Former Fridays President Set to Crack Growth at Eggs Up Grill
Eggs Up Grill CEO Ricky Richardson.
Ricky Richardson really enjoys growth. He spent “a couple decades” at TGI Fridays, helping grow the brand from five to more than 900 in various roles, being named president in 2016. But instead of a second act at a legacy chain, managing other executives in a flat- to negative-growth concept, he’s eager to jump back into start-up mode at Eggs Up Grill.
The concept with about 35 locations started in Pawleys Island, South Carolina, back in 1997. It grew slowly, but lately has caught the wave of breakfast fanaticism. It was acquired by private equity firm WJ partners in 2018 and has been primed for growth, including by bringing Richardson on board.
“Obviously, I saw a ton of growth opportunity, that was one of the things that really attracted me to it,” said Richardson. “I purposefully chose not to get into a legacy brand; I love the industry and being close to where the action is. I wanted to bring my background someplace to help with growth.”
The breakfast segment is growing by leaps and bounds. Eggs Up franchisees like the relative simplicity of the execution, they like the roughly $900,000 AUVs and the industry is nowhere near as saturated as other food segments.
“Analytically, the breakfast space has a lot of interest to me. There’s only really a handful of major players,” said Richardson.
But what drew him to Eggs Up Grill was the serious love for the brand he saw as he started investigating.
“Our franchisees are almost exclusively folks who ate at an Eggs Up and wanted to bring it back go their community,” said Richardson. “You get that local connection and that community relationship driven by the franchise owner. The authenticity and the sincerity of that kind of service is really distinctive. You can get a lot of quality service out of chain restaurants and big brands, but a lot you don’t get the authenticity and the sincerity of it. It’s more like robotic service.”
He said that does pose a welcome challenge to find the franchisees who are authentic and community minded. As franchise operations grow larger and larger, it can get difficult to find growth-minded folks to look beyond the profit and loss statement.
“You have to make sure your selection process is really smart and diligent. It’s not just growth for growth's sake; it’s really being open and honest about what works and what makes this brand successful. It’s the brand and the local connection,” said Richardson.
Of course, there’s still room for those multi-unit operators that everyone else is hoping sign up. In fact, three recent deals have been with larger operators with more than a handful of restaurants.
“We’ve got a multi-unit Zaxby’s franchisee that opened Florida for us in December. He’s been in Zaxby’s for a decade, all he talked about was that local store connection,” said Richardson. “That will continue to be our DNA and our soul, that will continue. I think the ideal franchisee from a multi-unit perspective, it’s not just pure balance-sheet franchisees, it’s gotta be someone who shares that energy and passion for the restaurant industry and understands the role of having a great team in place that shares that culture, too.”
But one of the best perks, Richardson said, is the limited hours of the brand. Eggs Up Grill is open 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., which helps a lot in to get franchisee interest, but also hire and retain staff.
“What surprised me about the hours, was the team member recruitment side. The same flexibility and lifestyle component also appeals to franchise partners also helps recruit a really good team,” said Richardson. “There’s a number of folks that have multiple jobs, having this kind of flexibility but also certainty that I’m only working the breakfast and lunch day part, that gives them the flexibility to take on another shift at another restaurant because they have certainty with us.”
Richardson said the company is looking to open about 18 locations in 2020 with more than 20 coming online in 2021.