(Ambrosio’s note: Welcome to Franchise Chatter’s newest bonus series for Platinum subscribers, Why Invest. Inspired by our very popular Fro-Yo Files, this new series will go beyond frozen yogurt to provide exclusive coverage of the larger franchise universe — including everything from pizza chains to massage concepts — and impart useful information and advice straight from franchise insiders.
Today’s post is the first of three parts. Stay tuned for Part 2, where we introduce multi-unit franchisee Brad Chasteen, to be posted tomorrow.)
There’s Nothing Slo-Mo about the Growth of Moe’s Southwest Grill Under the Leadership of President Paul Damico, Who’s Also a Chef
In the ever-evolving, always-adapting franchise food industry that has competitors constantly battling to gain and maintain market share, Moe’s Southwest Grill has a secret weapon: President Paul Damico is not only a savvy executive with a wealth of experience in the business realm, he is also a bona fide chef. As the company strives to gain ground against Chipotle, the leading competitor in the fast-casual Mexican category, Damico’s culinary degree from Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island is being put to good use.
He oversees every aspect of running the company, including the secretive test kitchens at Moe’s headquarters in Atlanta, a city known more for peaches and pecan pies than Southwest cuisine. Staying on top of new products and flavors is crucial to Moe’s Southwest Grill, which has built its brand around serving the best tasting, freshest, healthiest Mexican food possible.
“One of the first things I focused on when I joined the company four and a half years ago was the food,” Damico said in an interview with Franchise Chatter. “The success of any restaurant brand is really the food. Everybody really has their favorite dive and it could be a broken shed, but if it’s chef-driven and the food is over the top, (customers) will come. Having a culinary degree helps me stay very close to what we do.”
Damico, 48, has spent his entire career in the food service industry, working for companies such as Creative Host Services, FoodBrand LLC, and the restaurant division of Marriott.
Brand Based on Preservative-Free Food
Since Damico joined Moe’s in 2008, the franchisor has embarked on what has been termed its “Food Mission.” The menu “boasts all-natural, cage-free, white breast meat chicken; steroid-free, grain-fed pulled pork; 100% sirloin, grass-fed steak; and organic tofu,” according to the company website. You won’t find trans fats, MSG, or even microwaves at a Moe’s. And while flavor is important, it’s the “green” ingredients — with an emphasis on sustainability — that help differentiate the chain from others in the fast-casual sector.
All the burritos, tacos, quesadillas, nachos, salads, and fajitas are made to order and each customer customizes an entree to his or her tastes by choosing from more than 27 fresh ingredients, including handmade guacamole and pico de gallo. Low-calorie options and plenty of choices for vegetarians are also important to Moe’s marketing.
The Mexican sub-segment is the second largest among fast-casual restaurants and it’s among the fastest growing. Sales for Mexican concepts included in Technomic’s most recent Top 150 Fast-Casual Restaurant Chains hit $5 billion, a 13.5 percent increase over 2010’s $4.3 billion in sales. Moreover, Moe’s has captured the third-largest market share, behind Chipotle and Qdoba Mexican Grill.
And while the quality of the ingredients is one way Moe’s is differentiating itself from competitors, there are four other strong factors that help it stand out in the crowd, Damico said, so that it can continue capturing what he calls its “share of the stomach.”
Moe’s List of Differentiators