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(Ambrosio’s note: Moe’s Southwest Grill is one of the leading players in today’s fastest growing segment of the restaurant industry: Fast Casual Mexican. Moe’s recently selected the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) as its new charitable partner after its franchise owners noticed a trend of people with diabetes frequenting their restaurants regularly because of the brand’s health-conscious, customizable menu. Realizing that the partnership made perfect sense, executives at the corporate office in Atlanta listened to the restaurant owners and named JDRF as its primary charity in August 2011. Learn more about this charitable initiative and other unique aspects of Moe’s business from its President, Paul Damico. Thank you, Paul, for taking the time to share with us what makes Moe’s so special!)
Paul Damico was named president of Moe’s Southwest Grill in May of 2008, right after Moe’s was acquired by FOCUS Brands from Raving Brands. Paul joined Moe’s from SSP America, formerly known as Creative Host Services, Inc., where he was the chief operating officer responsible for the operations of 42 airport properties in North America, Canada, and the Caribbean for this 170 unit restaurant concessions company. Prior to that, Paul was co-founder and vice president of operations and concept development for FoodBrand, LLC, a leading foodservice operator focused on restaurants and food courts. He spent 13 years in various roles with Host Marriott Service Corporation prior to joining FoodBrand.
Before coming on board with Moe’s, Paul was part of the FOCUS Brands family as a Cinnabon and Carvel franchisee, so he knew FOCUS was a good company that would work well for Moe’s.
Franchice Chatter (FC): What made you decide to join Moe’s Southwest Grill as its President?
Paul Damico (PD): I decided to join the company as its President because I have such a high level of passion for the brand. Moe’s had grown at an unbelievable rate through the first seven years of operation, and I was excited to come on board and help bring the brand to the next level. Moe’s had grown so fast that they were playing catch-up. We needed to settle down and put some processes in place to stabilize the company.
The Moe’s concept is unique and compelling and has an extremely dedicated consumer following. I was thrilled to come on board with this growing brand to help make it not only a consumer favorite, but a sustainable model for all of our franchisees.
PD: Moe’s offers a highly differentiated brand in the fastest growing segment of the restaurant industry: Fast Casual Mexican. The Franchisor provides a best in class support team, extensive training, innovative marketing, and an evolving menu that delivers the latest culinary trends, healthful offerings, and quality ingredients.
And did I mention it’s not a stuffy, boring, corporate brand? Our franchisees love the brand culture which embraces the idea of being yourself.
FC: What qualities are you looking for in a prospective franchisee? Is there a particular type of person who would not make a good franchisee of Moe’s Southwest Grill?
PD: When speaking with potential candidates, we seek individuals with integrity, intelligence, energy, loyalty, and leadership attributes. We’re very particular in selecting new franchise owners. Of the 2,700 inquiries we received last year, we only signed 70. We need to protect our brand, so we carefully select only the best candidates.
At the outset of the signing process, we ask if prospective franchisees have the financial qualifications to open their own Moe’s. Most
of them do. We also ask if they have experience in franchising and, more specifically, experience in the restaurant business. We’re always targeting successful multi-unit operators who want to add Moe’s to their portfolios.
PD: When selecting sites, we look for strong anchored centers or high visibility convenience centers that offer strong retail synergy. Moe’s thrives in areas with strong activity near schools, theatres, parks, hospitals, and sports facilities.
When breaking into new markets, we’ve found it best to open several restaurants quickly so we can advertise efficiently. We have been less successful opening just one or two restaurants in a new market.
FC: Based on your observations, what concrete steps do your most successful franchisees take in order to build and grow their businesses?
PD: It sounds simple enough but success with Moe’s is all about finding the right location, hiring the right people, holding your team accountable for excellent quality, service, and cleanliness and getting out into your market and supporting your community. It definitely makes a difference when a Franchise Partner invests in marketing within the first 90 days of opening and continues to execute a strategic marketing plan year round.
I think sometimes Franchise Partners have a hard time getting outside of their restaurant to grow their business. The goal of a Franchise Partner should be to build a trustworthy infrastructure that enables him or her to step out from behind the line, focus on the big picture, and make strategic business decisions that will take their restaurant to the next level. It’s important that Franchise Partners have the ability to become the mayor of the community and get their business involved in the organizations that matter most to the neighbors they serve.
PD: When a prospective Franchise Partner begins the process of joining the Moe’s family, they will have the opportunity to review our FDD which includes valuable information about the earning potential with Moe’s. I also always encourage people who are interested in owning a Moe’s to speak with existing Franchise Partners to learn even more. We gladly make as much information as possible available to prospects so they can make an informed decision.
FC: Moe’s recently selected the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) as your new charitable partner. Can you tell us about your process for choosing a charitable partner that makes sense for your brand?
PD: Moe’s selected the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) as the company’s new charitable partner after many of our franchise owners noticed a trend of people with diabetes frequenting Moe’s because of the health-conscious, customizable menu.
We already had several franchisees supporting JDRF on a local level, and we realized that the systemwide partnership made perfect sense. We are thrilled to have a national partner that our franchise partners can support locally. While we have plans to conduct a systemwide fundraising effort, Franchise Partners who wish to take it to the next level can work with their local JDRF chapter and support their neighborhood JDRF Walk to Cure Diabetes.
PD: We’re encouraging both franchisees and customers to participate in local events happening throughout the country. At the same time, we are communicating our national partnership to our customers by including the JDRF message on both the regular and large drink cups and on signage at the register.
To get our corporate team emotionally invested, we formed a team for the Atlanta Walk to Cure Diabetes and are walking on behalf of local 15 year old lacrosse player Nick Ronn who lives with type 1 diabetes. We hosted a kick-off event and Nick was able to speak to the team about his struggle and get everyone excited about fundraising. Similarly, we presented to our Franchise Partners and General Managers at our annual Regional Meetings to educate them on the cause and the complications of type 1. We continue to celebrate local fundraising efforts in our quarterly internal newsletter as well.
FC: Is there anything else that you’d like to share with us about Moe’s Southwest Grill?
PD: There is a great deal of momentum building behind this young and exciting brand. We’ve recently introduced a new prototype, a new creative platform, a new menu board and we have a pipeline of over 250 restaurants waiting to open. Interest is building in both international and non-traditional spaces and our Franchise Partners are more engaged than ever. Both the category and the segment are growing wildly and our fans are very vocal about their love and loyalty toward Moe’s.
All of that to say, I’m excited that I joined the team when I did and I look forward to welcoming new employees and new Franchise Partners to the Moe’s family.