A Foundation of Quality

By Baselinemag  |  Posted 2008-04-30 Print this article Print

Johnny’s Lunch is on a roll with a combo of good food at reasonable prices, great service and the right technology.

A Foundation of Quality

Johnny’s Lunch has long been about attention to small details. A Johnny’s Hot, for example, has always been a specially made all-beef Sugarland Coney. “We tenderize each hot dog, putting slits in it to allow the sauce to meld with the hot dog meat and give it a better taste,” says Brendan Brown, general manager of the Johnny’s Lunch in Waterford, Mich.

The proprietary chili sauce that adorned the first Johnny’s Hot—a carefully guarded blend of tomato sauce, ground beef and peppers—now graces fries, onion rings, hot dogs and burgers as well. And Johnny’s Lunch set the tone for value with its “Threebees,” which allows customers to buy their three favorite items at a discounted price.

Though providing good food at fair prices has helped Johnny’s Lunch remain a local favorite from generation to generation, it hasn’t been enough to expand the restaurant into a major chain and make it a household name. So Johnny’s Lunch began to take a close look at what else was needed to make their formula repeatable.

On the plus side, management was optimistic that the market could sustain another franchise restaurant. After all, points out George Goulson, who was hired 18 months ago as Johnny’s Lunch president and chief development officer, there are only 3,300 hot dog establishments in the country—about the same as the number of McDonald locations in Los Angeles county alone. The most well-known hot dog franchises remain relatively small: the Wienerschnitzel, with 250 stores clustered mainly on the West Coast, and Nathan’s Famous, with 180 outlets located mainly on the East Coast.

“When they approached me to help develop the concept, I saw the entrepreneurship of the family,” says Goulson, who was formerly the executive vice president of franchise development for the A&W restaurant chain. “They had a look, price points and food that were unique, and they were quality- and value-oriented.”

To get an out-of-the-gate advantage, the company added a host of heavy-hitting, experienced businesspeople to join Goulson on its management team, which also includes Johnny’s Lunch CEO Anthony Calamunci and Vice President John Calamunci, grandsons of founder Johnny Colera. Both men have decades of experience with the original formula the company is hoping to franchise.

To fill the position of vice president of real estate site selection, the team brought in John Orton, who had worked with brands such as Domino’s Pizza, Marco’s Pizza, Hooters, Yum! Brands, Burger King, Wendy’s, Steak ’n Shake, Brinker International, Dunkin’ Donuts and others. Management also hired Robert Elliott as vice president of marketing. His experience includes advertising and marketing for brands that include Nick-N-Willy’s, Zoup!, Papa Romano’s Pizza, Quiznos and Mr. Pita.

“Johnny’s Lunch now has a pretty strong roster of people in terms of experience,” says Technomic’s Tristano. “They also have an attorney managing the business, which is a good sign.”


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