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Corner Bakery Cafe on the Fast Track


Corner Bakery Cafe is in a growth mode. The company, which was acquired in 2011 by Roark Capital Group, an Atlanta-based private equity firm, is entering new markets and opening locations across the country, from New York City to Las Vegas. It will end the year with 185 cafes (114 company-owned and 71 franchised). The company plans to more than double its U.S. footprint by 2017 through a combination of franchised and company-owned cafes.

Gary Price, a restaurant executive with over 20 years of experience, joined Corner Bakery Cafe as president in October 2012. Prior to that, he served as head of food service operations at Pilot Flying J. Chain Store Age editor Marianne Wilson spoke with Price about Corner Bakery’s growth, store model and plans going forward.

How does Corner Bakery Cafe differentiate itself from the competition?

Corner Bakery Cafe is part of the fastest-growing segment of the industry — the fast-casual bakery cafe. We are clearly differentiated in all areas of the guest experience, starting with the fact we have real kitchens where menu items are freshly prepared to order with over 40 different types of fresh produce coming into our cafes each day.

We offer a service style that we call a ‘cut above,’ in that once an order has been placed and paid for at the counter, we offer a full-service experience from that point on in the dining occasion ... delivering a sit-down dining experience with the speed, quality and value of fast casual.

In addition, our catering is best in class. We are clearly differentiated by our ability to handle last-minute requests and deliver freshly prepared catering orders through our 350-plus custom catering vans.

Tell us a little bit about Corner Bakery Cafe’s footprint and the current prototype.

Our current prototype is 3,850 sq. ft., with 110 interior seats and 50 patio seats.

We are several weeks away from opening the next iteration of our prototype. It reduces the footprint to 3,600 sq. ft., and reduced the cost to build by 10%.

Anything else in the works in this regard?

We are working on a new prototype that has been engineered in partnership with an industrial engineering firm to reduce our footprint to 3,300 sq. ft. and reduce the cost to build an additional 10%.

At the same time, these changes will make the kitchen more efficient from a time-in-motion perspective and bring in more freshness cues in the dining room to highlight the baking, grilling and sautéing that our kitchens are doing all day long.

How would you describe the look of the interior?

It’s a welcoming environment with warm wood tones, reflecting visuals of the local neighborhood the cafe resides in.

What is Corner Bakery Cafe’s real estate strategy?

We look to penetrate “A” trade areas in tier 1, 2 and 3 metro markets. Our strategy is to partner with a local franchise partner that has existing restaurant operations in the market and is part of the community. We have a very flexible design that can go into endcaps in retail centers, malls, town centers, lifestyle centers and freestanding pad sites. We typically like to have high daytime density and strong retail co-tenancy that reflects the shopping habits of our core customer base.

What are the company’s expansion plans?

We will open 24 to 25 new franchise locations and three new company-owned locations in 2014.

In 2015, we are planning to open 35 to 40 franchise locations and five to six company locations.

Any new markets on the horizon?

We are about to enter Wisconsin and Idaho. In 2015, we will open in Oregon, Washington, Indiana and Las Vegas — all for the first time.

How is Corner Bakery Cafe utilizing digital technology?

As a small scrappy brand, we rely on social media and digital marketing as an integral part of our marketing strategy for both new and existing markets.

Have sustainability concerns impacted the way Corner Bakery Cafe builds and operates its cafes?

Yes, in fact we recently won an award for our efforts around sustainability and containing energy costs through our partnership with EnTouch Controls, which has helped us to substantially reduce our carbon footprint while making our buildings much more energy efficient.

What are some of the most significant ways you have reduced energy, and what’s been the overall impact?

We have been able to drastically reduce our overall carbon footprint and our total kilowatt usage by over 80MM kilowatts annually through utilization of the EnTouch energy management system, and our efforts around changing out all of our light bulbs to high-efficiency LED bulbs.

Each Corner Bakery, on average, uses 14.5% less energy and saves more than 52,000 kilowatt hours a year, equal to eliminating over 80,000 miles driven by an average passenger vehicle.

Additionally, our newest freestanding prototype building is built with a new styrofoam building technology that dramatically improves the “R” rating on the building so much we were able to utilize one less HVAC unit.

Are these improvements in place companywide?

These systems go into all new units, and we are on a three-year program to retrofit the existing company locations.

Are there any sustainability initiatives on the horizon?

We are conducting a three-year rollout of multiple energy-efficiency efforts, such as installing EnTouch monitoring in all legacy company cafes and also updating the lighting in these cafes to high-efficiency LEDs.

Final question: How’s business?

We are fortunate that it is very robust. We are experiencing phenomenal growth, but like many, we are never content.

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