Missoulian.com featured a story on the HuHot franchise concept which is on the franchise fast track. Here are some choice bits from the story, which you can read here.
HuHot one of the fastest growing small chains in the nation
By TYLER CHRISTENSEN of the Missoulian
HuHot Mongolian Grill is living up to its Genghis Khan-inspired concept.
The Montana-based restaurant chain is expanding rapidly, and, in fact, is now the second-fastest-growing small chain in the nation, according to Restaurant Business magazine. The magazine contracted with Technomic, a food industry research and consulting firm in Chicago, to produce a list of the 50 fastest-growing restaurant franchises with total sales between $25 million and $50 million.
HuHot, which has corporate offices in Missoula, was the only company from Montana to make the list. Clocking systemwide sales of $27.5 million and average per-store sales of $1.7 million, it was outpaced only by Salsarita’s Fresh Cantina of Charlotte, N.C.
HuHot began franchising just five years ago, and has already exploded into 24 locations in 13 states, including a new restaurant that opened in Kalispell last month. Three more locations are currently under construction, says Andy Vap, who founded HuHot and now runs it with a number of other family members.
The first HuHot restaurant in Missoula was launched in 1999 under the name Mongo’s Mongolian Grill. A few years later, when Vap began considering franchising, he researched trademarks and discovered the name was already registered in other states. So he did some more research and eventually settled on HuHot, the ancient capital of Inner Mongolia.
The Mongolian grill concept has been around for a long time, Vap said, but it has typically been offered as a side attraction. Vap and his family thought it could stand on its own.
The idea is to let patrons choose from a buffet-style array of ingredients and sauces, then hand their dishes over to a chef to cook up as they watch.
Vap’s new restaurant chain is still a family-run affair. Andy’s sister, Molly Vap, is the director of franchise development, he pointed out.
â€œMy aunt and uncle work with us, my mom and dad are still involved,â€ he added.
Growing up in the business gave Andy Vap a good sense of what it takes to make it in the food and beverage industry, as well as valuable experience with franchising.
â€œIt’s a crazy industry,â€ he said. â€œYou have to put everything up front and open a store and then hold your breath. In the restaurant industry you can’t ever avoid competition – all you can do is pick a niche. The hard part is opening that first store, proving that the concept works.â€
Franchising is a common growth engine, explained editor-in-chief Sam Smith.
â€œIt’s got its positives and negatives,â€ he said via telephone from the magazine’s headquarters in New York. â€œThe positives, of course, is that you’ve got a larger pool of people helping you grow, you’ve got a flush of cash when franchises come on board. But you’ve got to be very smart about it.â€
After all, many chains have tried to franchise and failed. Most of them either expanded too quickly or didn’t do enough vetting of franchisees, Smith said. Franchisers need to make sure they’re signing on the right people, he said.
It’s also important, he said, to make sure franchises stick to the original concept. It’s tempting for franchisees to want to bring in their own ideas, but that’s dangerous for a growing chain.
â€œThe concept has to stay pure,â€ Smith said.
…things are going smoothly for the folks at HuHot, he said, and they continue to field a lot of franchising offers despite the fact they do almost no advertising for them.
â€œWhat really drives the interest in opening more stores is just really seeing more busy stores out there,â€ Vap said.
What seems to sell the idea, he said, is walking into one of the restaurants and soaking up the atmosphere – and seeing it packed full with customers.
â€œEvery year,â€ Vap said, â€œhas just been a busier year than the last.â€