New bd's Mongolian Grill CEO speaks on brand growth

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Joe Phraner joined Burnsville, Minn.-based bd’s Mongolian Grill in January as president and chief executive officer, just in time to celebrate the brand’s 20th anniversary.

The 33-unit chain, which also has a franchised location in Mongolia, looks to build upon its success of a recent franchise opening in Pittsburgh this February. At the same time, according to Phraner, the brand is recognizing the importance of looking back at what has made it successful since it was founded by Billy Downs in Michigan in 1992.

“The one thing I’ve heard as I’ve traveled all around visiting our restaurants is the importance of our core values: have fun, make money, teamwork, growth and community,” Phraner said. “So how do we take those and build the brand in the future? We run everything, whether it’s products or vendors or our team, through that filter.”

Phraner sat down with Nation’s Restaurant News during the National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show this week to discuss how the young brand will grow sales, particularly by supporting team members with “crave-able” products and the newest service tools.

Your predecessor as president of bd’s, Rodger Head, had a lot going on in menu development, marketing and growth. Where have you sought continuity these first five months, and where did you try to put your own stamp?

We’re looking at everything. We’re continuing some of the things Rodger did, and he and I have worked together for 13 years [at Head’s other company, Duke & King Acquisition Corp.]. We’re continuing the choice, the flavors and the fun experience. But we’re looking at trying to trim down our limited-time offerings and concentrate more closely on our core competency of creating a great stir-fry. We’ve refined our appetizer, drink and dessert menu, and our kids’ menu to take off those slower-moving items and motivate our team to sell some great products.

Was any menu engineering motivated by food costs? Your brand deals in a lot of proteins, and commodity inflation has been a problem all year for the industry.

Our vendors have been terrific. I’ve done everything that probably everybody else in the business has done to talk to vendors. We’ve been able to look at some of our products, make some changes that maintain the quality, but reduced our costs, so we haven’t had to take a price increase. Some of the changes we’ve made to the appetizer, drink and dessert menu have been done to help that food cost, but more importantly it’s been done to drive incremental sales.

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