Table Touch Podcast 013 — Paul Motenko of Stacked on Building a Brand

Want a guidebook on building a great, high-tech and high-touch restaurant brand from scratch?

Table Touch Podcast

Listen to this episode of Table Touch.

In this special edition, we talk with Paul Motenko, co-CEO (with Jerry Hennessy) of Stacked, a four-location restaurant concept based in southern California. If you’re paying attention, you know we mentioned Stacked just last week. While they are NOT a “breastaurant” by any means, they were mentioned in our Best Bites segment.

Paul joined us from the very outset, as we recorded this episode on-site at his Cerritos location. He was an exceptionally gracious host, telling us not only the story of Stacked’s origins, but his own restaurant beginnings.

So many great lessons you’ll get from this episode, let’s get to the show notes.

Show Notes

If you’re not familiar with Paul or Stacked, know that Paul also served as co-Chairman of the BJ’s Restaurants chain from 1991 through 2008. He’s a native Chicagoan who had dreams of owning his own pizzeria. Little did he know he’d be where he is today.

Stacked is a full-service restaurant that has four locations in southern California: Cerritos, Thousand Oaks, Torrance, and San Diego. The concept has been around since 2009. It represents Paul’s and Jerry’s great vision to found a restaurant brand that was truly customer-first. Stacked represents the perfect intersection of high tech and high touch.

You can build exactly the meal you want through a customized iPad on your table — or you tell the server what you want and he or she will make it happen. You’re not forced, coerced, persuaded or prodded to use that iPad; it’s an additional element to the experience, not an effort to reduce labor costs at the expense of the customer experience.

Many takeaways:

  • The inspiration for Stacked, despite its full-service model, comes from the fast casual industry, with a focus on making guests’ dining experience more simple, yet high quality.
  • Giving guests exactly what they want: that CAN be the path to glory for a restaurant brand. You don’t have to shirk from customer order changes.
  • “Undeterred by reality — we decided we were going to develop this concept. It took us about a year and a half to do it right.”
  • We want our guests to be creative and order exactly what they want, but guests can start with one of our signature items — 55% of guests start from scratch, and 95% of guests modify in some way.
  • “Our guests truly appreciate the ability to customize. They love the ability to create. It creates a great product for them.”
  • Servers and staff are not just order takers or payment processors — they are there for hospitality. While Paul wouldn’t suggest every restaurant can or should embrace customization, he feels his cooks can enjoy more creativity with the preparation and the presentation.
  • How did Paul come to take over at BJ’s? It’s a story you won’t believe — hear it around the 30:00 mark. 
  • “We have very traditional food. People pretty much know what they like on their burgers. To some extent we do protect people from themselves! There are some things we just don’t provide for every menu item.”
  • Through the Stacked Friends loyalty program, customers can save their favorite menu items, that are then available for online ordering, pre-ordering, and in-restaurant ordering.
  • “We’ve tried to keep this fun and engage with our guests in a different way.”
  • Guests can download the custom Stacked app to their own iPad — the exact same ordering experience that exists on the tableside tablet. You can pre-order on your own iPad, get a pre-order code, input that code when you enter the restaurant, and within 10 seconds your order is underway. No line.
  • Know all those brands deploying tablets with games included as an additional revenue opportunity. Here’s Paul take on it: “One of the most common comments we get is: Why not put games on the tablets? But we will not do that. The dining experience is a social experience. The last thing we would want to do is inhibit the social experience.”
  • Stacked competes with brands who go “wide” with their menu to offer choice by going “deep” with their menu to offer choice. Paul knows that with many broad-menu restaurants you’re not going to be good at everything — you add some items to the menu because you have to. But at Stacked, the goal is to make everything great.
  • Hear Paul tell the story of what he loves about the restaurant industry: being a part of great experiences that people remember throughout the lives.

The initial use of technology with Stacked was to fuel customization. What Paul and Jerry discovered, however, is the ability to let customers control when they ordered and when they paid was a side benefit. But there’s more, as Paul says:

“We wanted the ability to create a very personal experience — not only do you get what you want, you pay for what you get. If you remove the tomato from your burger, you pay less.” 

Sometimes operators know TOO much about the restaurant industry. Paul and Jerry had no prior experience in the industry before stepping in at BJ’s. They ran a CPA firm that did business with BJ’s. Paul sees that fresh perspective as being key to innovating.

Paul starts his day each morning pouring through comment cards. Last year alone, across just those four locations, they pulled in 50,000+ customer comment cards. Sometimes that’s a great way to start your day, sometimes not. Get Paul’s take on this around the 26:00 mark.

One Paul Motenko Restaurant Truism

  • There are those who are passionate about food, and don’t fully realize it’s a business. Then there are those who think it’s just a business and err on the other side. You have to realize the guest can sense what you’re doing. You’ve got to be somewhere in-between.

Thank you Paul, for joining us. You’re not only a great restaurant leader, but a great man with a great moral compass. Good luck to you and the team at Stacked.

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