Talking With: Rick Barbrick, Co-CEO, President and COO of The Briad Group

Rick Barbrick serves as Co-CEO, President and COO of The Briad Group. Headquartered in Livingston, NJ, the hospitality group’s entities include licensed franchisees for Wendy’s, TGI Fridays™, Marriott and Hilton.  The Briad Group also owns Zinburger Wine and Burger Bar, an upscale gourmet burger and wine concept.

The hospitality industry veteran previously served as President and CEO for Avado Brands, an operator of 117 full-service restaurants, including the full-service Mexican chain Don Pablo’s and the brewpub Hops. Prior to his position at Avado, he was President and COO for Bertucci’s Corporation, vice president of operations for Chilis and On the Border, and director of operations for numerous dining concepts.

The Briad Group recently opened a Zinburger in Springfield, VA. Barbrick discussed Zinburger’s expansion plans, quality control and customer service with Modern Restaurant Management magazine.

Who is the target Zinburger customer?

Our primary focus is on the 18-45 Millennial generation group, 50/50 male female and secondary is a combination of Gen X and Baby Boomers. The bottom line – Zinburger is a unique niche concept that delivers a unique guest experience for singles and families alike.

Rick Barbrick
Rick Barbrick

How do you feel the brand has evolved as it has expanded?

We’ve evolved by staying true to who we really are as a brand. Staying true to our roots with the application of unique and authentic recipes, scratch ingredients, fresh pressed juices and seasonal items on trend all within a 21st-century environment.

Who do you view as competition?

There’s really nothing on a national level. If you look at the regional level you could say there might be a few depending on the market but at the end of the day, we’re the only real polished casual concept in the U.S. that delivers a better boutique burger experience with the right combination of unique wine lists, craft cocktails and scratch ingredients.

Are there other markets you are looking to expand the brand?

We are concentrating on the East coast. We recently opened our first Washington, DC area location in Springfield, VA and we have several more on the horizon in Virginia, Florida, New York, New Jersey and Maryland. We plan to have a heavy presence between the DC and Boston corridor.

What factors are involved in site selection? 

We have a standard practice of looking at a variety of factors such as dense populations, high visibility, mid to upper incomes and a healthy lunch traffic population.

As you expand, how do you maintain quality control?

At Briad, we take pride in our ability to stay abreast of trending technologies, tools and consumer insight that allow us to always employ state-of-the-art multi-media training materials and keep our quality control at the highest of standards. In preparation for our aggressive growth plans, we’ve front-loaded our support staff to a corporate chef, two regional chefs, a director of training with two training assistants and two training teams that travel consistently from location to location all of whom support our SVP, two VP’s and three Directors of Operation.

We’ve evolved by staying true to who we really are as a brand.

Our aggressive training approach and commitment to the best communication standards and practices are what set us apart. And that’s just the internal staff part of the equation. We also employ strict standards with our vendor partners – no one can be a supply chain vendor for Briad until they’ve been properly vetted and can demonstrate the ability to maintain a rigorous inspection process.

What are issues you see challenging the restaurant issues right now?

Finding talented management and teammates that can execute at the highest standards within the polished casual category.

In what ways do you motivate staff?

Briad takes our culture very seriously and as such we have a program called “Our Way of Life.” This program follows the respect model–treat others as you would wish to be treated–which carries through to our high in-restaurant standards of serving only the best and freshest ingredients. We believe our staff–who are also our guests–takes pride in the care and consideration we put in to the attention to detail and the surrounding environment and therefore, they are motivated by their pride.  We also motivate through the creation of authentic training tools that speak directly to them. Training materials may be viewed in multi-media formats they can relate to and connect with.

What kind of experience do you hope customers take away from a Zinburger visit?

Everyone should be in a “Zin-like” state of mind upon completing his or her dining experience at Zinburger. We strive to create positive connections with each and every guest, every time they visit.

Why do you feel promotions such as the half-price wine on Wednesdays, Happy Hour discounts and the VIP Club are important?

Being a unique wine and burger bar, we believe it’s about a 360-degree experience. Creating special evenings that highlight certain nuances of our menu offerings, allow us to further enhance that experience to promote guest loyalty. Serving great products is key, but also serving these at a great value to allow all the enjoyment of a true Zinburger experience.

Zinburger - Four Shades of Grape
Zinburger – Four Shades of Grape

Why do you feel doing good can be good for the brand? For example, in pairing the VIP Club membership with a charitable donation for the new Springfield restaurant? 

Community goodwill plays a large role in the culture at Briad. Over the years, the entire Briad family of brands, services and team members has raised millions for various causes. In fact, we dedicate an annual charity golf tournament for The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. And at the local level, it’s always important for us to give back to those that support us. Our standard practice is to open a new restaurant and partner with a charity to support and grow with us and we continue this relationship even building a celebration around our anniversary parties. It is our goal to continue to build local relationships and consistently focus on community good will.

Despite having part of a kind of wine in its name, Zinburger is quite family friendly and offers a kid’s menu that is a reflection of the adult one. Why was it important to reach out as a brand and be known as a place where families can dine together?

Families are just as important to us as our other demographic focuses. We strive to create a unique dining experience for all guests, no matter their age. Our unique menu creates dining opportunities at multiple levels – kids and adults crave our hand-spun shakes, hand cut fries, home-made pies and all of our wonderful savory dishes as well.

What are your go-to menu items/recommendations?

Our most popular burgers are the Zinburger and the Samburger. Our most popular salad is the Farm. But my personal favorite is the Buffalo Chicken Sandwich – it’s the best around. I challenge anyone to find a better recipe. We also serve Sushi-grade Ahi Tuna on our Ahi Tuna sandwich and salads. And not forgetting about our hand-cut Zucchini fries and hand-spun shakes like the Crème Brulee or the Salted Caramel – these are without a doubt, fan favorites.

Zinburger - Kobe Burger
Zinburger – Kobe Burger

Going through customer reviews, about the only complaint threaded through is that fries don’t come up with burgers. Do you look at reviews for ways to improve? 

Of course, we always want to hear and read guest feedback and want to learn what our valued guests are saying.  We critically evaluate every aspect of our business on a consistent basis as part of our QA metrics program and we employ various practices to ensure improvements are being made strategically and in a timely manner. A well-run brand is a brand that’s focused on every level of the business and consumer insight is of the utmost importance to us.

How important to the business was getting a rave review in a well-read column from the local New Jersey paper, particularly in high-traffic location with multiple choices for burgers? 

It’s always gratifying to know your brand is accepted and appreciated. The real bonus is when a food critic or food blogger writes positive reviews and raves about our food. But no matter who the critic is, we strive to achieve that level of satisfaction with each and every guest. We build one guest at a time with word of mouth and that’s why guest satisfaction is of the utmost importance.