During a lecture, Mark Twain once lamented, “I find that the further I go back, the better things were…” While his remark was reserved for an unrelated aspect of societal development, the sentiment surely applies when considering certain dining concepts deploying fast delivery of processed foods from servers who regard their customers as just another number as opposed to their name. The modern era has seen many companies compromise on taste as well as the human touch in the want to make a buck, but thankfully, there is one brand whose current success and future fortitude, has been assured due to its adherence to seemingly old-fashioned values involving flavor, friendly service and operational finesse indicative of an era in the way-back-when. And while that has proven popular with diners, for entrepreneurs seeking a path to business security, here’s a brand that knows the way – back and forward.
With more than 80 existing locations, another 100 under development and an expanding international presence, Jake’s Wayback Burgers has achieved franchising distinction by not only designing a dining concept that caters to consumers’ cravings for fresh, flavorful hamburgers, hot dogs, salads and milkshakes, but also by creating a hospitable service environment exceedingly greater than that typically imparted among fast food, yet much more affordable than what is usually found among casual dining destinations. Jake’s Wayback Burgers is a novelty in a niche of its own creation.
Jake’s was launched more than 22 years ago by John Carter, a Certified Public Accountant who saw his prospects in serving business on the decline and determined to develop his own enterprise. In ruminating over potential recourses, he was smitten by nostalgia, nuanced by his recollections of a time in his youth when he worked at a burger joint. He reflected on the fun he once had interacting with the customers, the casual atmosphere and the simple, yet succulent joy that resonates in the repast of a good cheeseburger and chocolate milkshake (any good milkshake for that matter). The flavors, the fixtures, the friendliness all seemed like something of a time bygone too soon, so Carter, so inspired, decided to open his own place, occupying 900 square-feet right off of Route 273 in Newark, Delaware, which he branded as Jake’s Burgers.
While fast food alternatives abounded, there wasn’t much in the way of fresh hamburger concepts during this time. Carter’s business model relied on a menu comprised of fresh ingredients and a fresh approach to service with customers being greeted at the door, having their menu selections served to them at a table and actually hearing thanks for their business before leaving. While he initially served hamburgers and hot dogs, he eventually expanded into fresh salads which appealed more to feminine appetites of the time. Always quick to respond to customer requests, the menu soon expanded into other offerings for the less-carnivorous and calorie-conscious, such as Veggie Burgers and Turkey Burgers. For the 40-days affiliated with Easter Lent, his menu highlighted a specially made fish sandwich. After that first April, patrons began to inquire what the next monthly special would be, and in turn, Carter created what has since become the highly anticipated “Burger of the Month.” Each month, Jake’s Wayback Burgers prepares a distinctive delight in a burger and milkshake combo quite unlike one may have ever imagined. For example, the “Burger of the Month” at the time of this writing involves avocado, tomato, Swiss cheese, cucumber and onions, aka The Californian Burger, and it is served with Jake’s famous hand-dipped distinction in a Very Cherry Chocolate milkshake. There are many operations that want to tout their triumphs in tastes to tantalize their customers, but Jake’s Wayback has consistently earned validation from some of the most discerning appetites with understanding of what makes for edible appeal. The epicurean aficionados of Zagat have described Jake’s Wayback Burgers in terms of “great” and “you will be amazed.” From being called the best hamburgers in Delaware by readers of Delaware Today to “the Best” in Maryland and Philadelphia by readers of Trip Advisor, time and time again, Jake’s Wayback has earned enviable acclaim for its appetizing allure. To be sure, it isn’t just the hamburgers and milkshakes, there’s plenty other items of unique appeal, from the Chili-Cheese Dogs and Buffalo Bleu Crispy Chicken to House Made Chips and Irish (yes, Irish) Nachos.
All food is also prepared in a kitchen area that is actually exposed to the dining area. This not only compels the mandate for cleanliness, but consumers can actually see and take comfort in that cleanliness – something else sorely missing among other establishments.
Carter had grown Jake’s to encompass eight locations throughout Delaware, and later, with prodding from a few consultants, he transitioned to a franchise and opened four more locations. By 2007, Carter realized that it was becoming increasingly impossible to manage operations all on his own. In order to go national, he was going to need help, and fortunately, he found help from a dynamic duo with distinctive expertise in franchise development.
Triumph in Teamwork
John Eucalitto was a highly successful area developer formerly affiliated with Blimpie before he began working with Bill Chemero, a franchise developer formerly affiliated with Figaro’s Italian Pizza. Both of these men left off from their initial, substantial successes to join forces and impart success to a little operation known as Edible Arrangements. Eucalitto and Chemero, serving respectively as Vice President of Operations and Vice President of Franchising, helped Edible Arrangements expand from 16 locations to more than 753 locations within a period of 33 months (try arranging that!). These two men ultimately decided to partner with Carter, and as proof of their ability to make lightning strike twice, they have since taken Jake’s from 12 units to what is today just shy of 200 locations. In fact, there could be many more were it not for the careful, conscious conservatism espoused by Chemero.
He will say that he definitely wants to see the company grow, and it is, but Chemero explains that the growth has not been prompted by any approach to quickly sell as many franchises as possible, rather by striving to assure the successful operation of each link in the chain. He ascribes to quality over quantity, and says, “A franchise development team is only as successful as the operational team is … our goal is to help franchisees get opened and keeping them successful. If everyone is making money and everyone is happy with the corporate relationship, it is easy to sell… we’re just a link in the chain, but our business is successful because we’ve been able to deliver on everything we say we’ll do,” says Chemero.
To his point, happy franchisees have a way of helping sell the franchise to new candidates, and so do happy customers. Chemero says almost half of the inquiries received about franchising come from customers who were so happy with their experience at Jake’s Wayback Burgers, they want to become owners.
Unlike many franchises, Chemero says he resists most of those inquiries that involve multiple-unit area investment. He encourages them to simply open one, try it on for size so to speak, grow it to success, and then, maybe, consider multiple ownership. “Lots of companies don’t want to deal with the guy only interested in opening one location, but we prefer it. That’s the way we’ve grown, buy one, see how it goes, and later go from there. Our philosophy is slow and steady,” says Chemero, adding that there have been exceptions, yet these are rare.
In terms of potential franchisees, Chemero says his team looks for a person with strong people skills. “We can teach anyone how to cook a burger or ring a register, but people skills are not easily taught. We’re looking for people with leadership skills, management or human resources experience, someone you would enjoy going to dinner with.”
The company conducts a thorough interview and review of candidate application prior to making any determinations. They consider the skills the candidate can utilize, the rationale for going into the restaurant business and all the candidate can offer the system in a process that has less to do with financial position, but the candidate’s personality. Chemero says one need not necessarily have a background in restaurant trade, and he prefers that they don’t. “That way, there are no bad habits we have to break. If they don’t have preconceived methodologies, they’re less likely to tinker with our recipe,” he says.
Investment in Jake’s Wayback Burger can range from $250,000 to $300,000, and candidates should have at least $100,000 liquid, allowing the rest to be financed. This results in a turnkey process. The company commands divisional teams that assist in every aspect involving the successful opening and operation of the business that basically never stops. That process begins with a discovery day meeting in Connecticut where candidates are exposed to activities that go on a day to day basis. Upon approval by executive review, the candidate is actually encouraged to retain an attorney before signing an agreement. Chemero says the company insists on clear, accurate understanding of all being agreed to, and while some companies may discourage this practice, it is a mandate of Jake’s Wayback. Franchisees are then treated to the full range of support deployed by the company. A real estate team assists in site selection/location and John Eucalitto personally visits each site before approving, to ensure visibility good traffic patterns, adequate parking, and more. The real estate team assists with all real estate negotiations and permitting requirements as well.
Dimensionally, Jake’s Wayback Burgers relies on 1,500 to 2,000 square-feet of operational space. A construction team assists with all aspect necessary to build-out and installations. Prior to opening, an in-house marketing team creates marketing initiative customized for the location, using anything from newspapers and magazines to television and radio. The company also deploys Internet tools which not only assist in marketing, but allow customers to place orders via a website for convenient pick-up on location. A training team is deployed to provide hands-on before and through the opening, and afterward, representatives maintain constant contact which essentially begins with asking, “How can we help you?”
As Chemero says, the company strives to ensure each franchisee is operating as successful as possible. He says the company relies on a fire-fighter type of mentality, looking for whatever can go wrong, before it goes wrong. “It is easier to put out a brush fire than a forest fire… we anticipate and correct problems before they grow into a big problem.”
As far as eliminating problems, Jake’s Wayback Burgers has also secured numerous, strategic supply relationships which also offer convenient and affordable solutions for franchisees. Those partnerships include support from industry leaders such as Lamb Weston, a supplier of potato-based products such as French fries, onion rings and potato chips in a variety of flavors. From Wolverine Packing Company’s supply of burgers and East Baking Co. supply of bread to Well’s Dairy distinctive blend of ice cream, Micros development of an enterprise POS system, and Sysco’s support in distribution, the leadership of Jake’s Wayback Burger has created a business model that eliminates all the guess work in terms of sourcing supplies and resources.
By focusing on the success of their franchisees, Jake’s Wayback has achieved a success rate that rivals any in their industry. Chemero says it has taken a group effort to accomplish all that the company has achieved, and he expresses optimism for further growth. “It definitely appears that we’ve been discovered,” he says, which is another reflection of their success. And these are certainly successful times, as new openings throughout America are complemented by new openings coming to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and 26 other countries.
By focusing on good food, great service and consistent support to strengthen franchisee success, look to Jake’s Wayback to move way forward and beyond.
For more information, please visit their website at: Jake’s Wayback Burgers
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