In its first 17 years of franchising, Mooyah Burgers, Fries & Shakes was able to expand mainly by signing single-unit, single-brand owner operators.
The Plano, Texas-based company is now actively targeting multi-unit, multi-brand franchisees who are looking to diversify their restaurant portfolios.
“We’re seeing a lot more traction in the last couple years signing successful franchisees from other systems that see an opportunity to grow in their markets by adding a burger concept,” Mooyah CEO Doug Willmarth said.
Entering what Willmarth calls a new transformational growth phase for the company, Mooyah signed deals with four multi-brand restaurant operators in the last few years. They include: Golden Corral operator Marc Verderame, who signed a 10-store deal in Palm Beach, Florida; Zaxby’s multi-unit franchisee Brad Harper of Swamp Dawg Restaurants, who signed a five-unit deal in central Florida; and Zabdikel Barnier, a former McDonald’s operator, who is opening one restaurant in the Orlando area.
Mark Notz, a former Freddy’s Frozen Custard and Steakburgers regional operator, also recently signed a three-unit deal with Mooyah in Saint Charles County, Missouri, Willmarth said.
With 73 traditional brick-and mortar restaurants in 23 states to go along with its five units in the United Arab Emirates, Mooyah has found room to grow in the crowded burger-and-shake space. The No. 371-ranked brand on the Franchise Times Top 400 with $72.1 million in system sales in 2022, Mooyah opened seven domestic restaurants in 2023.
The company recently finalized a deal with its first franchisee in Michigan, Walid Bounenni, who will develop five restaurants. And in Orange County, California, franchisee Andrew Davis will open three locations.
Wallmarth said Mooyah is actively seeking franchisees in West Coast, Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, New England and Southeast markets, plus its home state of Texas.
“I’m really focused now on how we can saturate the markets where we’ve got a presence and where we’ve proven to be successful with brand awareness,” said Willmarth, adding that ideal franchisee candidates will have existing restaurant franchise operations with one to 20 units in their portfolios. The cost to open a Mooyah restaurant ranges from $495,918 to $1,168,251, depending on the footprint, according to the company’s franchise disclosure document.
Willmarth is hoping some new initiatives propels the company’s growth. As the brand continues to upgrade the look and feel of its existing restaurants, it is also adding beverage options such as juices and lemonade to the menu.
Mooyah will also soon begin testing drive-thru locations for the first time in certain markets and rolling out a new vertical bun toaster and clamshell grill along with a next generation touchscreen kitchen display system with visual build and accuracy checking. These upgrades are aimed at speeding up food ordering and preparation.
“We feel we make burgers, fries and shakes better than anyone because we use fresh quarter pound patties that are not frozen and cook every single one of our burgers and order of fries from scratch,” Willmarth said. “The challenge for us has always been the time it takes to prepare our food, which averages out to about 4-5 minutes per order to cook right, and that traditionally hasn’t really worked for a drive-thru environment.
“How to make our food faster without sacrificing quality for drive-thru is what we want to accomplish,” he said, “and we think we have figured that out with slightly different line flow and a few equipment changes.”
One thing that won’t change at Mooyah, Willmarth promised, is the company’s continued commitment to its core market and its most loyal customer base.
“We are very popular with the high school age group and up to those in their mid 20s,” he said. “But, then again, one of our busiest and top performing locations is in Billings, Montana, and if you go in there during lunch, you’ll see it packed with blue-collar workers, guys in cowboy boots and hats, lining up to get the best burger in town. That restaurant saw annual sales of just short of $2 million last year, which is pretty impressive.”
Mooyah’s average gross sales were $1.02 million in 2022.