Razzoo's Cajun Café CEO on growth

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Razzoo’s Cajun Café remains a regional casual-dining stalwart that has navigated its way through the recession with modest growth and an attention to detail, its co-founder says.

Systemwide, with all stores in Texas except one in Charlotte, N.C., Razzoo’s revenue was $43 million in 2011, the company said, an increase of 16 percent from 2010.

Jeff Powell, president and chief executive of the Addison, Texas-based chain, said Razzoo’s Cajun Café opened its 15th restaurant in Garland, Texas, in February. The new unit occupies about 6,500 square feet versus the 10,000-square-foot boxes that had been the norm since the concept was created in 1991.

“The newer stores are doing the same volume as the larger ones,” said Powell. The smaller-sized stores, he added, offer “operating efficiencies; it’s a no-brainer.”

Powell said he plans to add a new store every 12 to 18 months and will focus on Texas growth. Razzoo’s currently has units in the Texas metropolitan areas of Austin, Dallas, Houston and Killeen.

Powell recently sat down with Nation’s Restaurant News to discuss the post-recession landscape for his casual-dining brand.

How has the Texas economy trended?

It’s been phenomenal. It’s as strong as any in the country. It’s not insulated, but we’re 8.2 percent up [in same-store sales in 2011] in a relatively flat-to-down market — that’s on top of 4 percent the year before that. But we’re trying to grow slowly, opening a new store every 12 to 18 months.

Casual dining has seen challenges during the recession. What sets Razzoo’s apart?

It’s the uniqueness and value. We worked to maintain the environment, the level of service and what’s on the plate. We are able to get a bar crowd as well as families.

How do you approach value?

We’ve worked our tail off to protect value. Our check average is about $12. We’re passionate about that. We challenge ourselves to buy better. … Rather than whine about food costs, we said we have to purchase better. We have to challenge our suppliers to meet our needs or find people who can. We will not downgrade quality. My guest notices a nickel.

How about staff?

We work to recruit and retain good quality people at every level, from the kitchen and the bar to the senior managers.

What have you kept at top of mind?

We’ve worked hard to understand the brand and what the brand elements are. We’ve sharpened our focus on those things and understanding what’s core: It’s Southern Louisiana. It’s music. And it’s food.

What have you done with your beverage program?

We kicked off our summer drinks program five weeks ago. We do a healthy bar business.

We started with a half-price appetizer program and expanded into craft beers in markets where there’s an interest. We increased sales about 30 percent when we introduced that. As a result, we added patios where we could. We now offer the three mason jar drinks.

Those are all priced at $7.50 and feature Box Wine Boogie, Peach Mambo and Jubilee’d Sweet Tea. What’s the reaction been?

We have never had anything served in a big-mouth mason jar. I challenged one of my operations guys to get five, and we picked three. Through Sunday, four weeks, we’d sold 13,150 of them. That’s $101,000 in revenue with the two margarita-beer drinks. [The Corona Rita at $7 and the Purple Haze Rita at $8 are “crammed” with an upside down mini or small bottle of beer.]

The summer drinks are refreshing. They aren’t a boozy, get-you-smashed kind of deal. There’s an emergence of these types of drinks. They appeal to customers. The impact on margins is great.

What’s on the horizon?

We need to take advantage of where we have our strongest equity. Austin [Texas] is a good example. We have one in Round Rock, but it needs three. We need to be careful about selecting those sites. In Houston, we have one. It needs two or three. I think we have 10 years of regional growth, but we have to be careful not to impact existing operations.

Contact Ron Ruggless at ronald.ruggless@penton.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless