Nation's Restaurant News: What Craveworthy Brands Looks for During its Acquisition Process

Craveworthy Brands, Kim DeCarolis, Acquisitions, Growth, Restaurant Franchising, Franchising, Fast Casual, QSR, Brand Growth

Craveworthy Brands was recently featured on Nation's Restaurant News.

It’s safe to say that Craveworthy Brands has hit the ground running since its formation in early 2023. The restaurant group, founded by FG Financial and former Jimmy John’s CEO Gregg Majewski, has since added over a dozen brands to its portfolio, including three legacies (Genghis Grill, BD’s Mongolian Grill and Flat Top Grill), six emerging concepts (Wing It On!, The Budlong Southern Chicken, Krafted Burger Bar + Tap, Soom Soom, Dirty Dough and Sigri Indian BBQ), and three virtual brands (Lucky Cat Poke Co., Scramblin’ Ed’s and Pastizza).

In May, the company acquired Untamed Brands, parent company of taim Mediterranean Kitchen and Hot Chicken Takeover, while earlier this month the company opened its first food hall showcasing its brands.

Don’t expect this collection pace to slow down anytime soon. During a recent interview, Kim DeCarolis, senior vice president of strategic growth, said there’s really no limit for the company’s growth. That’s because there are plenty of brands out there that could benefit from being a part of a platform company, leveraging resources and scale to create a more favorable four-wall proposition and position themselves for eventual growth. This is Craveworthy’s ultimate strategy, with an objective of “making the customers and franchisees happy.” 

“We are collecting brands that maybe got forgotten. We put them in our portfolio and give them the Craveworthy cycle – update tech, bring in some other concepts we’ve created – virtual kitchens – just as another way of revenue, and we really bring a resurgence for these concepts. It’s been super fun and attractive,” DeCarolis said.

Of course, integrating so many brands comes with unique challenges – disparate tech stacks, contracts, histories, for instance. But Craveworthy explicitly seeks out concepts that may need a little push – that  resurgence piece.

“These concepts are looking for what we can offer – support, guidance, our training team, marketing, digital can be a breath of fresh air. Operationally, we’re super strong,” DeCarolis said. “Then, once they come on board, it’s about cleaning up the house.”

She said Genghis Grill is the perfect example of what such a “resurgence” looks like under the Craveworthy umbrella. The stir fry concept, founded in 1998, has closed nearly a dozen locations since 2019 while sales have dropped by over $10 million in that timeframe, according to Technomic data. Craveworthy has begun “re-concepting” Genghis Grill to be more of a fast casual model – “if Chipotle and Panda Express had a baby,” as DeCarolis describes – while moving away from the buffet-style.

“There’s not a lot of competition when it comes to create-your-own stir fry style, so we’ve created that to be much more friendly for people to create what they want, and also for franchisees to have a low barrier of competition around them,” she said.

The first such location recently opened just outside of Ohio State University’s campus in Columbus, Ohio, and has generated plenty of excitement, according to DeCarolis. 

Of course, Craveworthy isn’t re-concepting all of its brands, but it is very particular when deciding which ones to add. Aside from looking for brands that may need a little push, another consideration is cuisine type. DeCarolis said it’s important to have variety so when franchisees come on board or grow, they can stay within the company while diversifying their own portfolios.

“They know how we operate, how we train, and then when they’re interested in opening another location it’s not a problem – would you like tacos, burgers, hot chicken? We have that for them,” she said. “We’re able to put a Dirty Dough into a pizza concept and they split a wall and are utilizing the real estate they have and there’s two revenue channels and two concepts … and more reasons for people to come in.”

Craveworthy is also bullish on its virtual brands to help generate more four-wall revenue, despite some ebbing in the category. DeCarolis said that’s because the company maintains full control of the concepts.

“Our virtual kitchens will only live within Craveworthy. They will never live with any other concept, so we have the ability to control guest experience, the product, quality and we know the staff that’s making it,” she said.

Once Craveworthy’s brands are integrated and their houses “cleaned up,” then unit count growth becomes more feasible. To achieve such growth, Craveworthy is focused more on stores open versus stores sold.

“You can’t build on something that’s broken, so ensuring tech, operations, financials are in line, then it’s development and growth. Growing intentionally is top of mind, so we do it right,” DeCarolis said. “It’s important for us to build a platform company that services these brands that can quickly turn them over to grow them, to grow franchisees, then also be big logos in the sky that everyone wants to eat at.”


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