Chain Profile: Wild Noodles
Capitalizing on the popularity of quick-casual foodservice, Wild Noodles seeks to create bigger take-out profits in smaller, more efficient spaces.
Even though the Wild Noodles chain is only two years old, it is well-poised to capitalize on the burgeoning quick-casual dining segment and the increasing popularity of noodle houses. With the opening of six locations in only three months, at press time the Tempe, Ariz.-based chain had 18 locations in 12 states.
The quick-casual Asian cluster, in particular, is booming. Technomic, a Chicago-based research and consulting firm, predicts major growth in noodle houses over the next five years.
“Our restaurants provide people with an alternative to fast food,” says J.B. McDougall, Wild Noodles’ vice president of operations. “One of our main goals is to capture the speed of service [offered by fast-food restaurants].” With an average ticket time of about seven minutes, many would agree the 100-percent franchised chain is on its way to achieving this goal.
Wild Noodles’ dining room décor features an urban contemporary feel. Artwork is similar in each restaurant, with maroon banners depicting bowls, stars and noodles.
What sets Wild Noodles apart from the many other noodle houses on the scene is its diverse menu, which consists of 25 items. Divided into Italian, Asian and American noodle dishes, the menu also includes other options, such as rice bowls, salad and soup.
“All of our entrées have a different flavor profile, which allows our guests to enjoy a drastically different tasting dish on every visit or satisfy almost every taste for a group of diners,” McDougall explains.
Wild Noodles also markets to the budget-conscious consumer, with average meal prices ranging from $7.50 to $8. “This makes us obtainable to people who want to come in once or twice a week,” McDougall says.
The chain’s most recent target is the growing take-out segment. According to the National Restaurant Association, 34 percent of adults say purchasing take-out food is essential to the way they live. McDougall and the team at Wild Noodles are well-aware of this potential. “Over the last 15-to-20 years, Americans switched from eating dinner at home to eating these meals at their local restaurants. But now, people are back to eating around their own dinner table, and they are purchasing take-out meals so they don’t have to cook and clean up. People are looking for convenience,” he says.
The restaurants’ take-out business currently averages between 20 percent and 30 percent, with about 70 percent of its sales generated during lunch hours. “We are working on boosting that percentage to increase our dinner to-go business,” McDougall says.
Customers have a view of Wild Noodles’ open kitchen from the dining room. Typical kitchens are only 400-square-feet, arranged in a 24-foot-long line format.
As Wild Noodles’ franchisees attempt to grow this segment, the chain looks to increase efficiencies on the operations side. As a result of this concept’s continuing evolution, the units are sleeker and smaller in size.
While some older units have totaled 2,500-square-feet, newer locales are typically held between 2,000- and 2,100-square-feet. “We just opened three restaurants that are less than 2,200-square-feet in Washington State, California and Chicago,” McDougall says. “As we understand more about what we are and what we can do, we have been able to create efficiencies to decrease our restaurants’ sizes without compromising seating.” The chain accomplishes this mainly by obliterating dead spaces in the design.
McDougall emphasizes that Wild Noodles won’t turn down phenomenal sites that are larger, but the smaller size requirements have provided more flexibility that has led to additional locations in more markets.
Along with downsizing the restaurants’ square footage, the chain continues to look for different ways to increase production and operate more cost effectively, says Lisa Casanova, Wild Noodles’ project manager who oversees each unit’s construction and equipment installation. “We’re always looking for ways to keep the quality up and costs down. For example, we are trying out a new grill for our chicken to prepare it differently and more efficiently. Also, the wall lining on our cookline is all-stainless-steel, so it is easier to clean and more durable,” she says.
Facts of Note
Headquarters: Tempe, Ariz.
Units: 18 in 12 states, all franchised
Size: 1,800- to 2,500-square-feet
Seats: 65 to 80
Check: $7.50 to $8
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 or 10 p.m.
Menu Specialties: Italian, Asian and American noodle dishes, including lasagna in a bowl, Thai rice noodles, beef Stroganoff and macaroni and cheese
Equipment Investment: $97,000
Total Annual Sales: Number not available
One of the biggest recent changes was to the dining room countertops’ materials. “We formerly installed all granite counters and now have gone to high-end laminate, which has not compromised the restaurants’ appearance,” Casanova says. The counters reside in the dining rooms by the millwork walls and cabinets. “Each side has a 60-inch-by-12-inch countertop. The beverage station has a 120-inch-long counter, and the point-of-sale counter, where orders are taken, is about 30 inches wide by 96 inches long. That was a lot of granite. This change has saved each franchisee almost $5,000.”
Wild Noodles restaurants remain consistent in their appearance. The dining room décor has an urban contemporary feel, with the main colors being orange and green. Each unit also features similar artwork, such as maroon banners with pictures of bowls, stars and noodles. One of the signature items Wild Noodles requires each franchisee to display is a custom-made curly light fixture that simulates the shape of a noodle.
Upon entering Wild Noodles, customers are met by a “greeter,” who acts as a host and helps guide them through the menu. A 24-inch-by-24-inch menu board near the entrance displays the dishes and their ingredients. Offerings include Italian fare, such as lasagna in a bowl, shrimp scampi and chicken Marsala; Asian dishes including Thai rice noodles, teriyaki stir fry and Mongolian noodles; and American comfort food like beef Stroganoff and macaroni and cheese. Kids’ meals, rice bowls, salads and soup also are available.
Customers order at a nearby counter; servers bring food to the tables, booths and banquettes.
From the dining room, customers have a view of the open kitchen and the cooks preparing the meals, Casanova says. Each restaurant’s average staff size is 25, which includes between three-to-five cooks working at one time.
Because there is only three feet between the cooklines, cooks just turn 180° to reach the front line from the back line. On this line are nine ranges with hoods in groups of three and wall shelving that holds 50 woks.
Kitchens are typically 400-square-feet, arranged in a 24-foot-long line format. Only three feet separate the back and front cookline to enhance the kitchen’s efficiency. “Cooks only need to turn 180° to reach the front line from the back line to get their ingredients and cook,” Casanova says.
The cookline features nine ranges with hoods in groups of three. “In between each range is a cold well that holds sauces we make in-house from scratch,” Casanova says. Hot wells behind each range hold warm sauces. The ranges and cold wells are situated on top of one large refrigerated base that has six drawers to hold the pasta and meat.
At the end of one side of the line is a countertop fryer that cooks breaded chicken and shrimp and wontons. A nearby rice cooker produces the rice bowl meals. At the opposite end is a double-compartment pasta cooker. “One side is for cooking and the other side is an ice bath. Our pasta is cooked fresh every morning,” Casanova says.
The cookline also features wall shelving that holds 50 woks. “Each dish is cooked to order, and we only use one wok for each dish,” Casanova says. “The wok goes through a pass-through window to be washed before it is used again.” A hand sink is located on the back part of the cookline.
Wild Noodles Players
CEO: George Krontonsky
Vice President of Operations: J.B. McDougall
Director of Training: Jenny Kouri
Director of Marketing: Sarah Boisseree
Director of Sales, Franchises: Mick Sampson
Project Manager: Lisa Casanova
Equipment Dealer: The Boelter Companies, Milwaukee
The front line contains two refrigerated prep tables used to prepare vegetables and portion meat in the mornings and hold cold salad items. “These include vegetables and cheese for dishes,” Casanova says. In between these prep tables is a filler table with a warming unit for wontons and bread. Completed dishes are passed to thewaitstaff from a flat stainless-steel top, which features three warming lamps to keep dishes at proper temperatures.
The kitchen also includes an 8-foot-by-10-foot walk-in refrigerator, a two-door freezer, an ice machine, a dishwashing machine, a three-compartment sink and shelving.
Part of Wild Noodles’ immediate plans, according to McDougall, is to test new equipment to produce food more efficiently at its sites and find local equipment dealers on both coasts to help cut down on freight costs.
Looking ahead, McDougall says the chain’s ultimate goal is to be a leading noodle house in the quick-casual market. “We foresee expansion on both the East and West Coasts, particularly in the West, which is fertile ground for us,” he says. “Right now, though, we are still gathering ourselves from our many restaurant openings.”
Nine ranges with hoods
Eight cold wells
Nine hot wells
One large refrigerated base with six drawers
Flat stainless-steel top with three warming lamps
Two refrigerated prep tables
Filler table with a warming unit
|8-foot-by-10-foot walk-in refrigerator
Photos courtesy of Wild Noodles.