Interview: VooDoo BBQ’s New Executive Chef and V.P. of Operations, Gregg Frazer
Gregg Frazer, whose long career as a chef and restaurant executive has taken him from fine dining establishments in Australia to a Mississippi-based network of chain eateries, has joined the executive team at VooDoo BBQ & Grill, one of the nation’s hottest restaurant franchise systems.
Frazer, 36, is the 10-year-old barbecue restaurant franchise’s executive chef and vice president of operations, a new position. He is responsible for inventory and cost analysis as well as analysis of the company’s recipes and the VooDoo BBQ menu. In the coming months, Frazer will oversee the development and implementation of a centralized database system to manage all of the growing company’s operations, from procurement to sales.
How did you learn about VooDoo BBQ?
I was with my wife in New Orleans for Christmas and saw the job posting on Monster.com, so I went down there to the one on St. Charles. We both loved it — the appearance, the atmosphere, the music, the food, everything. The concept struck me as extremely marketable. What attracted me is that VooDoo is definitely onto something, and with the right kind of development, we can get to where we’re growing, growing, growing all over the country. It’s a great time to join VooDoo BBQ because on a national level, barbecue franchises are a small, underserved portion of the (restaurant) industry, so there’s a tremendous opportunity for growth. Technomics (a Chicago-based food industry research firm) will tell you there aren’t many barbecue franchises. Plus, New Orleans cuisine is still a hot button for many people in many markets, and that sells itself and helps differentiate VooDoo from all the other barbecue franchises out there.
What’s special about VooDoo’s food?
Our food, compared to other national barbecue franchises, is far superior. From the method of smoking — which is done at each individual location, not shipped pre-done like some of these other guys — to the certified Angus beef we use for our brisket, I know we’re greater than other brands out there. When so many are cutting on quality, VooDoo hasn’t gone down that road. And the side dishes are amazing, too. In fact, that’s the thing that really separates VooDoo from the pack, the attention they give their side dishes. Usually, you go to a barbecue restaurant, even if the meat is really good, the sides look and taste like they were just thrown together at the last minute and, “Oh, by the way, it comes with this little scoop of cole slaw.” If you’re lucky, you get decent fries. VooDoo really puts some thought and effort into coming up with awesome side dishes like the Gris Gris greens and corn pudding and then preparing them with the same care they devote to the meat. That’s very unusual for this kind of concept.
What do you hope to accomplish?
The short answer is that I want to help our locations become more consistent and profitable system wide, which is very important now that we’re branching out into other states. It wasn’t so hard for the guys to keep tabs on everybody with all 12 locations here in south Louisiana, but once we get rolling in the Carolinas, Texas, Florida, places like that, we’ll need a system to make sure the meal and experience you’ll get in Fort Lauderdale is the same one you’d get on St. Charles. So I’ll be looking over the menu to see what we might be able to improve on without altering the successful approach these guys have taken so far. Also — and this is the A1 thing to do at the beginning — develop a software program and database that’ll allow us to track every aspect of our operations, from procurement to payroll to sales to maintenance. That’s absolutely critical, that we have a standardized, scalable system everyone can use as we expand. Lastly, I want to help as much as possible with our new openings in the other states and on the Westbank, where we just reachedadeal.
Ultimately, the goal is to make us profitable, and typically where there’s profitability, growth follows. Typically, the problem with a restaurant is that they’ll hire a chef who knows the kitchen, but unfortunately can’t take them to the next level as a business. We’re looking to eventually expand to a national and possibly international level, and to do that, you have to be profitable.
How can VooDoo maintain its level of consistency?
We just need to make sure every customer walking into a VooDoo gets the same experience, from the food to the service to the experience. I’d just like to bring more consistency to the brand and improve on the already good experience people get. It’s getting better all the time. From the initial stores they opened in 2002 to theonethatjustopenedinGreenville, they’re clearly fine-tuning their operations and turning into a well-oiled machine. You can see how experience has contributed to the benefit of the new locations. Clearly, there’s better execution with each new location.
What are the advantages of working within a franchise system?
It’s definitely not a complete turnkey operation, if you will. The fact is there’s not a lot of touch on the food items; it requires some skill, but if you’re running a full-service restaurant, it’s far more difficult. VooDoo has great food, but it’s a more limited menu than a lot of restaurants, which means fewer, less complicated recipes; it’s good food, but it’s replicable. Also, truthfully, there’s a big group of guys who really like barbecue, and if they go into restaurants, they’re comfortable with the concept. They’re not intimidated by a friendly neighborhood barbecue joint like they would be with some other, higher-end restaurant concepts.
What do you think about new areas VooDoo BBQ can target for expansion?
I’m a big believer in growing in concentric circles around your home base, which is by and large what these guys are doing. That’s smart. It’s just a good growth plan to grow outward from where you are. Just look at states around you: Texas, Mississippi, Florida, the Carolinas, later maybe Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Arkansas … as long as you have the distribution and the ability to keep a watchful eye on things. That’s kind of where I come in.
About VooDoo BBQ & Grill
VooDoo opened its first location in New Orleans on Mardi Gras Day 2002 and has expanded to reach 53 planned locations in six states. VooDoo serves competition-style barbecue beef, pork and chicken with unique side dishes, plus salads and sandwiches, in a clean, colorful fast casual environment. For more information, visit voodoobbq.com or voodoobbqfranchise.com.