A Sandy Springs-based company that began as the Arby’s restaurant chain is creating a fast-food empire, buying up other familiar brands and filling up a new headquarters.
Inspire Brands takes on reviving dying restaurants through complete interior refreshes, menu changes and bringing humor to the businesses’ social media, such as Arby’s popular jokes with celebrities, the CEO said at a Jan. 24 luncheon held by the Sandy Springs Perimeter Chamber of Commerce.
The company was formed in early 2018 after Arby’s purchased Buffalo Wild Wings and the regional chain Rusty Taco, and more recently acquired Sonic. Arby’s has been headquartered in Sandy Springs at 1155 Perimeter Center West, and is expanding into Three Glenlake Parkway, about a mile west of its current home, to hold all of the companies. The company received over $1.1 million in tax incentives from the state and city for the move and expansion.
“We are very proud to call Sandy Springs home,” said Paul Brown, who has served as CEO since 2013, when the company was just Arby’s.
“We’re lucky to have this great corporate headquarters in our community,” Chip Collins, the outgoing chamber chair, said before handing over the gavel to the next leader, Karen Trylovich.
The company plans to move in March into the new building, which is across the street from the Mercedes-Benz USA headquarters. The building is being renovated, including installing one of the world’s largest test kitchens, Brown said.
“We are obviously thinking we are going to continue to grow,” Brown said. “We have the building now. We’ve got to buy companies to fill it up.”
“We’ve been very clear. We’re not going to stop with Buffalo Wild Wings and Sonic,” he said. And those acquisitions are expected to bring more jobs, he said. The company currently has 750 people based at the headquarters, up from 400 a year ago, he said.
“Hopefully, that will let us bring more people to our headquarters in Sandy Springs over time,” he said.
Inspire has started to specialize in reviving dying brands after its success with Arby’s.
“There will be moments in time where we take a brand or a company that needs to be turned around,” he said. “That was Arby’s six years ago, it’s actually Buffalo Wild Wings today, where we have to come in and rethink it.”
Arby’s struggled during the 2008 recession and during a merger with Wendy’s, which “wasn’t tremendously successful, to say the least,” but it has since turned around, now seeing increases in sales and expanding, Brown said.
That turnaround strategy includes finding what is unique about the brands, Brown said.
“We really want to be seen as thinking about things differently,” he said.
For Arby’s, that meant selling itself as offering “fast-crafted” fare, since Arby’s doesn’t see itself as offering fast food or as “fast-casual” fare, which typically costs more, Brown said.
For Buffalo Wild Wings, Inspire Brands plans to launch a new ad campaign centered on creating memories at the restaurants, Brown said.
Changing Arby’s social media strategy has been key in turning the company around, Brown said. One famous tweet joked about singer Pharrell’s hat being reminiscent of the restaurant’s logo and became one of the most-shared tweets of all time, Brown said.
“I think social media is one of the biggest unlocks,” he said.
The restaurant has also tried to be “like a friend,” including through embracing comedian Jon Stewart’s frequent jabs about Arby’s, even running an ad as a farewell when he left The Daily Show in 2015, Brown said.
Inspire’s plan for Buffalo Wild Wings is a new menu, interior renovations, plating, building design and employee uniforms that will start coming out in March, Brown said.
Now the company is thinking about how turn around Sonic. Brown expects those changes in the next year or two, he said.
One change that they’re not sure about is bringing back roller-skating employees, Brown said, answering an audience question.
“There are logistical and human resource challenges, and our general counsel goes back and forth on how much he likes that,” Brown joked. “The fun aspect that it represents is certainly something we’d want to embrace more than it has been recently.”
Another change not currently on the table is expanding healthy options significantly, Brown said, responding to a question from the audience. While non-fried sides have been discussed and healthier sandwiches have been rolled out at Arby’s, healthy options aren’t what typically brings customers to the restaurants, Brown said.
“The challenge in that space is that people say they want something and do something else,” he said.