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Taziki CEO Dan Simpson: We’re Growing Smartly, Not Fastly

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CEO Dan Simpson says serving fresh, high-quality Mediterranean food that is fast, affordable and easily accessible puts Taziki’s into a unique niche.

Known for Lamb Gyros and Greek Salads, Taziki’s Mediterranean Café continues to teach Americans the wonders of Mediterranean cuisine. A Gyro, for example, is pronounced “yer-roh” (sounds similar to “Euro”) and not “jeye-roh” as in “gyroscope.” This distinction was explained to the writer with patient chuckles by the executives at Taziki’s. 

Another common mispronunciation: quinoa. Management is toying with the idea of a fun marketing campaign to teach people how to say it as “keen-waa.” Hopefully, soon hungry Americans will be able to order their Mediterranean takeout with confidence. 

Lessons in language are only a tiny tip of the iceberg for this growing brand. Part of the company’s marketing strategy is to educate consumers on the Mediterranean lifestyle. “Did you know hummus is not Greek?” Vice President of Marketing + Growth, Rachel Layton asks. This is a common misconception. Taziki’s mission is to tap into foods from certain regions in the Mediterranean, to teach and to expose those dishes in an approachable way to guests.

By serving fresh, high-quality Mediterranean food that is fast, affordable and easily accessible, Taziki’s fits into a unique niche. The Mediterranean influence in the name echoes across the chef-inspired cuisine, but it is approachable for any person. This means customers in a hurry, families on a budget and diners who want something different for dinner can all experience the rich culture of the countries that line the Mediterranean, even on an average Tuesday night. 

With elevated counter service with pre-bussing, and drive-thru locations, Taziki’s falls into the fast-casual category. However, what sets this brand apart from others in its category is the made-from-scratch food and artisanship that comes from not using fryers or microwaves. “Fifty percent of Taziki’s menu is produce,” Layton explains. “Fresh ingredients are very important to us. People are looking for fresh ingredients with a story to tell.” 

To make sure the flavors are top quality and authentic to Greece, food is sourced from a limited number of suppliers. Olives, olive oil, red peppers and lemon juice are imported directly from Greece. All of the lamb is supplied by one American farm in Michigan that has humanely raised lamb for five generations. The Baked Pita Bread for the entire restaurant network is made by a bakery that uses old Lebanese recipes handed down by family members through several generations. The Baklava has a similar story. 

“Quality ingredients cost Taziki’s more money, but it’s worth it,” Vice President of Operations Mike Smith says. “The labor costs are higher when working with fresh produce.”
The company plans on revamping the corporate website – the franchise website was recently updated – and using storytelling to inform people about Taziki’s ingredients and homegrown story. The company recently featured “table toppers” which went into detail about ingredients and where they were sourced. As Taziki’s refreshes 100 percent of its stores in the next two years, new images taken by the founder will be updated on the restaurant walls telling the story of participating farms and fresh ingredients as well.

Smart Marketing for Smart Growth

Named one of America’s fastest-growing leaders by Inc. 5000 in the fresh-casual industry, Taziki’s is a rapidly expanding brand. The company has tripled in its size since 2011 and has more than 90 restaurant locations spanning across 17 states nationally. Development plans include building the brand in existing markets, as well as entering into new areas across the country by 2023. 

To reach this goal, the franchise plans to grow strategically. “We’re focusing on smart growth versus fast growth,” says Chief Executive Officer, Dan Simpson. “We’re researching where the demand for our brand and style is and opening restaurants in those areas.”

Expansion also means expanding the menu. Taziki’s consumer research has shown a demand for more kebob dishes. Shrimp has been a popular request, next to the existing beef and chicken kebobs. Taziki’s will add shrimp Kebobs to the menu starting with its Birmingham, Ala., testing flagship locations. 

Gathering this type of information from customers is key to keeping the brand connected to the trends and demands in the market. Taziki’s has a sentiment listening tool that tracks certain words which appear repeatedly in customer comments, enabling them to recognize trends and address customers’ wants. “Restaurant staff is our best anchors for gathering feedback,” Layton notes. “They are the best for gathering information on what customers are asking for because it’s in real time.”

Taziki’s is seeing common requests for vegetarian and vegan options.  There also seems to be high demand for food that qualifies for trendy diets like Keto and Whole 30. “People are seeking healthy options all around,” Simpson says. “We’re addressing those needs.” 
Spice is one of the biggest trends Taziki’s is following right now. The growing ethnic populations are seeking spicier flavors, which we know is an opportunity on our menu currently,” Simpson says. The brand originated in Alabama so there’s a certain Southern flair guests are accustomed to and expect. The company plans to continue catering to that demand by broadening the dishes’ flavors all around. 

Culture Compass

Taziki’s thrives on the words included in its “culture compass” which was developed by its founder: connection, challenge, collaboration, details, and fresh. These ideals are executed through the company’s mission to create an environment that combines extraordinary food with meaningful human connection. 

With thousands of Taziki’s employees among more than 90 restaurants, how does the brand ensure that everyone is following through with the five brand values? Several methods are used to instill the five core beliefs beyond the surface level. Restaurants participate in webinars and receive training modules to learn and review the culture compass.

Additionally, Franchise Consultants visit the restaurants quarterly to perform standard audits on the Taziki’s brand standards. This keeps the community of restaurants aligned and functioning at their highest potential. 

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