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The view from Jack’s front porch is pretty good.
The chain’s new prototype restaurant has a porch, among other additions. Last week, Jack’s opened its 150th location in Summerville, Ga., and plans to open another 14 this year. That means hiring about 500 people in 2018, with other markets on the horizon.
It’s a good time for the company, CEO Todd Bartmess says, as Jack’s also looks to expand its menu.
“We want to grow at about 8 to 10 percent a year,” he said. “We want to make sure we can bring on people who live the culture of Jack’s, train them and provide the guests with a great experience.”
Jack’s footprint currently covers Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia and Mississippi. The fast food chain last year pushed into Chattanooga and Jackson, Tenn., and parts of western Georgia.
In addition, last month restaurants rolled out the Mushroom Swiss burger, and Jack’s is testing a Chicken Finger BLT and Biscuit Bites that would be available all day. Bartmess said the company plans to roll out three or four new products a year. Last year, Jack’s updated its test kitchen for the development of new menu items.
But the changes to the restaurant may herald something else about the company’s image. Last month, Jack’s opened its new prototype in Etowah County’s Southside. At the heart of it was an emphasis on Jack’s role as the community meeting place.
The new location features a wrapped front porch with outdoor seating, large round community dining tables and an old-school ice cream counter. A spotlight in the kitchen puts that day’s biscuit maker within view of guests. The design should start showing up in new locations next year.
Bartmess said it took about a year-and-a-half to develop the concept, which marries the restaurant with its identity as a Southern company – right down to the words “All About the South” over the entrance.
“We looked at ourselves and asked, ‘Do our buildings really portray everything the brand is?'” Bartmess said. “We like the way it looks and feels, and the way it makes the customers feel.”
Jack’s prides itself on customer experience – which includes having a hostess in the dining room who knows regular customers’ names and fosters a hometown feel. That connects with a uniquely Southern sensibility.
“We are definitely a Southern brand, but it’s not something we talked about that much,” Bartmess said. “We have products that are important to the South, our guest service is deemed as Southern hospitality. You go to some restaurants, and hospitality is the last thing they worry about. It’s the first thing we worry about.”
But Bartmess said the ideas of Southern closeness, family, and connection are more than just style points in a store design. For example, the company has the “Jack’s Family Fund” which employees pay into.
“We use that money when there’s an emergency, a catastrophe, whether its one of our own employees or customers or friends,” Bartmess said. “We’re trying to be a company that cares about their customers, that tries to give something back. That makes it a lot of fun as we grow into these communities.”
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