Taziki's has seen 17 years of growth and is in the midst of an expansion plan. We asked the CEO to provide us with some insight into the company's strategy and plans.

rd+d: What was the impetus for franchise growth? How is Taziki's managing growth

JK: Taziki's growth has been organic. Many of our franchisees were customers, and at the heart of it is the quality of our food, our décor and how we treat our guests. As we expand across the country, we've focused on attracting talent and providing excellent service both to our customers and our franchisees.

In terms of how we're managing the growth it's always a matter of balance.
Recruiting and retaining the best in the business is always a challenge. We've very fortunate that our turnover rate in upper management has been zero for the last two years. While we have redefined some roles, we've not lost a single senior staff member in two years since I became president and CEO.

rd+d: Given Taziki's 17 years of growth, what are some of the cultural and business practices that contributed to the company's ongoing success?

JK: It's always been about putting the customer first. We have a very simple mission statement, it's one sentence: To be the best restaurant company in the world, period. We recruit people who share that vision for the future. It all starts with people who put the customer first and we never compromise on quality.

rd+d: What is the current Taziki's prototype like? What kind of evolution has it undergone?

JK: In addition to being CEO, my sons and I are the largest franchisees of Taziki's restaurants. We are getting ready to open our sixth restaurant as a franchisee. I have been around for the opening of 20 of our 36 restaurants and have decades of experience in the restaurant business. We have a great team that works to create the best possible environment and effectively operate in each specific location.
We do have a prototype we are in the process of building — a freestanding building — but most existing locations have been conversions of other concepts that we turned into Taziki's. Most of the time we deal with landlords and so every space is different. We have to be nimble and adjust our base model to fit the specifics of that location.
That said, we have a standard design package that has certain elements that will be seen in every Taziki's from the customer perspective. The actual production line is almost 100 percent standardized. The biggest variable is in the kitchen where we adjust our floor plan to accommodate lease space. The most important thing is that from the customer's perspective there are enough common design elements highlighted by the art — that we put up in a gallery fashion — that instantly lets you know you are in a Taziki's.

rd+d: What steps has Taziki's taken to prepare itself for expansion?

JK: I would say that everything we do stars with planning. We spent two and a half months constructing our annual plan and made sure we had infrastructure in place to ensure future growth. If there has been a surprise it's been a good one in that the response to the concept every place we've gone has been positive, return visits by guests is extraordinary and has fueled our same-store sales growth, which is far better than our overall segment in the industry.

I would say that despite being in the business for so long I'm always surprised by the regulatory burden placed on us by some states and cities who don't seem to be interested in fueling growth of various businesses and instead put obstacles in our way. It makes it difficult to open efficiently. It hurts everybody, delays opening and payroll, among concerns it creates.

rd+d: What do you think have been the key highlights in the evolution of Taziki's as a franchise?

JK: We have an absolute commitment to excellent in everything we do and that commitment to excellence flows through our system in such a way that we try to keep every store on the same page and we treat our franchisees as if they were part of our family and part of our parent company. We don't ask them to do anything we don't do as well. As an example the franchisee fee that the franchisees pay goes into the same pot, and the company stores also contribute to it and the marketing fund. Unlike some franchisors that treat franchisees differently we abide by the same rules and regulations so it's equitable.

I always appreciate the opportunity to brag about the quality of our company and that is in every aspect of our business; the food and the quality and management is superior to everybody and our commitment to our corporate and franchise family is unsurpassed in the business because I've been both a franchisee and franchisor in other businesses in the past. I've seen it. I've seen franchisors not treat franchisees very well.

We try to display our commitment to franchisees every day. We are as committed to their success as they are. Because I've worn both of those hats in the past I'm very sensitive to the needs of our franchisees.