the proof of concept and we’re ready to launch growth,” she said. “Our infrastructure focused on repositioning the brand, the name change, a new iconic logo, but it also includes website infrastructure enhancements, a new POS based in the cloud and social media and PR efforts.”

The company has seen recent growth through existing franchisees, particularly in Texas and North Dakota, but also gains a number of leads from its flagship location in Edwards, Colorado, the original location surrounded by mountains, encapsulating the chain’s overall branding.

“We plan to actively start marketing for prospective franchisees, and that will come from a lot of places—membership and participation in the IFA, social and digital marketing,” Daggett said. “And it will involve hiring somebody who has the experience and time to dedicate to franchise sales 100 percent.”

In recent months, Smiling Moose transitioned to a flat franchise fee of $25,000 per unit, eliminating a previous sliding-scale format, and is focused on a “very aggressive” goal of reaching 100 stores in 2020.

The new restaurant concept was created with the expertise of Denver-based D+i Creative, and Daggett said the outside eyes were particularly helpful to avoid an over reliance on “sacred cows.”

The new design is an intentional contrast against traditional New York delis, without being too Colorado-centric to fit in outside of the mountainous west. Key elements include extensive use of natural materials like wood, iron piping and steel accents, energetic pops of colors, wood tables accented with tree images, menu boards hung by carabiners, boot prints leading guests to order, and interactive topographical maps inviting guests to plot their next outdoor adventure.

“It’s an exciting time to be president,” Daggett said of the cumulative changes. “We paid attention to a lot of details that would evoke an image without being too strong.”

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