Ones to Watch | By Lynne Miller
Goldberg’s Bagel Company & Deli offers a taste of the Big Apple to Atlanta.
For the sake of authenticity, the company sends a truck to New York once a week to pick up pickles, deli meats, smoked fish, and other foods considered essential for a real Jewish-style New York deli experience.
The founders, Wayne Saxe and his partner, Howard Aaron, grew up eating traditional Jewish dishes in their native South Africa. They operated several restaurants there before they moved to the States in the early 1990s and settled in Atlanta. There they acquired a small takeout bagel shop that was going out of business. They retained the Goldberg’s name but developed new logos and an entirely different concept, figuring they could make a mark on the restaurant scene serving cuisine that’s not commonly found in the South.
The food is not the only thing that sets Goldberg’s apart. Diners can order a Nova breakfast platter, bagel with cream cheese, or a homemade blintz any time of the day. For that matter, customers can get a bowl of matzo ball soup or a chopped liver platter for breakfast if they want to.
“Ninety-nine percent of breakfast places stop serving breakfast at 11 a.m.,” Saxe says. “We serve it all day to stay ahead of the game. We start serving our full menu and breakfast menu at 6 a.m. We do a lot of things that are different. That’s how you keep your edge.”
Goldberg’s offers bagels in 27 flavors, pumping out 500 dozen a day. Omelets and other egg dishes are also popular. One employee spends a couple of hours each morning just cracking eggs. Customers also have a choice of waffles, pancakes, smoked fish platters, hot and cold cereals, coffee, juices, and tea. The kids menu includes silver dollar pancakes, waffles, and French toast.
But kids aren’t the only ones who are drawn in by Goldberg’s menu offerings. The restaurants also have a reputation for being the place to go for a “power breakfast.” Local business bigwigs like Arthur Blank, owner of the Atlanta Falcons, and even a few celebrities have dined at Goldberg’s.
Speed is an essential ingredient for a breakfast and lunch operation, Saxe says. The company’s interactive Web site lets customers place orders online. Once they get to the store, all they have to do is pick it up and pay for the order.
“We are quick-service,” Saxe says.
Goldberg’s serves both the take-out and dine-in crowd. The restaurants, which range in size from 3,000 to 4,000 square feet, provide table service on one side and take-out service from a counter on the other. The dining areas, which seat from 80 to 100 people, are decorated in warm shades of burgundy and hunter green. Dine-in business generates 70 percent of sales, Saxe says. The average check is $10.
All the restaurants are in prime locations in Atlanta. Saxe, who was preparing to open a new restaurant when he spoke to QSR, says he’d rather wait for an A location to come on the market than settle for something less than prime. Being in the suburbs doesn’t interest him either.
“We try to find markets that have a good population of homes, apartments, and businesses,” he says. “The suburbs are more of a weekend trade.”
Saxe also isn’t interested in growing the business through franchising. He tried it but wasn’t satisfied with the results. He ended up buying the stores back from the franchisee.
Too many inexperienced people want to be franchisees, he says. Restaurant operators give up some control and compromise the quality of their brand when they take the franchising route.
“We haven’t had good experience with franchisees,” Saxe says. “To be a franchisor, you have to expect the quality of your business to come down to your franchises. I’m not prepared to lower the standard of my business to be a franchise.”
Saxe and Aaron’s slow approach to growth is deliberate. “We’re planning to open a few more,” Saxe says. “I open a store a year but try to maximize the location. We spend a year or two before we open another store.”
Saxe considers it critical to recruit and retain good employees. Goldberg’s only hires people full-time, and the company provides health, dental, and other benefits. That has helped the company hang on to employees, Saxe says. Workers also are not expected to work around the clock.
“You don’t want to kill your labor or your owners,” Saxe says. “If you kill them, you’ll have high turnover.”