The fast-casual concepts Taim Mediterranean Kitchen and Hot Chicken Takeover may soon get a new sibling brand.
Parent company Untamed Brands is expecting to acquire a third brand this year, and the target will likely be a coffee concept in the Southeast or South, said CEO Phil Petrilli, who founded the platform company in 2021.
Untamed Brands is one of a growing number of multi-brand operators focused on early-stage concepts looking to grow through that difficult five-to-10-unit period when so much can go wrong.
Regardless of culinary category or geography, the story is often the same: A young brand is generally being run by a founder and a small not-so-experienced support staff, each wearing many hats. Someone makes a bad real estate decision that becomes a drain for the whole chain, ultimately putting a pause on attempts to scale.
“This 5-10-unit size creates a lot of stress on these brands, often which leads to them not growing beyond those numbers,” Petrilli said.
Untamed Brands is designed to be a solution. Before launching the company, Petrilli was an operations executive with Chipotle Mexican Grill, leading the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions and helping to grow that chain from 16 to more than 1,600 units. He left Chipotle in 2012 and moved to Noodles & Company for a few years, but then retired to move back to the East Coast to be closer to his young family. Petrilli then began looking to invest in small, emerging concepts, along with a large family office financial partner that was looking to get into restaurants.
In early 2021, Untamed launched with Taim Mediterranean, a New York City-based concept founded in 2005 by Israeli chef Einat Admony as a falafel joint that served as an alternative to her full-service concept Balaboosta. Petrilli was an early investor in Taim and converted his shares to Untamed for its first investment.
Taim has grown to 10 locations with two more scheduled to open this month. The brand has moved into New Jersey, Washington, D.C. and Maryland. Petrilli said the company expects to have 21 open by the end of 2023.
The first Taim was a 350-square-foot takeout spot In New York City’s West Village, but now units range from about 900- to 1,200-square feet, and generate more than $2 million in average unit volume once they reach maturity, Petrilli said.
With no real leader in the health-positioned Mediterranean space, other than Cava, Petrilli sees potential to license Taim in nontraditional locations like college campuses, hospitals and airports.
Phil Petrilli on Taim’s economic model:
Untamed Brands’ second concept came late in 2021 with the acquisition of Hot Chicken Takeover, a Columbus, Ohio-based fried chicken-with-sides concept that was created in 2013 by Joe DeLoss. Hot Chicken Takeover now has seven locations and two outlets in sports stadiums.
Petrilli said he was drawn to the brand in part because of the potential in Ohio’s three major markets and beyond. Despite the increasing crowds in the Chick-fil-A-led chicken segment, “the category has never given birth to a fast-casual, better-food option,” he said. “And I think hot chicken is the fast-casual answer to QSR fried chicken.”
Hot Chicken Takeover is also a mission-driven brand. DeLoss was passionate about justice reform and the brand welcomes to its workforce people who are too often marginalized in today’s society, including the previously incarcerated, those recovering from addiction or the unhoused.
“We obviously do vetting. You still have to be the right person with the right personality, but we don’t say no just because of something somebody did 10-15 years ago,” said Petrilli.
Hot Chicken Takeover is also averaging revenues of roughly $2 million. Under Untamed Brands, the units have shrunk from 3,000-square-feet-plus to around 1,800-square-feet. With its simple menu and ease of operation, Hot Chicken Takeover is preparing to launch franchising, Petrilli said.
Phil Petrilli on the chicken segment:
Next up is probably something in the coffee space, Petrilli said. “We like that category a lot.”
Starbucks disrupted the “not-so-delicious” legacy brands decades ago, but now the next wave is leveraging drive-thrus and broadening the coffee-beverage category—and doing it better than the big guys, he said.
Petrilli also sees fast-casual Mexican as a potential acquisition category.
“I think Chipotle has done an amazing job, but white rice and black beans is one kind of visit and regionally you’re starting to see some of these brands gain scale by elevating what they serve beyond just white rice, black beans, chicken and tacos,” he said.
Untamed Brands has assembled a seasoned team to build the group’s brands, including CFO Linda Fitzpatrick (formerly Nando’s); Chief Development Officer Matt France (formerly Chipotle); head of supply chain Glenn Douglas (Panera/Einstein/Noodles); and COO Bethany Strong (Chipotle/Le Pain Quotidien).
In addition to the shared infrastructure, there are synergies with shared accounting systems, technology and buying power. And the consolidated employee base helps the group get better rates on things like healthcare coverage, he said. Further, money is saved by not having a corporate HQ—instead keeping the team in the field, at least for now.
Petrilli on the advantages of multi-brand platforms.
Petrilli said Untamed Brands is not looking to acquire brands that are broken.
“We’re not a fixer upper,” he said. “But with restaurants, if you pick the right ones in the right geography doing the right things, they really do generate a high return on those invested dollars.”
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