When they founded Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers, Scott Redler and brothers Bill and Randy Simon weren’t thinking about starting a chain. They just wanted to open one restaurant that offered quality all the way from food to facilities to service, says Redler.
That one-restaurant mindset is perhaps why there are now nearly 350 Freddy’s across 32 states, with dozens and dozens more on the way.
While the first Freddy’s location opened in Wichita, Kan., in 2004, the chain’s roots trace back two years prior to a friendly conversation among the Simons and Redler, the “restaurant guy” of the group. At one point, they began reminiscing about the steakburgers and frozen custard they grew up with in the Midwest and eventually realized they couldn’t think of a Wichita restaurant that served that food, Redler says.
Seeing the opportunity in front of them, the three decided to open their own steakburger and frozen custard joint, naming it Freddy’s after Bill and Randy’s father, a World War II veteran. “When Freddy was a young man in the ’40s and ’50s, you just did things the right way,” says Redler, the chain’s chief operating officer. “You didn’t try to manage business down; you managed business up. We had that attitude from the beginning.”
On the food front, that translates to a commitment to quality at Freddy’s. In its 17 years, says Redler, the chain has never lowered the quality of its offerings by choosing, say, a lower-quality meat or bagged lettuce. Instead, the chain receives all its produce whole, uses a high-quality 85/15 ground beef blend for its cooked-to-order burgers, and takes the time and effort to butter toast its buns. Freddy’s founders and their families even endured “the summer of the hot dog,” a months-long blind taste test involving 100 pounds of links, in order to find the perfect hot dog for their restaurant.
From the beginning, Freddy’s has also benefited from Redler’s restaurant background. Coming from a full-service steakhouse, he strives to create a full-service attitude among Freddy’s team members. The chain trains staff, for example, to make eye contact and welcome guests, call them to retrieve their orders with a “please,” and offer a sincere “thank-you” at pickup.
This approach to food and service helped that first Freddy’s restaurant thrive and the chain to grow to its current size. Much of that growth occurred during the last four years, during which the chain averaged nearly 50 store openings. Most recently, the chain moved into the nontraditional space, including college campuses and sporting venues. This growth path may match traditional store growth at some point in the future, Redler says.
Built to Last
Whether traditional or nontraditional, Freddy’s stores showcase the chain’s commitment to doing things “the right way.” The chain chooses finishes, fixtures, equipment and furnishings that can stand up to heavy regular use for years without showing significant wear and tear. Redler points out, “Everything we do is built with our long-term mission in mind. We aren’t going to put in a laminate table that in three years is not going to look like part of a new restaurant.”
Indeed, examine Freddy’s with a trained eye, and you’ll see a place that’s built to last. Instead of laminate tables, Freddy’s uses solid-surface tabletops. The same furnishings approach applies to the ordering and pickup counter. The restaurant’s front of house includes plenty of stainless steel, including on the containers for the waste cans and stands for the condiment and soda stations — all built with durability and long-term investment in mind.
Vinyl upholstered booths, chairs and stools are among the only soft surfaces in the front of the house, notes Redler. Even then, most Freddy’s restaurants keep backup vinyl for booths or chairs. “That way, we never look old and tired,” he says.
This is not to say that Freddy’s is all function, no form. The restaurant has a classic Americana vibe, though not so strong as to make the concept a nostalgia play. Freddy’s bright signature red carries through in booths, chairs and stools, as well as on design accents and even exposed ductwork. Flooring consists of durable tile laid out in a black-and-white checkerboard pattern.
Inspired by its namesake’s military service, patriotism takes hold as a central theme at Freddy’s.
Images of Freddy himself hang from the walls. A few sentences narrating the different times of his life accompany the images and take guests through Freddy’s journey from childhood to college and military service and beyond.
Smaller Storage, Fewer Steps
While the chain’s food, service and general vibe create fans, these represent but a few of the factors fueling Freddy’s success. The new kitchen design dedicated to efficiency and quality also plays a role. The latest version of this space was introduced late last year. This new prototype kitchen, Redler says, is about 350 square feet smaller than before. At about $200 per square foot, he notes, that represents a major cost reduction.
A large chunk of this square footage reduction came out of the restaurant’s storage area. In the previous design, the chain had multiple aisles of fixed shelving, with plenty of square footage dedicated to walkways between these shelves.
Freddy’s new kitchen uses rack shelving on wheels. These pieces sit against one another in a compact space, and staff roll them out on an as-needed basis. That change alone saved the chain 45 square feet, says Redler. Most of the remaining saved space came out of the production area of Freddy’s kitchen, he adds, which simply had extra room and extra steps that were just waiting to be eliminated.
The redesigned production area starts with the grill station, where staff cook burgers, chicken sandwiches and hot dogs. Twin flattop units provide redundancy to give the chain the sheer square footage of cooking space it needs to make burgers, patty melts, hot dogs and chicken sandwiches.
Previously, the griddles were placed back-to-back, forming an island in the middle of the kitchen where grill cooks faced each other. In the new design, the griddles sit side by side against a wall.
This change, Redler says, helps reduce Freddy’s labor costs. Although stores use both griddles most of the time, during slow periods, the station only needs one cook.
In addition to the griddles, this station has an unusual refrigeration setup. In many operations, refrigerated drawers beneath the flattop store proteins that staff cook at that station. Instead, at Freddy’s, a refrigerated table holds proteins in covered drop-ins, with backups held below. This arrangement cuts steps for the team members at the griddle, adding to the efficiency of the kitchen, Redler says.
The bun toaster sits next to the grill station. Staff toast buns here for hot dogs and sandwiches. They add the protein on the bottom half, then route the top half to the make table, the next spot on the line.
The make table holds all the usual suspects, such as lettuce, tomatoes and onions, along with condiments, including Freddy’s signature burger sauce. Staff store backups in an undercounter refrigeration with doors, while custom-made storage above the table holds buns, baskets and paper liners for dine-in guest service, as well as bags for carryout orders and the restaurant’s two-lane drive-thru.
After team members add toppings and condiments to a sandwich or dog, they place it in either a basket or bag, then pass to the person at the fry station. This station sits at a 90-degree angle from the rest of the line, forming an L. Fry station equipment starts with an upright freezer, which stores french fries, onion rings and chicken tenders. After that comes Freddy’s lone fryer, a two-vat unit.
Separating the fryers from the griddles requires two separate hoods, adding to build-out costs, something Redler acknowledges. He believes the expense is worth it, though, especially since french fries are now the very last item added to every order.
“The first thing a guest does when they sit down to eat is grab a fry. When you’re in the drive-thru, as you’re driving away, you’re eating a fry. Our goal is to serve the freshest, hottest fries in the industry,” Redler says.
A built-in produce sink follows the fry station in the equipment lineup. Staff typically prep produce twice a day, once in the morning before the lunch rush and again in the afternoon before dinner.
In addition to the hot production line, the chain also has a custard station. This includes a frozen custard maker, a refrigerated dipping cabinet, and various wells and dispensers holding toppings for sundaes, mix-in dessert concoctions and other frozen treats.
While Freddy’s traditional store growth continues to thrive, in March, the chain announced the opening of four nontraditional locations along with the planned launch of a fifth by the end of 2019. Freddy’s reason for entering the nontraditional space was simple: The demand was there.
“The company we are working with [franchisee MLY Investments] does surveys before they go in an outlet,” Redler says. “When they were bidding on different markets, Freddy’s kept coming up. We knew at that point that their guests wanted Freddy’s.”
These nontraditional locations have a limited menu compared with traditional Freddy’s locations. Specifically, they don’t offer chicken sandwiches. This decision came down to basic strategy. Many nontraditional venues host chicken-focused restaurants, often Chick-fil-A. Instead of competing with a specialist, Freddy’s decided to focus on its own specialties of burgers and frozen custard, Redler says.
While a minor change in Freddy’s big picture, it shows in the kitchens at the chain’s nontraditional venues. Instead of having two large griddles, these locations have either one large griddle or two smaller units that provide redundancy. Beyond that, the production area is basically unchanged. Storage and prep are designed around the venue’s facilities, which are often shared among several operators.
While the kitchen allows Freddy’s nontraditional locations to fulfill the brand promise, there’s more to the Freddy’s experience than just food. On the facilities front, the design of nontraditional stores’ ordering counters look like the counters at traditional Freddy’s locations and are made with the same durable materials.
Creating the Freddy’s experience, in both the traditional nontraditional space, requires great partners, says Redler. Aside from the financial ability to open these restaurants, the chain wants to work with groups or individuals that have operating experience.
Another key factor is the cultural fit. Freddy’s looks for people who truly believe in the brand and will be good to work with, says Redler. “We call it the no-jerk rule,” says Redler. “They have to fit into our brand. We call our franchisee meeting Freddy’s Family Reunions and not the Freddy’s convention. There’s a reason behind that. It’s our culture.”
That cultural commitment is a big reason why Freddy’s has thrived, particularly in recent years: The company is simply committed to doing things the right way, with an eye toward long-term success.
Looking forward, Redler adds, Freddy’s expects to keep up its pace of 50 openings a year for at least a few years. Redler is confident in his team’s ability to manage this growth and predicts the chain will thrive thanks to the attitude he and his partners had when they started company 17 years ago.
“If you ask me, my goal is to open up great restaurants one at a time,” says Redler. “I never want to lose that focus.”
Freddy's at a Glance
- C-Suite: Randy Simon, CEO, president and co-founder; Scott Redler, chief operating officer and co-founder; William Valentas, chief financial officer
- Key players: Andrew Thengvall, senior vice president of strategic growth and chief legal officer; Markus Scholler, vice president of franchise development;
Ben J. Simon, vice president of operations
- Chain headquarters: Wichita, Kan.
- Year founded: 2002
- Signature items: Steakburgers and frozen custard
- Number of units: Roughly 350
- Average seats per unit: 100
- Total system sales: $474.7 million
- Average unit volume: $29,078 per week
- Kitchen equipment package cost: Around $160,000 with freight and installation
- Check average: $13.74
- Kitchen design consultant: Trimark Hockenbergs
- Equipment dealer: Trimark Hockenbergs