Gary Stern, Contributor
Brandon Landry, who turned Walk-On’s Sports Bistreaux, a sports bar and casual dining restaurant, based in Baton Rouge, La, into a success, opened a new fast-casual dining spot, Smalls Sliders, in September 2019, that is showing early signs of becoming popular. So far it operates nine Smalls Sliders, all in Louisiana, where Landry knows the turf, with two company-owned and the rest franchised.
Helping capitalize Small Sliders is 10 Point Capital, a private equity firm based in Atlanta, which is a large minority investor in Walk-On’s Sports Bistreaux and Landry also partners with investor and former New Orleans Saint quarterback Drew Brees. 10 Point Capital’s motto is “We help founders build dominant franchise brands.”
Landry noted that 10 Point Capital doesn’t usually get involved in start-ups at an early point but was attracted to its concept and saw the potential “to grow on a larger scale.” Besides capital, it has served, he said, as a “strategic partner, as it did with Tropical Smoothie, on how to build a national and/or international brand from the git-go.”
Since Landry can’t be at two places at once, he serves as chairman of both restaurant chains and has hired new CEO’s for each enterprise: Maria Rivera as CEO of Smalls Sliders in November 2022 and Chris Dawson, CEO of Walk On’s, in June 2023.
A cheeseburger slider specialist Smalls Sliders will be competing against long-time slider specialist White Castle, but has a private equity investor that provides capital and strategic guidance.
Walk-On’s Sports Bistreaux grew through franchising since it has 80 locations, across 15 states, with only three company-owned.
And part of the menu at Walk-On’s led to the creation of Small Sliders. “There was something special about our slider. They’re not intimidating, especially for women or kids. It’s just a little slider, they’d say, and I could eat one or two,” he described.
Hence, Small Sliders specializes in a streamlined menu of cheeseburger sliders, waffle fries and milkshakes. Moreover, it has no indoor dining, and only offers drive-thru, pick-up and, starting in October, third-party delivery, and its design offers pre-fabricated shipping containers, which are compact in size, helping keep costs down.
But all locations contain outside patios, with overhead coverage, that seat 32 guests or 8 tables, seating 4 people a piece.
Constructed of Shipping Containers
“Operators are able to buy existing shipping containers, which are then shipped to the location and dropped on-site,” Landry noted. The ready-made design saves on construction costs and design fees. Hence, most of its locations are 800 square feet compared to most fast-casuals that range between 1,200 to 3,000 square feet and more.
It also saves on staffing costs because it requires a limited number of employees and doesn’t require wait staff for sit-down dining.
Franchisees can select the model design that works best for them, which is then shipped to them. Because of tax laws, it can later depreciate the construction, and save on taxes.
Why Avoid Sit-Down Dining
Why offer a cheeseburger slider shop without sit-down dining? Landry replied that “consumers everywhere have kept convenience and streamlined experience top of mind. This also allows for our footprint to be much smaller,” and heightening options of site selection.
Asked if it is losing out on the customers that still crave sitting down with friends or loved ones, Landry replied, “I don’t think we really lose out on many customers with this model. Our guests have enjoyed how quick our drive-thru and pickup system is, and they still have the ability to dine at our location-just not indoors.”
Why did it wait until October to offer third-party delivery? First of all, Landry said it wanted to ensure that it had the right technology, but it didn’t require it to build revenue at the outset. He said each location is generating close to $2 million in revenue annually.
Because Landry is from Louisiana and attended LSU, he centered all of its 9 locations in that state where he knows the audience and terrain. Most of them are situated in mainly suburban areas to capture the family-style demographic. Next up is one outpost in Louisiana and then the 11th outpost in a new state, Mississippi.
Its most popular dish is its two sliders, fries and a beverage combo, and its secret sauce, called “smauce,” is also a crowd-pleaser.
Comparing Small Sliders with White Castle, he noted that Small Sliders concentrates on a much more streamlined menu. White Castle, which has been around since 1921, has “expanded their menu beyond the original,” he said.
One of the keys to Smalls Sliders’ success is its ability to identify the right franchisees, Landry suggested. There’s no “magic potient,” he acknowledged, but it pursues franchisees who have experience as operators and want to be involved in the business. “For us, the success is determined in our vetting process,” he said.
Asked what health-conscious diners would opt for at Smalls Sliders, Landry replied that “I don’t think there’s any harm in admitting that we are not a health-conscious dining choice. We know that our strong suit is cheeseburger sliders, and it’s okay not to resonate with every single person who walks through our doors-that’s who we are.”
Consumer response on Yelp about its Baton Rouge location was mostly positive. Miranda from Baton Rouge liked the sliders and fries, thought the service was “super-fast” and employees were friendly and the only drawback was the ice-cream machine wasn’t working that day.
Alaina from Louisiana liked the fact that the menu was limited, found the sliders moist, and she noted it only took two of them to fill her up.
He expects that Smalls Sliders will open a minimum 20 new locations by next year, which could rise to 30, bringing it to 40 outposts.
Asked the three keys to its future success, Landry replied: 1) Stick with our vision of keeping things simple, and not get derailed by people who ask for chicken sliders, 2) Understanding who are franchise partners are, 3) Building a great team such as its two recent CEO hires.