At Economic Roundtable of Jacksonville, company executives talk about sale of restaurant to Cracker Barrel.
Scott Moore knows how difficult it is to start a new business, particularly a new restaurant.
It should have been even harder for him and Gus Evans, because neither had any experience running restaurants before they opened the first Maple Street Biscuit Co. store in 2012.
“This should have failed but it didn’t,” Maple Street CEO Moore said Tuesday during a talk to the Economic Roundtable of Jacksonville.
However, Maple Street became a success story, growing from its first restaurant started by Moore and Evans in San Marco to 33 stores in seven states. And a month ago, Maple Street agreed to a $36 million buyout by Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Inc.
As part of the agreement, Maple Street will remain an independent subsidiary run by Moore, with no changes planned for the restaurant operations.
“They see what we’re doing and they know we’re doing something right,” Maple Street General Counsel Alexandria Hill said at the luncheon event at the Davis College of Business at Jacksonville University.
Moore assured that Cracker Barrel isn’t micromanaging the Maple Street business.
“No one at Maple Street reports to anyone at Cracker Barrel except for me,” he said.
Maple Street doesn’t spend money on marketing, and Moore said Cracker Barrel officials were surprised to look at his company’s financial statements.
“We didn’t have a line for advertising” expenses, he said.
Hill said Cracker Barrel offered to pay for a marketing campaign, but Maple Street prefers to rely on customer posts on social media sites to spread the word about the restaurants.
“Our guests are going to do all our marketing for us,” she said.
“We want to keep that grassroots marketing.”
Moore believes social media posts carry more weight than an advertising campaign featuring him or other employees.
“Those are much more credible,” he said.
With no experience running a restaurant, Moore said he learned about the business by sitting in other restaurants, observing customer traffic patterns to make estimates on how much revenue they produce.
“You need to understand what to anticipate in opening stores,” he said.
He also spent five months experimenting with recipes and inviting friends and family over every Thursday night to try the food, telling him what they liked and didn’t like.
That helped Maple Street come up with unique menu items.
“Everyone knows biscuits. They're comfort food,” Moore said.
“They've never had it with goat cheese and pepper jelly.”
You can get that on a fried chicken biscuit called the Squawking Goat.
The goal was to find customers who would go out of their way to drive to Maple Street, as opposed to customers who might get a Subway sandwich because the Subway store is an “option” inside a Walmart Supercenter, Moore said.
“I always wanted to be a destination, not an option.”