Casual steakhouse restaurant MR MIKES is in expansion mode.
Recently, the brand opened its 47th location in Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta.
Tony Zidar, Senior Vice-President of Operations for MR MIKES, said the brand has done well since COVID.
“In the world of not much has happened since March 2020, we opened Merritt, Stoney Plain, Sylvan Lake and a couple of months ago Fort Saskatchewan,” he said.
“It was a tough time for everyone but we were able to keep our engine rolling and continue to recruit franchisees and find sites. We’re continuing to move forward which is fantastic.”
Zidar said the company is done opening new locations for this year as it typically does not like to target any openings beyond the middle of October.
More locations are planned to open next year – three in Western Canada and one in Ontario and there are ongoing talks for another one.
“It looks like a pretty good year next year,” he said.
“Our concept is yes we are a steakhouse but we’re steakhouse casual, stressing the word casual. Our marketing objectives and initiatives this year are all about the word casual. We’re embracing the markets that we’re in. We’re in bigger markets but we’re in smaller to quite small markets that act as hubs for bigger geographical areas and those stores do really well.
“They’re local ownership. They’re locally-owned and operated for the most part. That’s really part of our success. Where we open, the operators live in the market, they know most of the people in the market. A lot of companies, not that they won’t touch, they don’t look at the market we look at. A town of 12 to 14,000 people in northern Alberta is perfect for us because they have a trade area that’s probably 30 to 35,000 people and those are people who really know each other. The franchisee is able to network with the existing networks that they have and really turn the restaurant into a hub for the community which is really important for us.”
He said the prototype of the restaurant has changed and been shrunk in size. The first one was in Merritt of about 4,200 square feet.
“The focus going forward is not only the standalones which have been our traditional formula. A lot of retrofits, in-line, stuff like that in different communities where there are opportunities. We’re starting to get out to a boots on the ground campaign to look for opportunities and convert either sites that were restaurants or retail fronts and convert them to a MR MIKES,” said Zidar.
“We have our list of brand standards and must haves to turn something into a MR MIKES and make it not only look and feel like a MR MIKES but be able to execute the brand and deliver the guest experience and the food and beverage that we do.
“So it’s really a secondary approach that we see as key to our growth going forward. We can typically do those in a quicker timeline. We’re not building walls. We’re not pouring slab and putting in HVAC. We’re taking existing space so we can cut the timeline almost in half as well as depending on what that space was the economies are really efficient for the franchisee. Less money up front. They can get going a lot more quickly. It’s a big strategy for us right now. We’re certainly not turning our back on our traditional methods but we’re looking at other things and Fort Saskatchewan is a perfect example.”
The new Fort Saskatchewan location was a retrofit of another concept that ticked all of its boxes. The location was a restaurant that had closed more than a year ago. The franchisee took a look at the space and identified a great opportunity to convert it in a short timeline.
“It’s been an absolute home run,” said Zidar. “You walk in, it’s a MR MIKES. It’s not the absolute cookie-cutter MR MIKES but absolutely looks like it, feels like it and the franchisee is delivering a fantastic experience and we’re excited about it.”
The first MR MIKES was opened by two brothers, Bob and Nick Constabaris. Over the past decade, the restaurant concept has embraced the heritage that was established back then but it also was revitalized by Mike Cordoba, Al Cave, and Robin Chakrabarti with the introduction of the Steakhouse/Casual concept.
“It started off in BC and it was more of a steak and salad bar concept. At its height, we don’t have the exact number of how many units it got to, but it was over 80 and then went through a few incarnations of concepts throughout the years as concepts do,” said Zidar.
“In 2010, it was acquired by the current owners and rebranded as MR MIKES SteakhouseCasual which was kind of a new space in the steakhouse world. Obviously The Keg being the Godfather of classic steakhouses in Canada and that niche is filled. Our strategy was to go into different and smaller markets to fill that in with the need for a steakhouse but not wanting to compete with The Keg.”