The master of french fries reinvents the model with a fast casual restaurant offering fresh meal options
The question is, how did a frozen french fry concept transform itself into one of the most unique fresh food, fast casual concepts in the franchise world? We are talking about French Fry Heaven, featuring Loaded Spuds, which are fresh, made from scratch meals, served over a customer’s choice of potatoes. The menu features Buffalo Chicken, smoked in‑house pulled pork with jalapeños and homemade cheese sauce, Garlic Chicken Parmesan, Bruschetta, Bacon Cheeseburger and more. The fast casual restaurant focuses on the use of garden-fresh produce, fresh, never frozen chicken and a myriad of homemade sauces and meals. This is quite a departure for a frozen fry snack company that went through a challenging time, and reinvented itself.
In the summer of 2015, the original version of French Fry Heaven had grown to 18 stores serving frozen fries in snack portions and prices, mostly out of mall kiosks. But its CEO Scott Nelowet felt that the mall concept, among other items, was impeding growth of the brand, as well as the potential of the franchise locations. Nelowet had 42 more kiosks that could have been built, making him ripe for take over and reaping personal millions, but instead, he made the bold call to blow up the old model in the best interest of future franchisees.
Nelowet reached out to industry professionals to help revamp his original vision. First, he assembled a powerful team, which included several former executives from a major chain of 900+ restaurants, the former CEO from Jimmy Johns, operations from Five Guys and a manager‑trainer from Starbucks, among others. Scott made the pledge to implement whatever suggestions they came up with that would make future franchisees more successful.
To his surprise turned delight, what they came back with was a complete departure from the original concept. The brand changed radically from a whimsical snack bar to a fast casual restaurant that emphasized fresh meals made with fresh ingredients. French Fry Heaven would no longer be in the lower revenue snack market. Instead, the new design called for everything to be made fresh inside new fast casual restaurant locations.
The management team also received a major boost. Gregg Majewski, the former CEO of Jimmy Johns, joined permanently as the new president and a co-owner. Working with his restaurant team, Majewski revamped the menu from frozen fries with sauce, to one featuring made-from-scratch meals served over a bed of fresh cut fries, baked potatoes, fresh hand-breaded chicken or fresh cut chips. The new menu also offers vegetarian and healthful options, and has won over many customers.
“Easily one of my new favorite restaurants on campus,” said Joel Spencer who recently gave French Fry Heaven a 5-star review. “The food is incredible and there’s a great variety of meal options for whatever you’re in the mood for. Staff is very friendly as well, the food itself isn’t too pricey and the portion sizes make it well worth the trip and money.”
The new menu emphasizes “Loaded Spuds” (Poutine), which are full meals served over the customer’s preferred potato. They include, Chicken Garlic Parmesan, Buffalo Chicken, Bruschetta, Pulled Pork (smoked in house) with jalapeños and homemade cheese sauce and Chipotle Chicken Taco, among others. The emphasis is on fresh and made from scratch, with garden-fresh produce, fresh chicken and sauces ranging from the buffalo to the cheese sauce, made in house.
“We felt like people had enough canned, pre-packaged and frozen food options in the restaurant market. The internet meme for Meet Your Chef, showing a microwave, that represented a bulk of restaurant options, was just not the direction we wanted to go.” said Nelowet. In a 13 day stretch the company, went through 720 lbs. of fresh ground beef, 2,120 lbs. of fresh chicken, 100 gallons of milk, 430 lbs. of vine ripened tomatoes, 40 gallons of their wing sauce and 11,000 lbs. of whole potatoes — an impressive amount of fresh ingredients in such a short period of time. This has been well beyond our expectations,” said Majewski.
Under Majewski’s and Nelowet’s leadership, the company will continue the hunt for potential franchisees who wish to join the brand and grow their portfolio.
As the successful franchisee of the Arizona location, Asmeet Kapoor explains why he was drawn to French Fry Heaven: “I’m not rich enough to be purely altruistic. As an entrepreneur, the business model has to make sense as well. Theirs certainly does.” Glynda Brown, a newly signed franchisee from the D.C. area said, “I joined the French Fry Heaven team because their passion for good food, aligns perfectly with my own.”Kalapana Kalavapalli summarized her feelings about French Fry Heaven, “They work very hard to improve my business and they really take it personal. They have the most talented team that we have ever seen. They know their stuff. More than any of this, they see the path to the future in short term and long term.”
Having been featured by Good Morning America, Fox and Friends, USA Today, Inc. Magazine, Entrepreneur, The NY Times, Boston Globe and 100’s of other media outlets, French Fry Heaven clearly has a marketing message that resonates with its target market. As Mr. Nelowet said, “What we are able to do for local franchisees with regard to brand power, PR, media attention and social media is, we believe, unmatched in the industry.”
So here we have a company that took its lumps, learned some painful lessons, took on the challenge of reinvention and emerged as a dynamic new brand. The future of French Fry Heaven is in the hands of strong management and the growing obsession with loaded spuds across the country. A fresh food company sees a fresh new day.