The Four Foods Group: Sharing a Love of Food
Andrew and Shauna Smith founded The Four Foods Group (FFG) in 2008 with a focus on creating jobs and spreading a love of good food. FFG’s executive team is comprised of colleagues with a knack for teamwork, innovation and a love for the business.
“We began as an investment and management corporation,” explains Andrew, CEO of FFG. “We started out looking for a good restaurant concept where we could help aspiring operators build a restaurant, as well as their brand. The two main factors of our success are good food and sound finances.”
Andrew and Shauna, CMO of FFG, met in Provo, Utah, where both attended college. “I was born in Chicago and my father was an associate dean of the dental school at Northwestern,” says Andrew. “I was the black sheep of the family, as many other family members entered the medical field. I had a business mind, and I always wanted to sell something. I worked at Sears and my mentor was one of the vice presidents of the company. I left Chicago and went to Brigham Young University [BYU] because I wanted to get out on my own.”
Starting Something New
Andrew and Shauna married after college, settling in – but not settling down – in Utah. According to Andrew, six months after graduation he was starting businesses. “I ran tech companies for more than a decade,” he says. “I resigned from the last one to start FFG.”
Andrew and Shauna’s first development was Kneader’s Bakery & Café (Kneaders), which has become FFG’s flagship brand. “We love Kneaders and it was always one of Shauna’s favorite restaurants,” explains Andrew. “It was a small, niche operation with a bakery and café. The company had six units where everything was made everything from scratch, including artisan bread and gourmet soups to European pastries.”
The pair obtained the exclusive development rights to a four-state region, including Utah, Nevada, Colorado and Arizona. Within a few years FFG has experienced enormous growth. “We’ve refined systems and financial insight in and out of the store,” says Andrew. “We don’t own the Kneaders brand or company, but we have the rights to expand it into locations where it has never existed. We work with the owners and operators as a development company and a long-term, closely aligned partner.”
The team at FFG proudly assists business owners in making growth decisions. The FFG team also takes care of financial and purchasing aspects for operator partners, allowing the owners to focus on day-to-day operations, enhancing the overall business.
When the Smiths started out, Andrew and Shauna were FFG’s only employees. Now the company has surpassed 700 dedicated employees and continues to grow. “We have several senior executives,” says Andrew. “Many of whom we have worked with in the past or know through other business ventures.” FFG has expanded its facilities as well. The team recently moved into a new 16,000-square foot office and warehouse located in Highland, Utah.
FFG is now proudly involved with 13 Kneaders restaurants and counting. “We’re building six buildings right now, and we hope to have 21 by 2014,” says Andrew. An impressive growth plan allows Kneaders’ geographic footprint to extend from Utah into Nevada, Arizona and Colorado. The unique, quick-service restaurants are immensely popular wherever Kneaders open. The restaurant boasts a cozy atmosphere and hosts tasty dining options.
“Kneaders just feels like a local bakery,” describes Andrew. “There’s a warm, cozy home-oriented feel. Our locations have more than 100 European pastries available all year, as well as fresh sandwiches made to order, hearty salads, a full espresso and coffee bar and Panini’s. We compete in the same genre of food as Paradise Bakery, which is owned by Panera, but we really specialize in pastries and retail gift baskets.”
Off the menu, Kneaders also operates as a retailer. The interior of each restaurant is strewn with handmade gift baskets that are available for purchase. “Our baskets are incredibly popular around the holidays,” notes Andrew. Customers can also purchase spreads and oils, custom pastries, fancily wrapped sweet breads and Abbie & Ellie Sweets, which are manufactured internally by Kneaders corporate.
Victory Across the Table
With all the diversity the Smiths have created, FFG has been immensely successful since 2008. “We are pushing harder and faster every year,” says Andrew. “There are plenty of private equity groups that want to help us out, but we want to make sure we’re growing at the right rate. I think things are really going to speed up for us over the next four years.”
According to Andrew, the most challenging aspect of operating FFG was getting the business off the ground. “Running a young company is tough,” explains Andrew. “And we were doing it in the worst crisis our country has ever seen. I had to figure out a creative way to work with banks. Financing is the hardest part. We had to scrape together hundreds of thousands of dollars to get the banks to lend a majority of the money.”
The team at FFG has successfully built and established better relationships, which Andrew believes is imperative to the company’s stability and growth. Whether with contractors, food suppliers or banks, FFG has established networks. “Here in Utah, we use the same builder and the same network of subcontractors for each new location,” explains Andrew. “Going out of state we work with a local group that has a national presence.”
Many of FFG’s repeat contractors are currently working on new Kneaders locations, and Andrew believes he will be providing even more business as time goes on. “We have the right vision,” he says. “We know what we’re trying to accomplish. We want to have a big presence in the West, and we also want to reach into the Midwest, where I’m from. I think we’ll merge and acquire our way to the East Coast within the next 10 years. During the next five-to-seven years alone, we are looking to have 125 to 150 stores. In the next three years, I think we’ll have more than 2,500 employees serving fantastic food in good stores that are profitable and provide job security.”
What began as romance has prospered, and Andrew and Shauna have established a truly unique operation. The team believes in what FFG is selling and all are dedicated wholeheartedly to the success of the company’s partners. “We’re sticking to Kneaders for now,” says Andrew, who has not ruled out working with other chains. The Four Foods Group is a growing force in restaurant development and finance, and the Smiths are likely to exceed any growth goals with ease.