Founder of Slater's 50/50 grows 'plug-and-play' portfolio

Being opportunistic with real estate requires flexibility with finding the right restaurant concept, contends Scott Slater. Is the ability to swap out brands a solution?
Mission + Garnet food hall
The small Mission + Garnet food hall in San Diego has six Apex brands operating out of one kitchen. |Photo courtesy of Mission + Garnet.

Scott Slater is a believer in “plug-and-play” restaurant operation.

The longtime restaurateur who founded, and later sold, the bacon-rich Slater’s 50/50 burger concept has been building a portfolio of brands to prove out the model under the Apex Brand Collection.

Fundamentally, it’s about being opportunistic with real estate, said Slater.

Earlier this year, Apex launched a small outdoor food hall in San Diego called Mission + Garnet, which features six of the group’s limited-service brands, each with its own menu and brand identity. But all of the outlets are served by one kitchen, said Slater.

“The cooks don’t even know where it’s going. They just see the ticket and send them out,” said Slater.

Mission + Garnet is designed so if one of the outlets is not working for the space, Apex can swap it out for another of the group’s nine brands that might work better. There’s no need to change any equipment, just find new SKUs, he said.

For example, though Mission + Garnet opened in February, a sandwich concept called Harvey Carver’s didn’t seem to catch on, Slater said. So Apex in October replaced the sandwich concept with Döner Döner Kebab Kitchen, a shawarma concept.

A signature dish at Döner Döner is a Kebab Krunchwrap, built in the style of a Taco Bell Crunchwrap but stuffed with a choice of protein, za’atar chips, taziki and other options. Given the food hall’s proximity to both the beach and several university campuses in San Diego, Slater felt the kebab concept would work better.

Scott Slater

Scott Slater is building a portfolio of brands under Apex Brand Collection. |Photo courtesy of Mission + Garnet.

After selling Slater’s 50/50 in 2016 to Elite Restaurant Group, Slater started again with the launch of the Spitfire (tacos) and Head Lettuce (salads) brands in 2019, both of which are now part of the Apex portfolio.

The fourth Spitfire location is scheduled to open soon in Boise, Idaho, and this one will be a full-service variation of the brand with a drive-thru and tequila bar, he said.

Apex is now looking to franchise in California and Idaho. Potential franchisees would have the right to operate any of the nine brands and pick and choose which might be successful, depending on what’s appropriate for the real estate, he said.

Other concepts within Apex include Earlybird Breakfast Burritos; Checkered Churros; Scotty Dogs; Chickie Tendies; and Beefy Steve’s (burgers).

Separately (not part of Apex), Slater also owns the concept bar Understory, which is part of the collection of restaurants in Del Mar called Sky Deck, which is sort of a food hall, but with all full-service concepts.

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