Although the small chain operates with fast food-like efficiency, its executives are betting on a different type of restaurant for today's taste buds.
"We agonize over seconds of serving the customer," said Mike Donahue, Lyfe Kitchen's co-founder and chief brand officer, about the company's 10-minute service goal (while that's slow for fast food, it's relatively speedy considering how much cooking occurs in the kitchen.)
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Still in its infancy, the restaurant has grown quickly since launching its first outpost in 2011 in California. Donahue spent two decades at McDonald's before leaving, and later partnering with the fast food giant's former global president and COO Mike Roberts, to create Lyfe.
Lyfe Kitchen's recent opening in New York City marks its 14th restaurant and first on the East Coast. As it expands, CEO and President Chance Carlisle said franchising presents "a significant opportunity" for the company, which so far has been deliberately shy about signing franchise partners and only has two now.
"Our unit economic model says we can build a significant number of units—in the hundreds," said Carlislie, adding that right now it's focusing on developing the concept and other revenue channels, such as grab-and-go items.
Currently, the company's restaurants are profitable, although he added that it is "still a little bit heavy" with 14 outlets in its overhead costs.
"For our next phase, it really comes to a question with our investors of how much capital do we want to raise and how fast do we want to move, and there's a balance between raising destructive levels of capital today at a lower valuation and really speeding up for an exit or taking a slow and steady approach," said Carlisle, who also serves as a vice president at his family's company, Carlisle Corp.
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As a large Wendy's franchisee, Carlisle Corp. is no stranger to the hospitality business. After it sold a large chunk of its units in June, it bought a minority stake in Lyfe Kitchen.
Carlisle said he sees more opportunity in the category that Lyfe Kitchen plays in—what Donahue terms "lifestyle"— than traditional fast food or quick service restaurants (QSR).