To understand b.good, the healthy sandwich and salad shop that has taken the northeast by storm, we’re going to need to hop into the DeLorean, and go back to 1987 – when the founders met. b.good’s co-founders, Jon Olinto and Anthony Ackil, met in the sixth grade, and formed a fast friendship. After countless shared burgers – and years later – the duo teamed up to create something that they felt was missing from the marketplace. They set out to create a line of restaurants where the food was made by real people, not factories. In fact, burgers share the menu with kale and quinoa bowls and seasonal salads, and are all made with ingredients sourced from local farmers who use sustainable farming practices.
It’s a business model that’s been fueling some impressive growth. While b.good currently has 16 stores in their hometown in Boston and throughout the Northeast, their plan is to add 23 more restaurants within the next five years. Of course, world domination was as much a part of the dream as real food that made consumers feel good. As co-founder Anthony Ackil said in an interview, “We set out wanting this business to be huge. We never wanted to open five restaurants. We never wanted 50. We want hundreds.”
The Way I See It
- I see that b.good is successfully riding trends in the restaurant business. They are capitalizing on the farm-to-table movement that resonates with consumers who want a closer connection to their food and the people who grow it and prepare it.
- I see the brand also capitalizing on the “affordable luxury” trend, and offering consumers the option of a “better burger” that is also wallet friendly. Consumers can still enjoy the American staple of a burger and fries for a reasonable price that’s also made from higher quality ingredients.
- b.good has done a terrific job of tapping into their own origin story – boyhood friends who start a restaurant based on an uncle’s burger recipe – to create a business where staff, customers, and community are all part of an extended family.
The Way the Industry Sees It
I sat down with Jon Olinto, co-founder of b.good, to discuss conquering the world with healthy, sustainably prepared fast food.
How has b.good changed since inception?
There has been a major shift with people’s relationship with fast-casual and people’s relationship with food in general has really evolved. The only way we could envision that 11 years ago when we started was we wanted to change the industry to make fast food real. We thought we had to change burgers, fries, salads and do it along those menu lines. Transform the food based on those products, and transform the experience and the way it was delivered. Now, what we are seeing lately is that the idea of serving a better burger – or creating a better burger and fries – is really oversaturated and doesn’t really play into our mission of making fast food real. Over the last 18 months we’ve done some significant menu changes that stay true to the brand, but position ourselves a little differently to our customers. We have never seen such growth over this year, and we are going to be up 30 percent, which is unheard of especially for a company that has been around for 10 plus years.
That’s great! What do you think led to the increased growth?
We attribute this to two things, timing was right and we were able to dial-in to what our customers wanted. We started menu changes about 18 months ago, and we were certainly a first mover at least in our markets. We started pressing our own juice, created a whole new category on our menu (such as kale and quinoa bowls), and we expanded our salad menu. We shifted from milkshakes to smoothies, as well as repositioned ourselves with an item that was fresh as well as healthy. The menu change and the products created have changed our business. Keeping the momentum alive is a big priority for us now, and how to keep pushing our own unique definition of real food so we seize the leadership opportunity. The fact that we have burgers provides us with a widespread appeal, but also allows us the opportunity to serve a more widespread base of customers. The concept of real food and continuing to flesh this out is of the most interest to us right now.
Thinking about the current restaurants, the customer base that you have, and your recent success – do you attribute that to a new customer base, or are these returning customers? What are your demographics like?
One of the first menu changes we made was introducing our green smoothie, which instantly became a crowd favorite of both new and existing customers. That showed us that our existing customers wanted additional healthy items and there was clearly a desired from consumers for health conscious products. We were able to additionally service those who already loved b.good, and expanded the scope of who we were serving every day. Our demographics have always skewed women, even when we thought we were a burger-centric concept. We’ve always had a wellness mission from the start – we have always served our burgers on whole wheat buns, salads were a big part of our menu, we’ve always had homemade veggie burgers, and offer sides such as crisp veggies. It various by market, but across the board we serve more women than men. I think most brands in our category would say the same. Our competitors are not in the better burger category – we don’t compete with the “Shake Shacks,” or with those concepts. We compete with companies such as Chop’t, and those who share our same customer demographics and wellness mission.
Looking at your old menu, verse the new menu that you just created, what is the scope of customers like?
Five years ago our top selling product was beef burgers hands down. Fast forward to today and our top seller is the kale quinoa bowl. We just open up a store in Raleigh, North Carolina and in the first week of sales there was so much balance in the mix. It shows that we are able to really position ourselves in the market place. It shows that customers don’t just look at us like we are a burger company that also sells healthy items. They look at us as a much more broad definition of real food. We don’t define ourselves as just one type of food – the great thing about b.good is we cater to essentially every customer all while ensuring that we deliver real food.
From a marketing perspective, what do you relay upon?
We’ve used a lot of tactics such as social media, PR, and advertising. For us, the best approach is combining community based activities with digital. If you can do a community event that captures data such as activation that’s the sweet spot for us. For example, we have a loyalty program where you can use an app or key chain to redeem gifts and rewards that help us track who our customers are and what they like. A lot of our community based events utilize food trucks. The objectives being you get people to try the product and get people to sign up for the app at the event allowing us to collect data. Once a consumer activates the app, there is a free product on there for you, so we can measure conversion based on activity.
The world is undeniably becoming more digital-friendly and apps have seemed to become a consumer’s best friend. Tell me a little about the b.good app?
We typically push out new product offers through our app. Consumer’s experiences are built around “best in class” apps such as Uber. We built our app years ago, and we knew that everything was moving to mobile. You can also pay at the store via our app. We’ve had mobile payment options up and running for about six months.
Where do you see the restaurant industry heading – if you could take a guess, what does the future look like?
In store experiences are changing so quickly, and I predict that soon there will be no cashiers standing there what you want to order. I see their role changing to more of a host or a hostess – making sure everything is great, and making your experience more personal. Those that change the dining experience first, are going to be the frontrunners. The dining experience will change to become more personable and more human.
What is the coolest object in your office?
Anthony and I have been best friends since we were little, and when we were in the 9th grade we started a landscaping company. Before I left for college, Anthony’s Mom framed our original ALM Landscaping flyer. It reminds me of how special this is, and that I am able to do this with a guy that I grew up with.