Over the last several years, as the U.S. economy makes small, yet steady gains to prerecession levels, the outlook for the restaurant industry is one of the most promising, especially in the fast-casual concept niche. As hungry consumers line up out the door to dine at chains, such as Chipotle, Five Guys, Qdoba, Blaze Pizza and many, more, the restaurant industry is one of the strongest sectors.
According to the National Restaurant Association’s annual forecast, the restaurant industry is worth an estimated $683.4 billion in 2014; up 3.6 percent from 2013 and the fifth consecutive year of restaurant sales growth. That’s good news for AMPAL Group (AMPAL), a retail, restaurant and real estate firm that primarily develops restaurant brands in New Jersey, Maryland and Washington, D.C.
AMPAL is growing as quickly as fast-casual restaurants pop up across the East Coast and the New Jersey-based firm is expanding at an exponential rate – nearly 311 percent in 2014. Headquartered in Green Brook, New Jersey, AMPAL reached No. 1,377 on Inc. 5,000’s annual fastest growing companies list; moving from $3.7 million in revenue in 2010 to a cool $15.2 million by 2013.
And AMPAL has only been building its network of franchises since 2008. Over the last six years, the company has added a record number of jobs, now totaling over 850 employees.
For the fans
Amit Patel, vice president of AMPAL, says it all started thanks to his love for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and watching his father, Bipin Patel, launch retail stores through the 1990s.
“I didn’t necessarily set out to be in the restaurant management business,” says Patel. “Originally, I wanted to be a college football coach.”
However, it was in his blood. “My father, who’s still company president, but is now in a more backseat role, had SpeedyMart convenience store franchises he started in the late 1980s,” continues Patel. “I grew up watching him work in the industry and once I decided coaching would have to wait; I started looking at different small and medium restaurant concepts.”
With advice from his father to seek out an opportunity with higher volume, Patel and a friend went to his birthday lunch at a Buffalo Wild Wings (BWW) in Brooklyn and things started to click. “The moment I walked in, I knew it was a place New Jersey needed, especially being a big football fan,” he recounts. “Living in New Jersey and being a Tampa Bay fan, I always had a hard time finding a place to watch the game, back before Sunday Ticket was so widespread.”
Patel wanted to bring BWW to New Jersey, so he did. “I went home and started filling out the application to start the process,” he tells. “Two years later and AMPAL opened its first unit and five years later, we opened our sixth location in early December 2014.”
Blazing a trail in 2015
Today, AMPAL is growing in New Jersey, Maryland and the greater Washington, D.C. area, working with some of the biggest names in the restaurant business. “We assist in everything from real estate development to construction and operations,” explains Patel.
Patel says there’s no slowing AMPAL in 2015 as the company furthers an exciting development opportunity with Blaze Pizza. “We opened our first Blaze Pizza in New Jersey in early November and there are currently two locations in Maryland, with a third opening in early December.”
Blaze Pizza is a popular fast casual pizza chain that took off in Los Angeles as the brainchild of Wetzel Pretzels’ co-founders Rick and Elise Wetzelv. After launching the Blaze Pizza Fast Fire’d artisanal pizza concept, the Wetzels are now rolling in the dough.
“Blaze Pizza is one of the first-of-its-kind, fast casual pizza concept in the Chipotle mold,” explains Patel. “It allows customers to have their own personalized pizza ready in three minutes.”
According to Patel, the concept comes from broad-base national food and beverage experience. “Rick comes from Nestle, where he grew brands on an international level; he understands how to do it on a large-scale basis,” says Patel. “Another factor that makes Blaze Pizza a success is the product itself is chef-driven. Our chef, Brad Kent, goes through every item from the cheese to the vegetables and meats to make sure every item is the right fit and taste.”
With such a solid concept to build from, AMPAL is helping Blaze Pizza make its mark on the East Coast. “When all is said and done, over the next four or five years, AMPAL will have more Blaze Pizza units than BWW,” details Patel.
The company is blazing into 2015 with goals for record growth. “We’re working on the second round of Blaze Pizza restaurants now and we’ve signed deals in the D.C. Maryland market, as well as two more in New Jersey as of 2014 and a third by 2015. Altogether, we’re anticipating another seven to eight units.”
What started as a die-hard football fan’s vision is now a reality as AMPAL Group acquires, develops and continues to grow some of the biggest, up and coming restaurant brands in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions.