An Open Kitchen

Taziki's locations vary greatly in size, with the smallest measuring just 900 square feet and the largest standing at 4,700 square feet.

While the size of the back-of-house prep area and the customer seating area will change from unit to unit, Richards says the size of the front-of-house production area remains relatively stable at 10 feet deep by 40 feet wide.

Along the front of the house's back wall, the first piece of equipment is a seven-foot salad make table that holds lettuce, mushrooms, tomatoes and other ingredients, as well as house-made dressings. Undercounter refrigeration holds prepped backup ingredients. Immediately next to the salad table, a small hot holding cabinet contains proteins that culinary staff cook on the grill. The unit, says Richards, typically holds chicken cooked during peak volume periods.

Next comes the flattop grill where staff grill vegetables and cook chicken flavored with Taziki's propriety seasoning blend. Team members also use the flattop to slightly sear lamb and beef before placing them on the chargrill, the next piece on the line. The culinary staff also uses the chargrill to grill asparagus and score salmon — one of the more popular items on the Taziki's menu.

Following the chargrill is a second flattop, this one only one foot wide, that cooks use to make grilled shrimp and tilapia. While Taziki's does not require a separate seafood grill, Richards specified one to avoid mixing flavors and to avoid cross-contamination for people with dietary restrictions.

Beneath these three grills Taziki's places undercounter refrigeration with four to six drawers that hold meat and fish ready to cook at a moment's notice.

Following the grills sits an oven with a two-burner range on top. Staff use the range to sauté vegetables and make icings for desserts, while baking scratch-made desserts like chocolate cake, chocolate chip cookies and baklava in the oven below.

Following the range and oven sits another cold make table. Here, wells hold cold sides like pasta salad, hummus and pimento cheese, as well as all the sandwich ingredients, including meats, cheeses, vegetables and condiments. Refrigerated units beneath the table store backups of all of these ingredients.

The sandwich make table marks the end of the main cooking line, where staffers simply turn around to pass dishes to the expediting table. The table here has hot holding wells for dishes like lemon chicken soup with rosemary, roasted new potatoes and basmati rice.

While the front of the house employs a well-established flow, Richards designs the back of the house to fit the space of the restaurant. It always has three primary pieces of equipment: The chain uses a double-stack convection oven to roast new potatoes as often as twice an hour, as well as to crisp pitas that have been brushed with oil and lightly seasoned. A kettle is used to make soup and pasta for another customer favorite, Taziki's Signature Pasta — a salad made with penne pasta and grilled chicken on a bed of greens topped with tomatoes, feta, fresh basil and balsamic vinaigrette dressing.

Also in the back of the house, a standard walk-in refrigerator, typically measuring between 8 by 10 feet and 8 by 12 feet, stores produce and proteins. Nearby stand a three-compartment dish sink, a vegetable cleaning and prep sink with a cutting board and a prep table. Some units also have a dishwasher, depending on space and build-out costs.

One item you'll never see in a Taziki's? A freezer. "We want everything to be fresh," says Richards. As such, the chain gets produce deliveries every day and protein deliveries two to three times per week.

With freshness being one of the concept's defining features, prep becomes serious work at Taziki's. Staff arrive each morning between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. to prep for lunch, before moving to the front of the house at about 11 a.m. to cook food and wait on customers. After the lunch rush, the chain's second prep period commences to get ready for dinner service.

To minimize waste, the chain takes steps to make sure staff prep no more ingredients than necessary. A computer system that calculates how many batches of each dish staff should prepare based on day, daypart and sales history. Managers can follow this guidance or adjust the number of batches made based on their own experience and understanding of the market. A large event nearby, for instance, might lead a manager to make extra batches, while inclement weather might call for less food.

This isn't the only information technology tool the chain uses to help it run smoothly. With an all-scratch kitchen increasing the complexity of the operation, the chain utilizes iPads with recipes programmed into them in the back-of-the-house prep area, making it easy for staffers to find recipes and then move from station to station with the cooking instructions as necessary. In certain stores, if some prep takes place up front, staff can turn their POS display screens into recipe screens.

Such systems put Taziki's ahead of the curve in the IT space. They've also been a big part of the chain's success, Richards says. "A great part of what's helped us grow our business are the systems we've put in place."

Primed for Growth

The number of people looking to invest in this concept is truly indicative of Taziki's success. Just 2 years into having a full-blown franchise system, the company already has approximately 25 franchised units, with another 15 to 20 set to open by the end of the year.

Many of the biggest challenges facing the company now involve franchisees — both choosing them and supporting them. According to CEO and president Keet, the company "must build the infrastructure to give franchisees the level of support they need." This includes support for technology implementation, purchasing, marketing, location evaluation and build-out. Establishing these support systems falls to Keet, whose resume includes serving as a multiunit Wendy's franchisee, CEO of Barnhill's Buffet and former Arkansas state representative.

Establishing these systems represents but one piece of the puzzle for Taziki's. Choosing the right partners also represents a major task. The chain looks for partners with multiunit operational experience, the financial ability to enter and develop a new market, real estate evaluation and development experience, a passion for the restaurant industry and strong community ties.

Many of the people and groups that approach Taziki's about franchising simply don't fit the profile, and they're politely turned away. "I have friends who have wanted to franchise," says Keet, "and I've had to be candid with them and say 'I don't think this is the right business for you, and here are the reasons why.'"

For Richards, who literally built Taziki's from the ground up, selecting good partners is critical. "Everybody has money. Our biggest challenge is finding the right partners to run our business. Taziki's is my name — it's my baby. I want to make sure the partners we bring in are the right ones to grow the brand."

Key Players

  • President and CEO: Jim Keet
  • Founder and Chief Development Officer: Keith Richards
  • Chief Financial Officer: Billy Magruder

Fast Facts

  • Company HQ: Birmingham, Ala.
  • Signature menu items: Taziki’s Signature Pasta, Taziki’s Hummus, Taziki’s Taco
  • Number of units: 33 total (8 company owned,
  • 25 franchised)
  • Total projected units by end of year: 50
  • Hours of operation: Varies by location
  • Average unit size: 2,400 to 2,800 square feet
  • Average seats per unit: 70 to 100
  • Average annual sales per unit: $1.45 million
  • Average check: $12
  • Franchise fee: $25,000
  • Number of staff per store: 25 to 35