Employees from one of Snooze’s Denver restaurants were holding the first-annual pancake contest at the home for about 30 disadvantaged teenagers. Five groups of teens had swapped roles with the chefs to design their own unique pancakes, which would take turns as the “Pancake of the Day” on Snooze’s menu that week.
[block-text alignment="right"]Community building is at the core of Snooze’s culture, which focuses on creative ways to serve both its customers and its neighborhood.[/block-text]
Customers weighed in with their taste buds, and Snooze chose a winner based on the creation with the highest sales: A decadent red velvet pancake with cookie crumbles, chocolate chips, whipped cream and a chocolate syrup topping. Later in the week, Snooze chefs returned to the Denver Children’s Home to make the winning pancake for all of the kids.
Community building is at the core of Snooze’s culture, which focuses on creative ways to serve both its customers and its neighborhood. “As a business, giving cash is probably the most boring thing we do,” says David Birzon, CEO of the Denver-based business. “We not only want to donate money, and we not only want to donate food and product, we want to donate our time. That’s how we get people involved.”
Growth Through Innovation
By forging strong ties to the community, using locally sourced ingredients and hiring people who love to serve, Snooze is growing as fast as the lines of hungry diners outside its restaurants—lines that serve as both a sign of success and a challenge to future expansion.
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Since opening its first restaurant in 2006, Snooze has grown to approximately 300 employees and nine locations in Colorado, Arizona and California, including a coveted spot in Denver’s renovated Union Station development. Revenue at the private company hit about $20 million in 2013, and opening three new locations this year is projected to help boost sales to $28 million, Birzon says.
A lot of those sales come from Snooze’s innovative menu, which features sweet confections such as its signature pineapple upside-down pancakes. The eatery also serves savory breakfast sandwiches and burritos, six different kinds of Eggs Benedict and organic coffee imported from Guatemala. Customers can mix and match ingredients to customize the menu. Snooze believes in using ingredients that are farm-raised, cage-free and locally-sourced, from Denver’s Tender Belly Bacon to mimosas with sparkling wine (kept on tap) from urban winery Infinite Monkey Theorem.
Every meal in Snooze’s retro diners—think Happy Days meets The Jetsons—is another way the company contributes to the community. Snooze gives one percent of sales from each store to local causes, through donations of in-kind goods and services. Branches forge their own relationships with community partners. Besides flipping pancakes for kids, employees also maintain school gardens, volunteer at food banks and clean up beaches.
[block-text alignment="center"]Creating authentic, meaningful relationships with the community also inspires employees.[/block-text]
Volunteers from the Snooze location at 7th Avenue and Colorado Boulevard, for instance, drop by the children’s home at least one Saturday night a month to serve breakfast for dinner. Staff members flip pancakes and then join the kids for the meal. Last year they also delivered presents for the holidays.
“To have strangers come in and not only cook them dinner, but want to sit down and interact with them, just teaches the kids so much about the world around them,” says Lindsay Leuthold, Denver Children’s Home’s development director.
“A lot of the chefs don’t get face-to-face contact with customers, so it’s really fun for them to see the kids light up and be so excited about our pancakes,” says Christin Marvin, former general manager at Snooze’s restaurant at 7th and Colorado and new general manager at its Union Station location. “It’s just a really sweet ending to the day.”
[image-with-info source="David Alderman" alignment="full-width" imageurl="https://d8a8a12b527478184df8-1fd282026c3ff4ae711d11ecc95a1d47.ssl.cf1.rackcdn.com//us/small-business/openforum/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/LocBusStories_Snooze02.jpg"]Community relationships also build business for Snooze by generating customer loyalty and establishing the restaurants as local gathering places, which encourages repeat business.[/image-with-info]
“They remind our staff that what we do goes far beyond the doors and walls of Snooze,” Marvin adds.
Snooze employs a full-time community manager to help busy store managers connect with their neighborhoods. “It allows us to be more thoughtful and creative in the types of things we do,” Birzon says.
Before Snooze opens a new restaurant, for example, the eatery hosts three practice days and donates proceeds from all sales to community partners chosen by each store. At a recent store opening in Phoenix, Snooze raised $18,000 for local partners.
“They’re really about creating a great business,” says Tamara Door, president and CEO of the nonprofit Downtown Denver Partnership. “But they’re also about using their business to create neighborhoods and gathering places and to engage their employees and residents in city building.”
“When you’re giving back to the community and you’re out and about, you are definitely building a brand for yourself,” Door adds. “That’s the real key to being a good civic partner and good city steward. It should be mutually beneficial.”
Managing Growth—And Wait Times
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Birzon previously led Paradise Bakery & Café through the casual dining chain’s acquisition and expansion by Panera Bread. When he joined Snooze at the end of 2012, the eatery was at a tipping point. Co-founders and brothers Jon and Adam Schlegel had opened their first out-of-state restaurant and were considering further expansion.
They brought on Birzon to take over daily operations and guide Snooze through its next stage of growth—while still keeping the things that made it unique intact. “The question for all of us was how we use our size and the scale to actually become more special and more relevant to guests,” Birzon says. The Schlegels remain on Snooze’s board.
[pullquote showtweet="false" username="david_birzon" alignment="center"]The question for all of us was how we use our size and the scale to actually become more special and more relevant to guests.[/pullquote]
Under Birzon, Snooze is making a company-wide effort to reduce long lines. When Snooze opened at Union Station, just five blocks from its flagship location in Denver’s Ballpark neighborhood, he worried that the new store would cannibalize sales. Birzon budgeted for a 15 percent drop in sales at the Ballpark store. Instead, sales there are up 5 percent.
[image-with-info source="David Alderman" alignment="right" imageurl="https://d8a8a12b527478184df8-1fd282026c3ff4ae711d11ecc95a1d47.ssl.cf1.rackcdn.com//us/small-business/openforum/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Longform_Snooze_FPO.jpg"]Even with the new Snooze at Union Station, sales are up at the flagship location five blocks away.[/image-with-info]
Birzon credits the boost in part to shorter lines at each location: Wait times at both locations are down to a more reasonable 30 to 45 minutes, from up to two hours at the older Ballpark location. The locations are also attracting new guests who wouldn’t otherwise wait, he says.
The company also hired an outside engineering group to rework its kitchen design and help the eatery create a new model of service. Birzon anticipates the measures will increase food production by close to 50 percent.
Committed to Sustainability
Snooze’s commitment to sustainability is another way the company attracts employees and acts as a good neighbor. The company recycles and composts nearly 90 percent of its waste, and buys from local farmers, which supports the community and reduces the company’s carbon footprint.
[image-with-info source="David Alderman" alignment="right" imageurl="https://d8a8a12b527478184df8-1fd282026c3ff4ae711d11ecc95a1d47.ssl.cf1.rackcdn.com//us/small-business/openforum/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/LocBusStories_Snooze04b.jpg"]Buying local supports the community and reduces the company’s carbon footprint.[/image-with-info]
Although buying sustainable foods is more expensive, it’s one way economies of scale can help retain what’s special about the eatery. “We have much better pricing power at 12 restaurants than we do at nine, and it will be even better at 20,” Birzon says. Operating multiple restaurants in each state also reduces shipping and sourcing costs.
The company expects to continue leveraging that growth in 2015, when plans call for opening an additional six locations, including one in Austin. “Next year is a big bellwether year for us,” Birzon says. If all goes well, he says Snooze is on plan to hit $100 million in sales in four years.
Hiring Its Way to Success
To continue such rapid growth, Birzon says nothing will be more important than hiring the right people. “You can have all the money in the world and build an amazing set,” he says. “But if you hire a bunch of lousy actors, it’s a lousy play.” When hiring, Snooze looks for energetic people who enjoy serving others, whether in the restaurant or within the community. “I don’t want to hire anyone who can tell me what’s on daytime television on their day off,” Birzon says.
[image-with-info source="David Alderman" alignment="left" imageurl="https://d8a8a12b527478184df8-1fd282026c3ff4ae711d11ecc95a1d47.ssl.cf1.rackcdn.com//us/small-business/openforum/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/D9K0338.jpg"][/image-with-info]
“Our people love providing hospitality and they love providing service,” Marvin says. “It’s important in the interview process to get a sense for if people really do volunteer and if they have a need and desire to get out there and do things that are outside the walls of the restaurant.”
Birzon says the company hangs onto employees by paying higher-than-average wages. The company also pays for 100 percent of managers’ health-insurance premiums, and provides three weeks of vacation a year to all full-time employees. Staff can get culinary training through a “Study with the Fork” program, which in the past has included a chef trip to Vermont to harvest maple syrup and a restaurant tour of Austin for assistant managers.
Feeling the Love
[ugc slug="heres-a-tip-to-keep-teammates-motivated-dont-call-it-an-org-chart-call-it-a-love-chart-people-want-to-feel-engaged-and-connected-to-your-busine" alignment="right"]“People want to feel engaged and connected to your business. Do you know who is responsible for caring for and engaging every individual in your organization? If you don't, someone may be getting left behind...”[/ugc]
The faster the company grows, however, the harder it could be for Snooze to retain its unique culture. To keep connections strong, Birzon consciously keeps an open-door policy, whether it’s grabbing a beer with a server after work or meeting a sous chef for breakfast. “When you’re a small little business, everyone is very closely connected with the founders of the business. But as you grow, people become less connected to the core,” he says.
One of the biggest motivators for employees is a fun work environment, Marvin says. Snooze makes “fun” a core value of its business, and gives managers $15,000 annually to spend on employee activities. “It’s about creating a community inside our restaurants as well, and focusing on family and teamwork versus just clocking in,” she says.
Snooze also hires regional managers to increase communication with staff. And instead of a traditional organization chart, the company has a “love chart.” “You have to know who loves you and who you are responsible to love,” Birzon says.
During periods of transition, businesses can’t communicate enough, or spend enough time with people, Birzon says. Growing the business can wait, but getting everyone involved in the business can’t. “At the end of the day,” he says, “people bring a restaurant alive.”
Snooze boosted employee morale by encouraging them to give back. Learn more about fostering company culture to help grow your business on OPEN Forum →