Peaking at the Right Time
Randy Dewitt, CEO, Front Burner Restaurants
Headquarters: Addison, Texas
Type of business: Casual-dining (Twin Peaks)
Number of units: 36 Twin Peaks restaurants in 16 states
Restaurant veteran Randy Dewitt has found his calling in the sports-bar segment of the casual dining industry. The former Brinker International executive founded Rockfish Seafood Grill in 1998, and served as CEO until 2008 when it was sold to a group of private equity firms. He is moving full speed ahead with a second brand, called Twin Peaks, which he and fellow restaurateur Scott Gordon launched in 2005.
Serving up comfort food and drinks (including an extensive selection of draft beer, poured ice cold at 29 degrees) in a mountain sports lodge-styled environment, Twin Peaks is equally well known for its cadre of young, attractive waitresses in revealing uniforms (think short shorts and equally brief red plaid tops). The brand has been rapidly garnering loyalty among the male set with its "Eats-Drinks-Scenic Views" mantra, and Dewitt and Gordon are busy expanding it under the parenting umbrella of Front Burner Restaurants.
With 36 locations and counting, Twin Peaks' timing appears to be spot on. The chain was named Franchisee of the Year in 2011 by the International Franchise Association, and recently awarded a weighty franchise territory to GT Hospitality Restaurant LLC, which will build 16 units in Kentucky, Ohio and Virginia over a seven-year period. The company has mapped an expansion strategy that follows a 25%/75% company-owned/franchised ratio.
Chain Store Age senior editor Katherine Boccaccio talked with Dewitt about the Twin Peaks brand, its marketing tactics and what it will take to build a national presence.
How exactly did you come up with the Twin Peaks idea?
They say 'necessity is the mother of invention' and I needed to close a seafood restaurant that was underperforming. I knew a talented operator, Scott Gordon, who was willing to start up a new concept with me. The idea for Twin Peaks came from my curiosity about the success of Hooters. They dominated the category of sports bars with an all-female staff, and yet neither Scott nor I were fans. So I began to think about how to do it better. We knew there were others like us who would want a better atmosphere and higher-quality food. We thought, 'What would a guy's ideal man-cave be like?'
What was the next step?
We chose a hunting lodge theme, and everything fell into place around that. We went to work creating the systems and procedures to ensure Twin Peaks would have the most attractive Twin Peaks Girls, teeth-chattering cold beer, made-from-scratch food, and state-of-the-art audio/visual equipment. Oh, and the name Twin Peaks? That was my wife Michele's idea.
Is your demographic entirely men, or are you having success with the ladies and families as well?
Although our target customer is a sports-minded male, the smart ladies know where to find them and come in all the time. We also see a lot of families with teenaged boys!
Describe your restaurant design and theme.
We carefully design each of our stores to have a signature mountain-lodge feel. We use unique stones and rustic timber to create a cabin environment complemented by fire pits on the patios, hunting gear and fishing equipment to adorn the walls.
We want our stores to be the ultimate man cave for our guests. It doesn't matter if you're in Olathe, Kan., or The Las Vegas Strip — all of our Twin Peaks stores are consistent and on brand.
How important is social media?
Our social media strategy is imperative to connecting with our consumer. Our guest is a beer-drinking male, and we know what those men like. We make the effort to tag a Twin Peaks photo with every post — whether it's our hearty comfort food, 29-degree draft beer or our beautiful Twin Peaks Girls. That's what sets us apart in our social media efforts. By understanding who our audience is, we know what to post in order to garner the most significant response and keep those individuals coming back, both online and in our restaurants. We have seen a huge growth in our customer loyalty and our overall success because of it.
What about your marketing events and promotions?
Because we've grown so rapidly, our marketing team is more important than ever to engage with our guests, keep our brand consistent and to create original promotional strategies. We host annual parties and events, from our national all-star bikini contest to holiday costume days and game-watching parties. The marketing team does whatever it takes to uphold our Twin Peaks DNA with the ultimate goal of pleasing the guest.
Will you continue to expand your retail offerings?
Our goal is to increase merchandise sales both in store and online, and to make this piece of our business a strong revenue driver. Our hope is to build brand fans who promote for us by wearing our awesome shirts and hats. Online and offline retail will be a focus in 2013-2014.
What are the chain's expansion plans?
We are opening approximately two restaurants per month, so look for around 70 to 80 stores by the end of 2014. About 25% of those will be corporate-owned and 75% will be owned by franchisees.
What are your typical site selection criteria?
Our ideal site is a freestanding restaurant and large patio on a major freeway with a heavy mix of retail and office nearby. Other generators for us are upscale apartment complexes and sporting venues. The majority of our restaurants range in size from 5,500 sq. ft. to 10,000 sq. ft. Our prototype for ground-up construction is 6,800 sq. ft. with an 1,800-sq.-ft. patio.
What differentiates Twin Peaks from the competition?
I believe what sets us apart is the level of detail we put into making our overall experience the best. Everything in our kitchen is made from scratch and the kind of quality that you would expect in a polished casual-dining restaurant. Our draft beer is served so cold that ice crystals form at the top of the glass. The Twin Peaks Girls are not only beautiful, but are fun and talented, with long-term goals and ambitions. On top of that, Twin Peaks has a company culture that works hard, but takes time to have fun and celebrate our achievements. All of these elements are what set us apart from our competitors.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I find people who know what they're doing and believe in the Twin Peaks brand DNA. After that, I stay out of their way and evaluate results. I try not to micromanage team members.
What do people generally say when you tell them what you do?
'Can I trade jobs with you?'