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Ones to Watch | By Lynne Miller

Smiling Moose Deli
Smiling Moose Deli menu item

The breakfast business carries its weight and then some for Smiling Moose Deli, a Colorado chain best known for high-end gourmet sandwiches.

Throughout the day, the restaurant offers a variety of sandwiches—made with scrambled eggs and traditional breakfast meats—served on bagels, Kaiser rolls, and tortillas. Bagels with assorted spreads and freshly baked muffins round out the breakfast menu.

“People eat our breakfast sandwiches all day long,” says Kevin Sloane, president and founder of the chain. “It’s a very profitable daypart.”

Sloane’s Eureka! moment came the day he and his partner were working to get a store ready for its grand opening five years ago. They hadn’t had breakfast, so Sloane’s partner went to a local restaurant at 11:30 a.m., only to be told by an employee that breakfast service ended 30 minutes before.

Sloane saw an opportunity. Smiling Moose has been serving breakfast around the clock since.

Breakfast lovers can choose from among eight sandwiches. The Morning Moose offers a choice of ham, bacon, or sausage with scrambled eggs and melted cheddar cheese on a toasted bagel or Kaiser roll. The Mt. Benedict, a sandwich version of Eggs Benedict, is served with homemade Hollandaise sauce on a toasted bagel.

Breakfast business generates 25 percent of sales, Sloane says. Lunch brings in 55 percent and dinner 20 percent.

Generous portions, premium ingredients, and made-to-order products allow Smiling Moose to stand out among other sandwich chains. Cooks use flat-top griddles to prepare the meats, eggs, and vegetables used on the sandwiches. The menu also offers unique toppings such as brie, roasted red peppers, and sun-dried tomatoes.

“We make everything to order. It might take an extra minute or two but the feedback we get says it’s worth the wait,” Sloane says.

The chain’s signature sandwich, however, isn’t on its breakfast menu. The Mighty Mo, a cheeseburger grinder that’s 12 inches long and weighs up to 1½ lbs, sells for $7.95.

“We sell close to 5,000 Mighty Mos a month at all stores,” Sloane says. “We sell more Mighty Mos than anything else.”

Sloane is so confident in the Mo that he even offers a personal guarantee—he’ll pick up the tab for anyone who doesn’t regard the Mo as one of the three best sandwiches they’ve ever eaten.

“I’ve never had to buy a sandwich,” he says.

Also on the menu are cold sandwiches, wraps, a build-your-own sandwich option, soups, and salads. A children’s menu features macaroni and cheese, peanut butter and jelly, grilled cheese sandwiches, and other kid pleasers. The dessert lineup includes Rice Krispie bars, chocolate fudge brownies, and assorted fresh-baked cookies.

The restaurants’ ambience is inviting, too. Bright shades of lime green, blue, and mango create a lively atmosphere. Playful images of a moose, in various guises, appear throughout stores.

Restaurants range in size from 1,400 to 2,200 square feet. Dining areas can seat from 15 to 75 people. Dine-in and takeout sales are about equal, Sloane says. The average check is $9.40.

Sloane takes pride in the chain’s loyalty program, which keeps track of customer purchases and allows diners to keep a loyalty card for their key chains. When the cards are swiped at the registers, participating customers receive discounts and other gifts based on their spending level. Customers who visit the company’s Web site are eligible for T-shirts and free lunches in honor of their birthdays.

Smiling Moose Deli
CEO: Mark Laramie
President: Kevin Sloane
HQ: Boulder, Colorado
Year Started: 2003
Annual Sales: $7.5 million
Total Units: 11
Franchise Units: 2

Employees are trained to deliver friendly service. When an order is ready, workers let customers know by calling them by name. “We like to be more personal,” Sloane says. “We found taking names not numbers has been a huge hit.”

Smiling Moose is poised to grow through franching. Last year, Mark Laramie, an industry veteran with franchising experience, came on board as CEO. Sloane, Laramie, and the rest of the management team expect to have more than 30 restaurants operating by the end of 2009. Right now, all the restaurants are in Colorado, and many are in resort towns, helping to introduce the chain to a broader customer base. The company is negotiating with potential franchisees in Washington and Utah.

Franchisees can expect to pay $25,000 in fees for the first store, a 6 percent royalty fee, and contribute 2 percent of sales to the brand development fund. lynne miller