When Carlisle Corp. was introduced to the LYFE Kitchen fast-casual concept earlier this year, the Memphis-based real estate company was merely looking for another restaurant growth vehicle (it’s already a 77-unit Wendy’s franchisee). What developed instead was a shared-services agreement that aligned the strengths of the operations into a fast-growth venture. LYFE would provide the means to ride many of the emerging trends in the business, while Carlisle would lend its expertise on real estate, acquisitions and general-and-administrative efficiencies.
“They knocked the brand and culture out of the park. But our strength is together as a more robust company,” says Chance Carlisle, who was named CEO of LYFE under the deal, replacing LYFE founder and former McDonald’s president Mike Roberts.
And together, growth already has commenced. Since Carlisle took the helm in June, he’s opened seven new stores, bringing the unit count to 13. And by 2016, the goal is to hit 60 units systemwide.
With his franchisee past, Carlisle might have been expected to turn to franchising as the primary growth vehicle for the health-focused chain. But that’s not the case; he’s focusing on opening corporate stores. “Until we know exactly where we want to be and what caliber of franchisee to invite in, we’re happy with what we’re doing,” says Carlisle. “It’s a pretty closed system by choice.”
That’s partially so LYFE can find the best way to explain the brand and its offerings before turning it over to franchisees. It’s finding ways to build brand awareness in new markets, as well as expand its following in existing markets.
But that doesn’t mean franchising is out of the question. LYFE already has a small number of franchisees in its system, and Carlisle admits that he’s not yet sure what the right ratio of corporate to franchised stores is, though he estimates that the makeup in 2016 will be about two-thirds company-owned stores. He does say that there’s more room in the market than they can manage in-house. “There will be a limit to how far we can grow ourselves … If there are markets that are really attractive that we can’t get into in the next three to five years, we’d entertain franchisees,” he says.
For now, the focus is simply on growth as LYFE is “constantly adding to the pipeline” of units under development, both expanding in existing areas (most recently Boulder and Irvine, Calif.), as well as exploring new markets such as Nashville and San Francisco.
It’s not just LYFE’s footprint that is growing, though. Carlisle is in the midst of enhancing customer service. That includes “really fine tuning catering and grab-and-go, and making it easier for order to go,” says Carlisle. So it’s launching a mobile app later this year and adding loyalty, he says.