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A former NFL player, who has found success as a restaurant franchisee in uptown Charlotte despite the pandemic, is making plans to open his second location.
Justin Griffith will open his next Famous Toastery in the Farmington mixed-use development in Harrisburg, just northeast of Charlotte. Griffith, and his wife Kim owns the franchise. The couple expects to open the breakfast, brunch and lunch spot later this year or early next year.
The Charlotte-based restaurant chain has 27 locations in the Carolinas, Georgia, Tennessee and Virginia, Famous Toastery CEO Robert Maynard said.
Griffith’s store is part of the company’s plan to nearly double the number of restaurants over the next two years despite pandemic challenges.
“The way we navigated through COVID gives me hope for a second location,” Griffith said. “I learned if you run it with the right people in the building, you can make it through these tough times.”
Farmington, off Interstate 485, is similar to Birkdale Village in Huntersville, Griffith said, making it ideal for visibility and foot traffic.
And Harrisburg, where the Griffiths live, is a growing area with more houses being built, a new school and plenty of room for another breakfast restaurant, he said.
Griffith is in the early planning stages of the restaurant, and will own the land and building. The new spot will have a large outdoor patio space, which he can’t have in uptown Charlotte, and a focus on takeout.
“People right now prefer takeout over going into a restaurant and sitting in a place,” he said.
Griffith expects to hire the same number of employees, about 25, as the uptown location.
Adapting through COVID
Griffith played football at Mississippi State before the Atlanta Falcons picked the fullback in the fourth round of the 2003 draft.
He went on to a 12-year career playing and coaching with, Oakland, Seattle and Houston, in addition to Atlanta, After the NFL, Griffith opened his first Famous Toastery five years ago at 330 S. Tryon St. in Charlotte.
Nearly a year ago, Griffith told the Observer that community support helped him survive the pandemic. And, after he shared on social media that the Famous Toastery was a Black-owned business, his weekend sales spiked by 50%.
Griffith said sales this past year are still down about 30% compared to pre-COVID. He is seeing some familiar faces “but still missing quite a few” as the majority of employees at companies Wells Fargo and Bank of America continue to telework.
Griffith also plans to open a third restaurant location in the next few years.
“People in Charlotte have embraced this concept,” he said. “My business would not be able to function without people loving the product.”
Famous Toastery franchise expansion plans
Famous Toastery planned to expand in 2020 after having its best first quarter in the company’s 16-year history until the pandemic hit, CEO Maynard said in a recent interview.
By the fall of 2020, as labor shortages started and coronavirus cases began surging again, those plans were put on hold.
But now Maynard said the franchise expansion plan to grow to 50 stores over the next two years is back on.
“We were getting so many inbound calls from people wanting to open stores,” he said, “that nothing’s going to put the brakes on it now.”
Of Famous Toastery’s 27 locations, six are corporate stores, Maynard said. The company has about 225 corporate employees and has had up to 550 workers before COVID. But some of the corporate locations were sold to franchisees, he said.
The Carolinas is the main focus, filling out the greater Charlotte area with up to seven more locations, Maynard said. There are about 20 locations from Mooresville to Tega Cay, S.C.
“A lot of markets are still underserved,” he said.
Changes for new restaurants
Future locations are likely to be built smaller, with areas for takeout and delivery.
For example, Maynard said, at the Concord location, the fireplace was removed to add tables and the waiting area turned into a grab-and-go section. Kitchens also may have a separate section just for takeaway orders, Maynard said, such as at Dilworth.
At Famous Toastery, he said takeout has become a significant part of the operations; at some restaurants, it’s become half of the business. Plus revenue is up at some locations up to 35% compared to 2019.
“Casual dining restaurants weren’t built for as much takeout and delivery as they have now,” Maynard said. “You’ve got to adjust. You’ve got to give customers what they want.”
The waitlist app and touchless, curbside ordering that also were started during the COVID pandemic will remain.
“We don’t do this just to grow a business,” he said. “We came out of this much better than I ever thought.
“It definitely shows you nothing’s predictable.”