Photo: Energy Kitchen
If you haven’t yet heard of Energy Kitchen, chances are that you’ll come across one soon.The health food restaurant chain, which started in 2003, has 13 locations in New York, New Jersey and Florida, and plans to open 21 new stores this year through various franchise deals.
It grew by 140 per cent in the past three years with revenues of $11.6 million in 2010.
Thanks in part to an investment from Vitamin Water co-founder Mike Repole, Energy Kitchen plans to open 1,000 new locations in the next 10 years through franchising agreements. “Its an aggressive plan, absolutely,” says its co-founder and CEO Anthony Leone. “But I think we can hit it.”
Energy Kitchen grew out of Leone’s personal frustration with a lack of healthy food options in New York City. A lifelong fitness and nutrition aficionado, Leone quit his restaurant industry job and used his culinary degree from Florida International University to develop a healthy menu, which featured everything from chicken wraps to bison burgers. Nothing is fried; everything is grilled, baked or steamed.
By the end of its first year, Energy Kitchen opened its second location, growing steadily with one to two new locations opening per year. It began franchising in 2007.
Leone, who can easily list obesity statistics and calorie counts at popular fast food chains, says a growing consumer desire for transparent healthy eating options has helped fuel Energy Kitchen’s success. “I think Americans want to eat healthy,” he says. “There are just no options out there.”
Things moved quickly after Repole from Vitamin Water, who’s also Energy Kitchen’s board chairman, invested $1 million in 2008. Energy Kitchen put a hold on franchising deals and underwent a major retooling — retrofitting the stores, hiring a branding firm and unveiling a fresh new marketing campaign with slogans like “fast food doesn’t have to be fat food.” The company also streamlined its menu to have nothing over 500 calories and began to lay the corporate framework to support its aggressive franchising plans.
“We are ready for our growth,” he says. “We built the infrastructure first before we plan on growing.”
After opening 21 locations this year in major markets ranging from Boston to Chicago, it plans to focus on how to roll out 1,000 in the next decade. In order to achieve this goal, the company will only franchise out to individuals with restaurant industry experience, who own millions in liquid personal assets, and agree to build five stores in three years.
According to Leone, Energy Kitchen has created a “store in a box type program” for its franchise partners, providing everything from store design plans to marketing materials. They have also beefed up the corporate team to include directors of marketing, real estate, field marketing, finance and operations.
Justo Pozo, who operates a franchise in Pincrest, Florida, says that the Manhattan-based officials are constantly working to reinforce the support structure for franchise owners. During his store’s August opening, a corporate team stayed for a week to help train and supervise, he says: “They know local success is going to define how large they grow nationally.”
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