Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Will aggressive growth plans be too much for Wahlburgers?

Finally an excuse to talk about Wahlburgers, the fast growing restaurant chain run by the Wahlberg family. The brothers had visited the International Speedway in the Granite State where they had been invited to a race that was shown on a recent episode of their TV show. Having watched the series in the past we haven't seen an episode in some time but their aggressive growth plans are everywhere and according to an article in the Boston Globe adding 110 new restaurants is a real possibility over the next several years. The Wahlburgers think it is time to celebrate but I think the company should take a step back.

We had the pleasure of meeting Paul, the older brother of Mark and Donnie, at their first Wahlburgers location in Hingham a few years ago and he seemed to be a genially nice person. From the show, it appeared that Mark was pushing for rapid growth and Paul was the food expert preferring to keep the company small. After all, they had a Wahlburgers in Hingham along with their more formal restaurant across the way named after their mother and her nine children, Alma Nove. All seemed perfect for Paul in the beginning but I guess that wasn't enough for Mark who continued to push for growth. What once had been a small family business was now going to become a large national chain. Although we wish they had kept the business the way it was the Wahlburgers idea is a success and who can blame them for trying to make more money. Now the key question is are they moving and expanding too fast.

The food concepts that have failed or had problems because they did things too quickly are numerous. The most recent was the Mexican restaurant chain Chipotle that seemed to be on top of the world until their customers started getting sick. And don't forget the sad story of Crumbs Bake Shop that started out very successfully and then after rapid expansion fell apart. I remember trying a cupcake in one of their New York locations in the early days and it was one of the best ever. Then the growth started and after they had opened in Nashua, New Hampshire the cupcakes tasted stale. They were making them at another facility and trucking them in, basically food quality had gone out the window.

Don't get me wrong, I like Wahlburgers and in no way am I suggesting that they would have any problems on their way to the top of the burger world. I bring up the above examples hoping that they would not only slow things down a bit but also make sure that food quality and control are where they should be before moving forward so aggressively that everything could collapse. Their name alone is going to keep their restaurants busy but the other stuff counts as well especially when you have a lot more restaurants that you can't keep a close eye on. When I visited the Wahlburgers in Hingham that first time I enjoyed the place as we had previously written. Was everything perfect? No, the tater tots were not the greatest. They were luke warm and in the grand scheme of things not a big deal but it was an issue and that was when they had only a few restaurants.
So if any of the Wahlberg's do read this I ask them to take a step back and consider that growing their business this quickly in so many different markets while keeping food quality at a high level is going to be extremely difficult. But if they are going to expand anywhere and since you had visited the state might I suggest something closer and your neighbor to the north, New Hampshire, for your next restaurant. I can assure you that I for one would go in to check it out whether it is in Nashua, Manchester, Portsmouth or someplace else.