Browns Socialhouse, the franchise seemingly sweeping Western Canada, has grown from a slow and steadily expanding operation to a sales powerhouse, bringing in $29.5 million last year and earning the title of operator with the greatest year-over-year percentage increase on F&H’s 2012 Top 100 report.
So, what’s behind the 64-per-cent climb of the last year? It isn’t novelty, as the resto, the brainchild of veteran restaurateur Scott Morison, first opened in northern Vancouver in 2004. The success, according to COO Bruce Fox, has to do with the brand’s expansion — including the opening of five new locations in 2011— and its unique take on friendly, social dining. “The appeal is the energy, the buzz,” says Fox. “[Browns] is a fun place to be. There’s a lot of interaction between the staff and the guests; the owners aren’t holed up in their offices. It’s intimate but in a different way. It’s social. It’s like going to a party.”
Browns, which boasts 15 locations (including two in Washington state), is what Fox describes as a hybrid of a pub and a casual-dining establishment. And each restaurant is intimate, with a 170-seat capacity and communal tables. The newer locations contain “Palm Springs North” year-round patios, complete with heaters and fire pits. “It makes you feel like you’re on vacation,” says Fox.
Fox also attributes the brand’s success to its emphasis on local ownership, meaning franchisees are expected to be as familiar with their communities as they are with their restaurant. “Regina is a good example of [the local ownership angle],” explains Fox. “We’re working with a person who knows the city and is tuned into the market. He knows what the city wants. It’s not like a corporation coming from somewhere else and just parking a business there.”
Another selling point is the resto’s eclectic menu, which Fox describes as a collection of mainstream meals (burgers, salads, pizzas) with a spin. The restaurant infuses traditional fare with Asian influences, with dishes such as the Dynamite Sushi Roll Salad ($15.95) and #28 Dragon Bowl ($15.95), as hybrid creations designed to appeal to timid and adventurous diners.
As for the future, Browns executives have no intention of slowing development. “Our big thing is to get Western Canada filled in, and then we want to jump to Ontario within three years. In the next 18 months we want to hit 30 locations, and by the time we reach Ontario, we’ll crack the 100 market.” Today nine new locations are in the works in B.C. and Saskatchewan — three are expected to open in 2012 and six to eight in 2013. The development team is also zeroing in on Alberta. “Alberta is our main target for next year, and we plan to get some deals in place. Ideally, we could have a location up and running there in summer or fall of 2013,” says Fox.