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The concepts: The Little Beet and The Little Beet Table
The details: Fast-casual restaurant The Little Beet opened in 2014, followed by full-service The Little Beet Table the next year. The New York City-based restaurants, owned by parent company Aurify Brands, are entirely gluten-free. There are currently 11 of the fast-casual units and four full-service ones.
The backstory: Longtime Starbucks executive Becky Mulligan was hired to be The Little Beet’s CEO a year ago. In April, she began overseeing both brands.
Why they’re worth watching: There’s clearly strong consumer demand for dining options that are 100% gluten-free. Both Little Beet brands offer a wide range of plant-based options as well. Mulligan, who brings extensive experience from Starbucks, knows how to scale concepts. By integrating the two growing chains and expanding them, the company can provide a panoramic dining experience from breakfast to evening cocktails. “We have customers who come in every day,” Mulligan said. “They count on it because they know we will cater to whatever dietary need they have.”
Photograph courtesy of The Little Beet
HERE ARE FIVE GROWTH-MINDED QUESTIONS WITH BECKY MULLIGAN, CEO OF THE LITTLE BEET:
Why did you decide to work to integrate the two concepts?
I’ve been part of The Little Beet organization for just over a year now. I was hired to take on The Little Beet brand. But a couple of months into that process, I was talking with the Aurify leadership team, telling them there was power in bringing the two brands together. From a culinary perspective, the way we procure produce and think about sourcing … there was power in the two brands. I really value opportunities for my people. When you look at a team in a fast-casual restaurant and a team in a full-service restaurant, they actually have two very different roles. You could take a passionate kitchen manager at Little Beet to learn from a chef de cuisine in Little Beet Table.
Have there been challenges in trying to bring more collaboration to the brands?
They’re clearly born of each other. But the operations are drastically different. I have to be cognizant and think of how I lead my teams. … My teams are learning from each other. We have a foundational culture, but I can see why they did break apart.
You’re in the midst of the early days for this integration, but can you give an example of something that’s changed since it began?
We started looking at a different way to buy kelp. We’ve moved our kelp farming (from Asia) to a company that’s in Maine. They’re in clean waters, at the mouth of a river. They’re putting to work lobster men during their offseason. For us to bring in both brands and say, “Hey, the kelp we use at both restaurants, we’re going to buy from Atlantic Sea Farms, it’s going to be a big boost to their business. And it’s all-around a big win for everybody who’s involved.” That’s the power of both brands together.
What else have you been focused on since joining The Little Beet?
What I have been hyperfocused on is building a leadership team that can scale these brands. I made some moves on my leadership teams. And I merged my chefs all together. They are working together to innovate and think about the menu for both brands. We are starting to develop our next level of sous chefs and chefs that can go into the full-service restaurants, that came from fast casual. We’re going through that process of identification. What are the skill sets required? What are the gaps? We have kitchen managers at our fast-casual restaurants who are responsible for food quality. We’re putting them into sous chef positions in our full-service kitchens. They can come out of that position to be a regional chef for our fast-casual brands. We’re working on that right now.
How much interaction do you have with your parent company, Aurify Brands?
In the Aurify world, where new brands are incubated, The Little Beet is definitely the largest. I’m trying to build a team where we can stand on our own. But the mentorship and the capital to grow this business comes through Aurify. I’m benefiting from the leadership of John Rigos and Andy Stern. We get to reside in the Aurify office with no rent. They give me autonomy on my brands. And they’re there to make sure I don’t hit a brick wall. They encourage me and push me.