Graze Craze Takes Charcuterie Brand to New International Markets

Alex Springer joked his “international project” with wife Méline Enguent began well before the pair became master franchisees and brought charcuterie board concept Graze Craze to France.

“I’m German, Méline is French,” Springer explained, and they began looking for a new food business in 2020 after moving from Germany to the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region in southeastern France four years prior. Graze Craze, which they discovered after talking to United Franchise Group representatives at a trade show in Paris, seemed an ideal fit.

“We quickly saw the advantages of this concept. It’s fresh product and it’s in correlation with the French style of eating,” said Springer. “Here, we call it aperitif or apéro time, where people will eat and drink late into the night.”

Enguent noted Graze Craze likewise is in line with “new tendencies we saw after COVID, this want to gather again and also to have quick delivery.” In addition to its consumer appeal, Graze Craze is positioned as a fresh alternative for corporate catering, and “totally changes the perception of meetings” for French businesses,” she added.

Enguent and Springer opened their first Graze Craze in October in Ollioules, close to the French Riviera city of Toulon. “In a 20-minute drive we have around half a million people and about 50,000 businesses,” said Enguent. “We’re a coastal city, a harbor city, and a rather large tourist destination.”

As the master franchisees for the country, Enguent and Springer will sign on and support sub-franchisees and likely open more of their own locations. Graze Craze is their second franchise brand. The first, Flunch, is what brought them back to France in 2016.

“I got a call from my father on a Friday telling us his director, who’d been there for 19 years, was leaving,” said Enguent, whose background is in international business. “That Monday, we gave our notices to our employers and said, we’re going to embrace the entrepreneurship life.”

The couple took over the Flunch business in Ollioules that Enguent’s father had been running since 1995 as one of the early franchisees for the self-service, cafeteria-style restaurant concept. Owned by the Mulliez family, which Springer called “one of the most powerful families in France,” Flunch has more than 160 locations, including a handful in Italy.

“We serve 300 to 400 people a day,” said Enguent of their restaurant, and the more complex operations of Flunch played into their decision to find a simpler model, one that’s also less expensive to run than a traditional restaurant.

Like many countries in Europe, France has been hit with high energy prices due to lingering effects of the pandemic, the Russia-Ukraine war and Israel-Hamas conflict. The Graze Craze model, with its charcuterie board menu of cured meats, cheeses, fruits, vegetables, dips, jams and crackers, doesn’t require the purchase of costly kitchen equipment. “We’re serving mainly products that don’t need to be cooked,” said Springer, and stores typically occupy just 800 to 1,200 square feet.

Since opening their store less than six months ago, Springer and Enguent have focused heavily on marketing and brand awareness efforts, tapping into their professional networks to push office orders and corporate gifting, which then serve to help create individual customers. “People see it in a corporate setting, then they are curious and will go online and order,” said Enguent as she emphasized the importance of getting outside the store to educate the market.

“The first learning is we thought people would go through the website to order. We are seeing traffic, but not conversion,” she said. “The conversion comes from the work we’ve been putting into networking. Meeting people and explaining what Graze Craze is all about.”

UFG leverages international footprint

Part of the Big Flavor Brands food division of Starpoint Brands, which itself includes multiple franchises within United Franchise Group, Graze Craze has 64 locations open in the United States. UFG bought a majority stake in Graze Craze’s franchising arm and began selling units in June 2021, folding the business into the newly created Big Flavor Brands in 2023.

Many of UFG’s brands, including Signarama, Transworld Business Advisors and Fully Promoted, have international locations, and UFG has a corporate office in Sydney, Australia. “International expansion is kind of ingrained in Starpoint and UFG from when we were just Signarama,” said Graze Craze President Cory Hibbard. “I don’t think we ever looked at Graze Craze and thought international wouldn’t be a big piece of expansion early on.”

The brand is opening a new store just about every week in the U.S., said Hibbard, and with no other franchise doing charcuterie boxes and boards at scale, Graze Craze wants to be first to market internationally as well. The company debuted its corporate store in Sydney last fall, with plans to sell it to a franchisee who would then oversee the concept’s growth in Australia, following the master franchise approach UFG takes with its other brands.

Graze Craze has master franchisees in Quebec, Dario Subotic and Tea Maric, who are preparing to open their first location, and the brand is also targeting London and other European markets. The “grazing” style of eating inherent in charcuterie has “been around for hundreds of years,” noted Hibbard, which indicates staying power for Graze Craze. “We’re not just trying to capitalize on a trend.”

Franchisees, whether they’re in the U.S. or another country, need to be comfortable persevering and pushing through the challenges of growing an upstart brand, said Hibbard, and be willing to get outside their stores to drive awareness.

“We almost look at this business as a marketing business, not a food business, because we really need to educate customers about who we are and the different applications for charcuterie,” he said. Franchisees “need that passion and enthusiasm to make a splash in the market.”

Graze Craze Breaks Records in 2023

Graze Craze, the world’s leading charcuterie franchise, is celebrating 2023 as a record-breaking year of growth where it nearly doubled its brand footprint, opening 35 new locations throughout the year. The brand made entry into new U.S. states including Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Illinois, Missouri, Ohio, Nevada, and New Mexico, as well as launched international operations in Australia and France. The rapidly growing concept also signed 51 franchise agreements in 2023 and has plans to develop new locations in the coming years in key markets like Quebec, Southern California, and New England.

“I’m confident that 2023 will go down in our company history as a landmark year that set the stage for our future growth and success,” says Cory Hibbard, President of Graze Craze. “It was a banner year for our brand and our franchise owners were a mainstay of our tremendous performance. In keeping a curated convenience mindset, we’ve developed a winning recipe for success that will remain paramount as we continue to grow in 2024 and well beyond.”

In addition to its significant unit growth in 2023, Graze Craze also achieved notable sales success with Q4 marking its 10th consecutive quarter of positive growth, which has propelled the brand’s performance in the first two months of 2024. Graze Craze has already seen a 38% increase in comp sales for existing stores over 2023 and is on track to close out Q1 as another positive quarter.

Contributing to this growth was the brand’s ongoing commitment to menu innovation. Graze Craze introduced a new signature board to its menu in 2023, the Brunch Board, which allowed the brand to target and serve a new daypart and has become the perfect bagel-and-donut brunch alternative, well-received by customers and franchise owners alike. Graze Craze also rolled out several limited-time boards throughout 2023, including its Game Day Board in September and Holiday Board in November, the latter of which accounted for 27% of the brand’s systemwide sales in the month of December.

Looking ahead, Graze Craze will maintain its focus on providing its customers with curated convenience, offering catering and dining solutions that appeal to a variety of taste palettes and diets. The brand is on track to open 60 locations in 2024, 15-20 of which are projected to open in the first quarter alone. The brand is also accelerating its international expansion with the opening of its first store in Quebec in Canada. By year-end, Graze Craze has a goal to surpass 100+ locations and have an established footprint in five countries worldwide. With 175 total locations in its development pipeline to be opened in the next several years, Graze Craze is well-positioned for long-term and sustainable future growth.

“Graze Craze is aptly named because there is a definite craze around this concept, and our growth is a testament to that,” says Ray Titus, CEO of United Franchise Group, of which Graze Craze is an affiliated brand. “We only opened the first franchise location for this brand in 2022 and to be on track to surpass 100 locations by the end of 2024 really reinforces the viability of this franchise opportunity and the strong demand among consumers and businesses. With a record-breaking year behind us, we’re looking forward to 2024 being another year of explosive growth.”

Graze Craze is a part of the Big Flavor Brands foodservice division of United Franchise Group (UFG), the global leader for entrepreneurs with over 1600 franchises in more than 60 countries and 2500+ franchisees.

Graze Craze doubles footprint

Graze Craze, a charcuterie franchise, had a a record-breaking year in 2023, nearly doubling its footprint opening 35 locations and entering Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Illinois, Missouri, Ohio, Nevada and New Mexico. The brand also launched international operations in Australia and France and signed 51 franchise agreements for Quebec, Southern California and New England, according to a company press release.

“I’m confident that 2023 will go down in our company history as a landmark year that set the stage for our future growth and success,” Cory Hibbard, president of Graze Craze, said in the release. “It was a banner year for our brand and our franchise owners were a mainstay of our tremendous performance. In keeping a curated convenience mindset, we’ve developed a winning recipe for success that will remain paramount as we continue to grow in 2024 and well beyond.”

In addition to its significant unit growth in 2023, Graze Craze achieved its 10th consecutive quarter of positive growth, seeing a 38% increase in comp sales for existing stores over 2023. It is on track to close out Q1 as another positive quarter.

Contributing to this growth was its commitment to menu innovation. For example, Graze Craze introduced the Brunch Board, allowing it to target and serve a new daypart and rolled out several limited-time boards, including its Game Day Board in September and Holiday Board in November.

The brand is on track to open 60 locations in 2024, 15-20 of which are projected to open in the first quarter. By year-end, Graze Craze will surpass 100 locations.

Graze Craze is an affiliated brand of United Franchise Group.

MassageLuxe CEO Emphasizes Franchisee Happiness

As chief growth officer and now CEO, Kristen Pechacek continues to lead development efforts at MassageLuxe. She joined the brand, which now has 100 locations, in 2020 and took the helm as chief executive early this year.

“I’ve been in franchising for my entire career,” she said. “It’s really where my passion lies.”

Before MassageLuxe, she spent five years in digital marketing roles for Anytime Fitness parent company Self Esteem Brands and also did a stint in marketing for the NFL. Working with a “massive, mammoth brand,” Pechacek learned how to grow both awareness and unit count, and was drawn to emerging brands in particular. Developing connections with franchisees was the main attraction for her, as well as the ability to make important changes.

“I’m a coach, but I’m also a player,” said Pechacek. “I’m rolling up my sleeves and getting in there with them in the emerging brand space.”

In the growth officer role, Pechacek worked to ensure franchisees were profitable while expanding MassageLuxe’s presence. She’s continuing this as CEO, on top of working on innovation and improving communication internally and externally. This includes connecting with other brands, keeping corporate channels open for franchisees and being aware of broader industry developments and trends.

Innovations are going hand in hand with communication via artificial intelligence, she said.

“It’s no longer enough to throw an ad up on Facebook,” said Pechacek. “You need to stand up and personalize your communication.”

For example, if a customer likes a particular massage therapist and that therapist becomes available, they notify customers via an email or text. The AI also looks at the typical times and days a customer makes an appointment to better predict sales. This personalized approach keeps customers informed and interested in MassageLuxe, Pechacek said.

This year she plans to roll out new training and education for franchisees. She has a strong grasp on what ideas work and how to apply those skills now that she’s CEO. Her focus going forward is welcoming new franchisees, so making sure the training is simple and effective is key.

All her efforts, she said, are in service of one goal: keeping franchisees happy. For Pechacek, happy franchisees mean better business both in terms of sales and growth. “People want to join people that are doing well,” said Pechacek. “That’s the golden key to success.”

Executive Ladder

Larisa Walega was named senior vice president and chief growth officer of Ziebart International.

Edible hired Mark Mele as its chief development officer.

MassageLuxe promoted Kristen Pechacek from chief growth officer to CEO and president. Former CEO Mark Otter will serve as executive chairman of the board of directors.

Brian Kahn stepped down from his role as CEO of Franchise Group Inc. Andy Laurence, executive vice president, was named as his replacement.

Perspire Sauna Studio hired Rachelle Reed as director of health and science.

The Market Place named Aaron Anderson as co-CEO.

Pvolve named Stacey Heald as chief operating officer and Alexis McDowel as global vice president of communications.

WellBiz Brands hired Amanda Clark, the former chief operations officer for international at Papa Johns, as its new CEO, replacing Jeremy Morgan.

Dill Dinkers named Rob Pless as chief technology officer.

Mark Bailey was hired as Pepper Lunch’s chief operating officer and Jonathan Whiteside was hired as director of creative and technology.

Spherion Staffing and Recruiting hired Kathy George as president.

Joe Malmuth was promoted from chief franchising officer to chief development officer for Batteries Plus.

Altitude Trampoline Park named Mike Stout as vice president of franchise development.

N-Hance Wood Refinishing hired Bob DeGraff as president.

Ascent Hospitality Management, franchisor of Perkins and Huddle House, announced Steven Roach as chief technology officer and Toni Ronayne as president of Perkins.

Sky Zone announced Shawn Hassel as CEO.

Massage Heights welcomed back co-founder Shane Evans as its CEO. Former CEO and president Susan Boresow stepped down.

Sean Ayres joined Office Pride Commercial Cleaning Services as chief operating officer.

Era Real Estate hired Frank Malpica as senior vice president of franchise development, mergers and acquisitions. Gina Caropreso was hired as vice president of learning.

Sunny Street Café named Mike Stasko as president.

Big Flavor Brands, the food division of Starpoint Brands, announced four hires: Peter Totillo as vice president of support for Big Flavor, Rick Case as vice president of operations at Cannoli Kitchen Pizza, Chuck McAulay as vice president of marketing for The Great Greek Mediterranean Grill and Ryan Papillo as vice president of operations for Graze Craze.

David Lewis joined wedding planning franchise Wed Society as chief growth officer.

Liz Williams was hired as CEO of El Pollo Loco, succeeding Maria Hollandsworth, served as the company’s interim chief executive since November.

Jazzercise appointed Bobbi Quick as president.

Evive Brands—franchisee of Executive Home Care, Assisted Living Locators, Grasons and The Brothers That Just Do Gutters—named Ryan Parson as CEO.

Youth Enrichment Brands, the platform company for School of Rock and i9 Sports, named Rob Price as chief customer officer for YEB, Matt Kurowski as brand president of i9 Sports, Mary Connor as chief human resources officer of YEB and Dorothy Moyer-Hoffman as vice president of financial planning and analysis for YEB.

Taco Bell named Jason Kidd as global chief operating officer.

Code Ninjas hired Navin Gurnaney as CEO, Nancy Delgadillo as vice president of franchise development, Edward Kim as vice president of education and training, Adam Patterson as chief financial officer, Matt Rogers as chief marketing officer and Archana Singh as chief technology officer.

Nan Ward was promoted from chief people development officer to chief operations officer at Captain D’s.

Brooklyn Dumpling Shop announced Jeff Galletly as its first CEO.

Mountain Mike’s Pizza promoted Jim Metevier from president and chief operations officer to CEO.

Robeks named Dawn Eriksen-Foy as vice president of franchise sales.

Wendy’s announced Matt Spessard as chief information officer.

Jason Olah joined Starbird as lead franchising consultant.

Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate hired Karrie Ann Sheppard as vice president of learning.

911 Restoration named Ken Sussex as executive director of franchise development.

Team Schostak Family Restaurants—a franchisee of Applebee’s and other brands—promoted John Andrews from senior vice president of its casual dining division to chief operating officer.

Signarama Ankeny Owner Among Enterprising Women of the Year Winners

Kathy Evert is one of the winners in the $1 million to $2 million annual revenue category.

Signarama Ankeny (Ankeny, IA) announced on LinkedIn that Kathy Evert, owner of that Signarama franchise location, has been recognized as an Enterprising Woman of the Year by Enterprising Women magazine. This prestigious award celebrates the hard-working, talented women entrepreneurs who have significantly impacted their industries and communities, per the LinkedIn post. The Enterprising Women of the Year event is the magazine’s annual celebration of the world’s top women entrepreneurs, according to the magazine’s website.

“Kathy’s passion, innovation, and dedication to excellence have propelled Signarama Ankeny and set a shining example of leadership and entrepreneurship,” the post continues. “Her commitment to providing top-notch service and contributing positively to the community embodies the spirit of Signarama and the values we hold dear.” Evert is one of the winners in the $1 million to $2 million annual revenue category.

As Signs of the Times prepares to celebrate the 2024 Women in Signs Awards in April, we wish to congratulate Kathy on this achievement.

Click here for more on the Enterprising Women of the Year award winners.