Chicagoland barbecue concept, Pork & Mindy’s, may only have four locations, but standard brick-and-mortar units are just a small part of its operation, founder and CEO Kevin Corsello, said in an interview with Fast Casual.
“One of our biggest strategies is extending the register,” said Corsello, who founded Pork & Mindy’s two years ago with his friend — Food Network Star and Executive Chef, Jeff Mauro, aka “The Sandwich King.” Their goal was to bring high-quality, slow-smoked meats to the masses. With plans now in place for 30 units to open by 2020, along with partnerships with national sports teams, weekly pop-up locations and a retail line, including signature sauces, meats and Pig Candy — candied bacon — it’s safe to say the men are accomplishing that goal.
Corsello sat down with Fast Casual to discuss the brand’s recently rolled-out franchise plan, why he loves operating in food halls and pop-up locations, and what he wishes he would have known before launching his business.
What is the AUV at each of your locations, which include three inside food halls and one standard unit?
A. About $1.48 million.
Why did you decide to franchise?
A. We are staying focused on finding the best way for the brand to exercise its prowess, and get our name out there to the consumer, all while using the least amount of capital for expansion. We’re really proud of our food, and franchising is something that we want to do to get our food in as many hands as possible.
Have you inked any franchise deals yet?
A. We have a few in the works that we’ll be able to share in the coming months.
Where do you plan to open next?
A. Upcoming Chicago locations include the Loop and Naperville, as well as Old Irving on the North side. In the first semester of 2018, we plan to open locations in Omaha, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Denver and St. Louis.
How do the pop-ups work? Why do you do them? How do you decide on locations?
A. Like most fast-casual restaurants, we have aggregator apps and technologies that help us do that, bringing our food to new consumers.
Aggregating apps is how people are getting access to food nowadays, and we get that exposure through pop-up shops. Corporate office buildings in downtown Chicago, with 2,000-4,000 people in the building, have cafeterias that already serve food, with different restaurants that come in and serve food for a week at a time. We set up shop in each new location, and it’s a really great way to activate different market segmentations without having to open a new restaurant. We gain exposure to different customers around the city, while acquiring analytics, data and sales that help us justify opening our next location. It’s an inexpensive way to do market research and understand where we should open up next, without the capital expenditure.
When it comes to pop-up locations, we seek out high-footprint neighborhoods such as the Chicago Loop or River North that are predominately corporate areas with more office buildings than residences. We also prefer to pop up in locations that are known for partnering with high-quality restaurants.
Why food halls vs. standard brick-and-mortar?
A. Food halls offer an eccentric type of environment that people are gravitating toward. Let’s say you walk into Forum 55 Food Hall, our newest location. You may not know what you’re going to eat, but you know you’re going in there to eat there and there will be many restaurants in the food hall. Guests are then exposed to the brand just by being in the food hall, which is great for those who didn’t know about us or weren’t even seeking it out.
From a business standpoint, food halls are great because we don’t have to cover the biggest capital expenditures — seating and bathrooms. In a shared food hall, those expenses do not exist. So, a food hall location is a much more inexpensive way for us to open a Pork & Mindy’s. We’re currently open in Forum 55 Food Hall (Chicago) and Elevate Food Hall (Minneapolis), with a third food hall location slated for Wells Street Market (Chicago) in 2018.
Do you have a food truck?
A. We are in the process of launching a food truck. While it won’t be our core competency, we will use it as a marketing tool to raise awareness for Pork & Mindy’s while introducing our brand to new customers every day, who may not already be familiar with our brick-and-mortar locations.
How do you intend to balance restaurant openings with the retail line?
A. The consumer path to purchase is something we’re always looking at. Once we get data analytics, we establish a market to go through with opportunities and we then make sequential lineups for the next decisions when it comes to restaurant vs. retail and which territories to enter. We aim to cross-market through each sector, promoting our barbecue sauces in our restaurants while also raising awareness about our restaurants for those who purchase sauces.
Where can the retail products be purchased?
A. Our line of all-natural, gluten-free barbecue sauces can be purchased for shipping nationwide on our website, at our Wicker Park location and at numerous retailers throughout the Chicagoland area, including Mariano’s, Roundy’s, Jewel Osco and more. We also have a line of signature, ready-to-cook pork loin at select Jewel Osco locations. Later this year, we will launch our famous Pig Candy (candied bacon) both online and in retail locations across the country.
How do you look at marketing? Do you rely heavily on social media, for example, as opposed to paid placements?
A. Marketing is incredibly important. One factor that sets us apart is that we have a celebrity chef who serves as our national voice. He can plug the brand on Food Network shows and other segments that are on repeat every day. This is high-level national marketing for Pork & Mindy’s and something that we value.
One of our priorities is figuring out how to convert marketing into sales. We are always analyzing the path to purchase on the restaurant level and retail level: What is the greatest solution? We really value social media to activate our community on the ground level. We also engage with them at different events at the restaurant including paint nights and open mic nights, as well as at local events such as Lollapalooza and Taste of Chicago.
Our Wrigley Field location has also been an important marketing tool, introducing the brand to thousands of attendees right down the street from our flagship location. We don’t just talk to consumers about Pork & Mindy’s, we engage with them as well.
What is something that you wish you would have known before you started?
A. I wish I knew where all my team members were hiding for the past two years. We finally assembled an all-star executive team as of this fall and look forward to moving on to the next stage with my team in place.
What has been your biggest obstacle when it comes to getting the business off the ground?
A. The biggest obstacle has been finding the best, A-plus-caliber people, which goes back to the old adage, “hire slow.” We were a brand that was accelerating and growing very fast. Opportunities were coming faster than we could handle, so it was a challenge finding people that understood their role and who could be stellar at it. One of our top priorities is finding and retaining the best employees across all levels, from the kitchen to the executive team.