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Emerging Brands

How a legacy Southern-cooking brand is ramping up for franchisees

This Is It Southern Kitchen began in 1983, but it’s aiming to bring its classic dishes to new audiences as it expands.
this is it southern kitchen
Photograph courtesy of This Is It Southern Kitchen and BBQ

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The concept: This Is It Southern Kitchen 

The details: An Atlanta-based, 11-unit fast-casual chain specializing in traditional Southern cuisine. Stores range from 1,900 to 3,500 square feet, with the franchising prototype on the low end of that range.

The backstory: Shelley “Butch” Anthony started This Is It in 1983. The chain serves Southern fare such as fried chicken, rib tips, and grilled and fried fish, as well as side dishes such as collard greens, sweet potato souffle, and mac and cheese. The chain operates a robust catering program, and all of the menu items are available as large-format offerings for family dinners and gatherings.

Why it’s worth watching: The chain recently began franchising and has signed NBA player Paul Millsap as its first area developer. The first two franchised locations are slated to open this spring, with another two to three units likely debuting next summer. Expansion will initially be focused in the Southeastern U.S., but the chain is open to growth outside of that area as well as internationally.

this is it southern kitchen

Photograph courtesy of This Is It Southern Kitchen

HERE ARE FIVE GROWTH-MINDED QUESTIONS WITH TAMALA FOWLER CEO OF THIS IS IT FRANCHISOR BELIEF BRANDS PARTNERS LLC

  1. Your company holds the national and international franchising rights to this legacy brand. Do you expect to make any changes to the concept as it grows?

We want to be open to smart ideas. But we would look at all alterations with a tremendous amount of sensitivity and caution, and a lot of testing. We’re so proud of what the Anthonys have built here in Atlanta. The financials are generally solid. They haven’t had closures. They’ve weathered two pretty significant economic downturns. We want to grow it. We want to share it with other people. But we want to protect it. We can’t risk messing this up. We know we might have to go slower than we might want.

  1. How do you see the role of the concept’s founder as you work to grow this business?

The founder is still going to maintain Atlanta as his territory. He’s very hands-on in his business. He comes in every single day. I expect he’ll be busy with us, but he still does have a very large and successful business. What we need him to do is inspire us and lead us toward fully understanding the concept and delivering the concept as it’s intended. It’s extremely important he continue to run his own business. They’re our selling showcase. He needs to keep doing what he’s doing.

  1. Why do you think This Is It has survived and thrived for so many years?

It was genius in its simplicity. I’ve worked with so many brands that are trying to remain relevant in a creative way and are chasing trends. It was refreshing when I saw how solid this business has been, based on sticking with culinary favorites, based on things everyone has liked and loved.

  1. Does the concept have any menu items for diners looking for lighter options or plant-based food?

There can sometimes be a misconception about Southern cooking or soul food. Your mind goes to that indulgence, and that’s certainly part of it. You can also eat very healthfully at our stores. We don’t have any meat products in our collard greens. Because of the heavy focus on vegetables and superfoods, you can eat really well there.

  1. How is your off-premise business?

Off-premise is currently contributing about 35% of our overall sales. The food travels great. It’s home cooking. It’s the kind of food people think of sharing with other people. It just really lends itself well to the occasion. The whole catering concept built itself over 35 years to where we are right now. We have someone in the corporate office whose full-time position is talking with people who want to cater. That’s going to be an important value we can give our franchisees going forward. We’ll continue to have that resource available. … We self-deliver catering. We haven’t signed up with any of the large delivery companies. We’re cautious about the way food gets handled.

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