Many could learn from WaBa Grill’s ‘it takes a village’ mentality

Today’s society, as a whole, has found itself at a new set of crossroads. As generation zero takes over from the millennials, in a plight to pave the way for generation alpha, our reliance on absolute immediacy has never been quite so important. This has been coupled with an era of user-made fitness tutorials and health-enthusiast TikTok influencers, which has ultimately led to the younger demographic becoming more focused on their dietary lifestyles. But how do we satisfy both of these needs simultaneously?

There have been many industrious conmen over the years, who have claimed to provide healthy fast-food products, who could often blur facts with fiction within the small print on their menus. Luckily, WaBa Grill has come to rescue today’s market, offering exactly what it says on the tin: an enjoyable dining experience with the finest quality meals. The company’s foundation is based on healthy eating, with low calorie, low carbohydrate, and high protein options, which make it the ultimate one-stop shop for healthy meals on-the-go. Food Chain caught up with Andrew S. Kim, President and CEO, to hear more about this sizzling franchise.

Lifestyle choices

“WaBa Grill was founded in 2006, on the basic principle that healthy food made with high-quality ingredients should be accessible to everyone,” Andrew opens. “With the goal of serving the best possible food on-the-go, our famous rice bowls, plates and salads are made with fresh vegetables, healthy grains and high-quality proteins. These include fresh, never-frozen chicken, marinated ribeye steak, wild-caught salmon, jumbo shrimp, plant-based steak, and organic tofu, all of which are prepared to order on an open-fire grill, and customized with a variety of flavorful sauces.

“Our menu is as straightforward as can be. Our customers get to design their own dishes from our range of charbroiled proteins, and vegan and vegetarian options. The customizable nature of our bowls ensures that everyone can build something that supports their specific healthy lifestyle and while it’s being prepared, they can look into our open kitchens. The trust and confidence that people hold in what we produce has truly forged a deep relationship, and our continual increase in sales is based on selling a product that consumers want time and time again, whether in-store or via delivery.

“The Plantspired Steak, which launched in August 2021 in collaboration with Nasoya Foods USA, is a Korean-inspired alternative that has been hugely popular with WaBa Grill’s clientele,” he continues. “Alongside our organic tofu, they have rounded off our meatless protein offerings perfectly, in our endeavor to accommodate the growing number of customers seeking plant-based solutions. The response we’ve received has been incredible, and it’s great to see people who don’t typically follow vegan or vegetarian diets opting for them.

“We are now fully competent in accommodating all lifestyle diets, from veganism to Keto, and as the rice bowl sector continues to expand rapidly throughout the US, WaBa Grill is growing with it. We are truly setting the pace in the West and seeing a constant increase in interest from new guests looking to experience the brand’s best-in-class menu, and new franchisees seeking it out as a promising business opportunity.”

Andrew initially joined WaBa Grill as its external legal counsel 18 years ago. His passion for its founding values and the support he provided during the following period led to him taking the full-time position of Chief Legal Officer in 2018. “I joined with the belief that I could play a critical role in restructuring and preparing the company for its next phase of

growth and, at the same time, bring my unique experience as a franchise attorney to the table. In January 2021, I was appointed as the President and CEO. What I love the most about our business, is our capacity to positively and directly impact everybody in the WaBa Grill system. From our franchisees and their store employees to our team members at the corporate office and company stores, we are fully aligned to finding effective ways to support one another.

Technology focus “I’ve always held the phrase ‘it takes a village’ close to my heart,” Andrew states. “It’s such a unifying and forward-thinking message that captures the essence of everybody working together and understanding that we are all contributing towards a common goal. As a franchise company, our village also includes our franchisees. Our Project Resilience program demonstrates the communal effort to improve store performances across the organization. It’s designed to provide intensive and tailor-made support to revitalize locations that we have identified as struggling.

“After mutually assessing the need for intervention, we assign our task force of specialists from various departments, such as training, marketing, design and operations. Together, they develop a revitalization plan that usually involves retraining the store’s employees, upgrading its interior, and putting together a local marketing strategy. The franchisee isn’t charged any fees for this, and we actually contribute towards a certain portion of the expenses incurred during the process, to show our good faith and commitment. The way in which this project provides a truly focused and concentrated effort for our people in need, is just one example of how we apply ‘it takes a village’ at WaBa Grill.”

Since 2018, the business has been utilizing industry leaders to develop an impressive Marketing Technology (MarTech) stack. The brand operates on Toast, a cloud-based POS system, which is integrated with its online ordering platform, Olo, as are all of its partnered third-party delivery companies, such as DoorDash, UberEats, GrubHub, Postmates and Caviar. “Our MarTech stack also works to aggregate the loyalty program housed on the WaBa Rewards App, which is powered by Punchh and integrated with Toast. We have also had our text club up and running since early 2022, which directly engages with a new host of fans who prefer to receive news and offers via text.

“Looking ahead, I believe that we can safely and organically double our size over the next five years,” Andrew concludes. “We have already signed development agreements for over 60 stores in areas outside of southern California, and these are all signed with our existing franchisees! We are initiating a more aggressive sales development strategy this year, which we hope will attract new multi-unit operators to the WaBa Grill brand.”