Business in the Back
Of course, dedicated customers don't mean much if the operations are a mess. Fuzzy's succeeds in large part by creating a kitchen operation that offers some key redundancies while minimizing labor costs.
Many concepts in the Mexican-influenced fast-casual space eschew a standard kitchen in the back of the house in favor of assembling orders in front of guests. Fuzzy's takes something of a hybrid approach, with a traditional back-of-the-house kitchen visible to much of the dining area through a large pass-through window. Just under this window sit two cold tables with ingredient wells that store cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and sauces. Staff use these ingredients to finish dishes. Undercounter refrigeration holds additional cold table items for easy access when needed. Next to the cold tables sits a chip warmer.
A kitchen staffer working at this table would turn around to see the main cookline. At the center of this line sit two flattop grills, each roughly four feet by two-and-a-half feet. Staff use one to cook proteins, as well as vegetables for salsa and sauces, which takes place during prep hours. Staff use the other griddle almost exclusively for grilling corn and flour tortillas. "Nothing ever goes on a tortilla before it's grilled. It changes the flavor just a little bit, and it's one of the things that distinguishes us," Davis says. Having two griddles also ensures the restaurant can keep operating even if one goes down, he adds.
On one side of the griddle — which side varies depending on the layout of the individual unit — sits a fryer for cooking tempura fish and shrimp, as well as tempura crawfish in some locations. A recent addition to the Fuzzy's prototype, according to Davis, is a second fryer for frying tortilla chips and taco shells in-house. While not all units have two fryers, it's a change Fuzzy's is slowly rolling out through the system, Davis explains.
On the other side of the griddle sits an oven/stovetop unit, where staff cook proteins like shredded beef, chicken and spicy pork. This unit, notes Davis, always sits at the end of the line next to an exit. That slight bit of separation from other line operations helps reduce staff burn risks, he adds.
The entire cookline sits against a dividing wall. On the other side of that wall, Fuzzy's places its food-prep area. This section is key to Fuzzy's success, both as a restaurant out to please customers and as a business that sells franchised units, Davis says. Rickels agrees, "We are very prep-intensive. We pride ourselves on that. It's also one of the things that attract our franchisees. They really like the fact that we are sticking to our guns."
The prep area includes two worktables, above which sit cutting knives on magnetic holders. On one prep table sits a 1-gallon, 3.5-horsepower blender, which staff use to incorporate sauces and mix salsa and pico de gallo. On the other table sits a food processor, the specifications for which have changed dramatically in recent months. The chain dumped its standard food processor/grater and replaced it with a very high-end, high-powered, multifunctional food processing unit. Kitchen staffers use this piece of equipment to shred cheese, dice potatoes and cut and chop vegetables for salsa and pico de gallo.
The additional capabilities of this food processor, especially its speed, have made the investment a clear winner, says Davis. "It's certainly increased efficiencies across the board. In some cases it's saved hundreds of hours of labor per month per store."
To reduce kitchen traffic, the prep area includes a dish sink and a single-rack dishwasher that sit next to the door to the front of the house. The chain has experimented with bigger dishwashers in the past, Davis notes, but didn't see any additional operational efficiencies resulting from the larger investment.
The back of the house also includes two walk-in refrigerators, one for food storage and the other for beer. The chain uses a single distributor for all of its food, with most units taking delivery three times per week. Working with a lone food vendor, said Davis, not only simplifies operations but also ensures consistent quality across the entire operation.
So what's ahead for Fuzzy's? Continued expansion, but not at any cost, Rickels says. While continued expansion is certainly in the cards, the chain is determined to screen potential franchisees carefully, make sure they understand the challenges of the foodservice industry and form strong partnerships with those who offer the best fit. That approach, he said, is the best way to build a chain that thrives in the long term. For a chain that started with the buyout of a restaurant on the verge of closing its doors, it's natural that this approach seems to be part of Fuzzy's DNA.
"When I first was hired on, I used the word 'selling' and was told, 'We don't sell franchises.' At first I thought that was a really strange way to approach the market. But through networking we have built a great brand. People come to us . . . You may ask me how many stores do we want to have. We don't have a number of stores in mind; we just want to have great franchisees. That's the goal."
Facts of Note:
- Company Headquarters: Fort Worth, Texas
- Kitchen design and interior design: Internal staff
- Equipment dealers: Concept Services, Austin, Texas; Mobile Kitchens, Mobile, Ala.
- Signature menu items: Baja-style fish tacos and Monterey Jack queso
- Number of units: 68 units (60 franchised and 8 company-owned)
- Hours of operation: Varies by location, but typically 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday to Wednesday; 7 a.m. to midnight, Thursday, Friday and Saturday
- Average unit size: 3,500 sq. ft.
- Average seats per unit: 85 to 100 inside; additional outdoor seating in some locations
- Average check: $9.50
- Total equipment cost: $71,000 to $100,000
- Franchise fee: $35,000 for the first, $30,000 for the second and $25,000 for each additional
- Key expansion markets: Southeast, Central and Midwest United States
- Number of staff per store: 25 to 30 (some full-time, some part-time)
- President: Chuck Bush
- Secretary Treasurer: Alan Bush
- Vice President: Mel Knight
- Vice President of Franchising: Paul Rickels
- Vice President of Operations: James Davis