Tell us about yourself?
For nearly three decades, I have been committed to driving change and innovation within the foodservice industry. Beginning in the early ‘90s as a chef and today as the founder of The Culinary Edge and Starbird, I’ve sought out to improve the customer experience.
In 2002, I launched The Culinary Edge (TCE) with the mission to fuse culinary excellence, operational expertise, and human-centered design to create a more delicious and prosperous future.
Since its inception, myself and the TCE team have worked with a third of the top 200 restaurants and co-created over 25 global and regional restaurant brands. It is this in-depth knowledge and experience that fueled the creation of Starbird in 2016.
I’m also the co-founder of Pacific Catch, a West Coast Fish House with locations throughout California, and I actively serve on the board of directors providing innovation and thought leadership to the brand.
What do you think is the single biggest misconception people have when it comes to startups?
It is key and critical to look ahead to where consumer need states are headed vs. where they were yesterday. The advent of accelerated innovation makes it critical to skate to where the puck is going.
What lessons has being an entrepreneur taught you?
I think the biggest misconception people have when it comes to startups is that just because you are smart and motivated means that you can be successful.
If you could go back in time to when you first started your business, what piece of advice would you give yourself?
Fail fast. If something isn’t working, move on from it and refocus efforts. Learn from the mistakes and move forward.
A lot of entrepreneurs find it difficult to balance their work and personal lives. How have you found that?
Self Care. Working out multiple times a week. Being fluid in both personal and professional endeavors. I think more about work/life integration vs. work-life balance.
Give us a bit of an insight into the influences behind the company?
Recognized as a Breakout Brand in 2017, Starbird was built to reimagine America’s fast-food experience and re-define the traditional crispy chicken concept.
Leveraging the dramatic increase in consumers’ love for chicken, we believed fried chicken hadn’t reached its true potential, often being too greasy and featuring the same old flavors.
From there, we knew there was a need for a concept that delivered bold flavors and menu items that addressed contemporary eating sensibilities and styles.
With that objective, our team defined a completely new category within the QSR segment for Starbird which stands today as the nation’s first super-premium fast-food restaurant with an unrivaled customer experience designed to meet consumers’ increasing needs for convenience and accessibility.
Also, understanding that the food delivery industry was slated to surpass $200 billion by 2025, we sought to grow Starbird’s footprint outside of its streetside locations by developing a suite of virtual brands to be sold across multiple physical and digital platforms (Starbird Wings®, Starbird Salads®, Starbird Bowls®, and Gardenbird™).
What do you think is your magic sauce? What sets you apart from the competitors?
Starbird offers super premium, high-quality food. Our chicken is never raised with antibiotics, and we use quality, trustworthy ingredients and real scratch cooking.
We use a brining process to ensure juiciness and to increase the flavor and then hand-bread in our secret blend of gluten-free flour and spices. The oil we fry the chicken in is a rice bran oil, which has a really clean flavor and helps create a much lighter fry.
Every aspect including the oil temperature is down to a science to create “positively delicious” chicken. As an emerging concept, Starbird’s laser focus to deliver tech-driven convenience and virtual brand access has contributed to its success as an industry trailblazer.
While young brands struggle to build seamless omni-channel strategies, Starbird successfully operates an omni-channel program that rivals some of QSR’s largest players.
Starbird’s program is centered around its branded house on its mobile app and web integrations and includes Starbird’s virtual brands, including Starbird Wings, Starbird Salads, Starbird Bowls, and Gardenbird.
How have you found sales so far? Do you have any lessons you could pass on to other founders in the same market as you just starting out?
We are reporting a 25 percent year-over-year same-store sales growth three years in a row. Starbird is poised for continued growth due to an industry-leading $3.6M AUV, experienced management team and groundbreaking technology and culinary expertise.
Starbird expanded into Los Angeles earlier this year with two pop-up kitchens, and most recently announced the opening of our first Southern California streetside location in Hermosa Beach this October.
We are also slated to open multiple streetside restaurants in 2023 including Marina del Rey, West Hollywood, and additional South Bay locations.
What do you consider are the main strengths of operating your business in California over other states in the US?
California’s incredible diversity helps Starbird thrive as a business. The size of the economy gives us ample opportunities in many different California markets.
We believe if we can be successful in California considering its taxes, wages, etc., we can be economically successful anywhere in the country. Additionally, California’s climate benefits us tremendously, as we see a strong correlation between weather and sales.
With our HQ in the Bay Area, we’re also lucky to have access to some of the most innovative people in the job market and we’ve been able to build our company with incredible people.
What (if any) are the weaknesses of operating your business within California?
Some of the biggest challenges California businesses face are higher taxes, enforced regulations, and permitting, which can be difficult when opening a restaurant.
We are currently suffering through a cost of living crisis. With California already being one of the most expensive states to live in, how has this impacted your business?
Although we cannot pull any direct correlation between the housing crisis and our business, we fight for our employees and pay living wages to ensure our employees can live comfortably in the communities we inhabit.
We provide additional benefits to our employees like free language learning classes, educational funding, free meals, and more.
It is no secret that California is the birthplace of innovation. But that also makes it incredibly competitive. How have you found the competitive environment of California?
The market in California is competitive, yes. However, we believe Starbird is differentiated enough to thrive in some of the most competitive areas in the country.
California is also large enough that there are still markets that are not fully saturated. We have plenty of locations in the pipeline that are placed in great opportunity areas across California.
Have you considered moving your company to another state? If so, which state and why?
In terms of corporately owned restaurants or our headquarters, no. Recently, Starbird launched a national franchise program launch to expand the brand into select markets.
We plan to double our unit count over the next 18 months with our first franchised stores aimed at opening in 2023. Currently, Starbird franchise opportunities are available in states across the U.S., including Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, Texas, Illinois, and Florida.
Where do you see your business in the next 5 years?
Situated within an ever-changing market, Starbird plans to evolve and enhance our business model and processes throughout the next five years as the QSR industry continues to grow and change in great ways.
We are eager to continuously use our initial vision to expand the Starbird brand across the country so that we can double in size by 2024.
A testament to that vision is not only the launch of our national franchise program but also the appointment of Daniel Lecocq as the new VP of franchise development.
While we’re thrilled to expand our brand, it’s important to us that the growth is strategic because we have high standards for Starbird restaurants, so we are looking for established franchisees who are supportive of the business.
Rather than choosing to grow quickly, we plan to carefully vet the opportunities and make each expansion decision with intent.