Vail Valley deli five years old, growing strong
Vail, CO, Colorado
EAGLE COUNTY ” Is the Mighty Mo the next Big Mac? It will be if Kevin Sloane has his way.
Sloane is the president and co-founder of the Smiling Moose Deli. Sloane and his partners opened the doors of the first restaurant in Edwards five years ago. Today, there are 11 Smiling Moose stores in Colorado, with another four in the pipeline. Two of those existing stores are owned by the company’s first franchise partners.
Sloane expects the number of restaurants to double again by the end of 2009, and there are people interested in franchise deals for entire states.
Sloane, a lifelong veteran of the restaurant business, said this week he never intended the Smiling Moose in Edwards to be the only one.
“We opened with the intent of moving it around,” Sloane said.
To do that, Sloane and his partners concentrated on a couple of things: Great food and great service.
The food starts with every sandwich being made to order. The ground beef for every Mighty Mo ” the store’s signature sandwich ” is cooked when the order comes in. So is all the other hot sandwich meat.
Along with a system to create the food, Sloane and his partners also built in a human resources system designed to make sure customers come back once they’ve come in.
The result has put the Smiling Moose among the new wave of “fast casual” restaurants, typified by Chipotle Mexican Grill, Panda Express and others. Diners order at a counter, but can sit down to eat, and, often, have a beer with their meal.
While meals are usually $10 or less, fast casual restaurants base their business on fresher food and a more grown-up experience than places that have kids’ play rooms.
The first Smiling Moose Mike MacDonnell walked into was between a Chipotle and a Tokyo Joe’s restaurant in the Denver area.
“To be honest, the sign caught my eye,” MacDonnell said. “It was fun, it was whimsical, it was inviting.”
MacDonnell, an assistant principal at a Denver-area school was there for lunch with his boss, but picked up a franchise brochure anyway. Now he’s planning to open a Smiling Moose of his own by early fall.
MacDonnell said he’d been thinking about getting out of education and into the restaurant business for a number of years, but talking to the Smiling Moose folks finally got him to make the leap.
“They’ve been great,” MacDonnell said. “They’re fantastic people.”
Among those people is company CEO Mark Laramie. A veteran of Papa Murphy’s and Little Caesar’s pizza chains, as well as the Quizno’s chain, Laramie and Sloane met by accident a couple of years ago.
“Some of his friends were my investors, and they all went to the Silverthorne store for lunch,” Sloane said. “He thought the brand had legs and he could help us.”
The result has been a doubling of revenue growth from the first months of 2007 to the same period this year. And, of course, the focus on opening more stores.
“‘I need a Mo’ is going to be a cultural thing,” Sloane said.
MacDonnell is betting on that.
“It’s been just phenomenal so far,” he said. “I look forward to working with them in the future.”
Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 748-2930, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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