Why Webb? When you see the 20 percent-plus same-store sales increases at Karim Webb’s southern California Buffalo Wild Wings location—the highest in the system two years running—you might assume it’s in an up-and-coming neighborhood anchored by an Apple Store, Trader Joe’s and office buildings filled with young professionals. But it’s in Los Angeles’ Crenshaw corridor, the epicenter of the 1992 riots, today known for gang activity. BWW first passed on the site. But Webb, who grew up around his parents’ McDonald’s franchises, saw an opportunity. By first demonstrating a commitment to the community, the business followed, proving it’s not just about location, it’s about passion.
You opened in January 2011. Was it successful immediately?
It took a lot of convincing of the citizens. They were concerned about having a restaurant that was serving alcohol—whether it would be a source of trouble versus a value-add to the community. We went to community meetings. We sat down person-to-person and made assurances about the way we intended to operate the business. A lot of people who were concerned now are our biggest advocates.
Double digit growth—what’s your secret?
We operate really well, and we are aggressive at putting the word out. I spend almost as much time doing community stuff as I do managing my business. We’ve created a conversation around who we are and what we do, and our restaurants benefit from that.
What’s the biggest misconception about operating in an urban area?
That you can’t find high-integrity, quality people that will care for your business. If you set that as a standard, that’s what you’ll attract. [I tell employees,] for me to get what I hope to get out of this opportunity, you’ve got to get what you want to get out of it—some are single parents, some are in college, some want a career. My goal is to help that become a reality. For that to happen, we’ve got to deliver in an outstanding way as gatekeepers to this opportunity. Then it’s going to work for all of us. When you approach people like that, no matter where they are, they can buy in.
Any advice for other operators looking to enter urban markets?
You have to have a heart for the community. You’re opening in areas that have bigger needs than most, which also means there’s a bigger opportunity. The question has to be: How can I, through my business, make a difference? If you do that, people will endear themselves to your business. It’s not quantifiable, but it works.