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uncommon brands.png Photo courtesy of Uncommon Brands
Wayne Moore (left) and Garrett Mills (right) are targeting emerging restaurant brands to add to the Uncommon Brands portfolio.

Uncommon Brands launched to help grow emerging restaurant concepts

Uncommon Brands is focused on providing the necessary infrastructure – like marketing and technology – to help emerging restaurant brands grow to their potential.

Wayne Moore and Garrett Mills first met a little over a year ago through a mutual friend and they hit it off immediately because of their shared affinity for the restaurant industry. Moore has deep experience running consumer hedge funds, while Mills jumped into restaurant leadership in 2017, including as president of Chandler Hospitality Group, after earning his MBA and following a six-year NFL career.

The two are about to take that affinity to a whole new level, forming a new holding company called Uncommon Brands aimed at helping emerging restaurant concepts grow. This journey began in early 2019, when Moore created Crux Capital because he believed there was a strong opportunity to focus on smaller brands as the broader private equity space was going in the opposite direction.

“Take Blackstone, for example. It’s easy to say you invested in their 25th fund and didn’t do well, but if you invest in an emerging company and didn’t do well, it’s a fire-able offense. We saw this dearth in the consumer space and, at the same time, saw a lack of groups focused on smaller concepts or focused on the Sunbelt; there was more capital on the coasts. The best thing you can do is go where the fish are biting,” Moore said. “I also prefer working with smaller companies and actually being a part of their growth.”

Crux has since invested in concepts like HTeaO, a drive-thru beverage brand; Superscapes, a landscaping company; and Woody’s Brands, a multiunit operator of bar/restaurant concepts across Texas and Louisiana. In December, the company formed Uncommon Brands upon its acquisition of Fuego Tortilla Grill for an undisclosed amount. Mills was tapped as CEO and the two relatively new friends now have big aspirations to not only grow the Fuego Tortilla Grill concept, but also explore additional acquisition opportunities in that emerging space. Uncommon Brands expects to deploy over $100 million in capital to acquire and grow Fuego and additional brands throughout the next several years.

First thing’s first – Fuego Tortilla Group has four locations throughout Texas. It has a unique menu featuring scratch-made craft tacos, salads, soups, sides, and appetizers. Over 20% of its sales come from late-night and morning business. Its off-premises business is north of 50%. And, its customer service is consistent across all four locations.

“When I walked into the Waco location, four employees greeted me. I got an immediate sense they were well trained and that there was a strong culture here. These employees have bought in enough. Then I had the food, and it was phenomenal,” Mills said. “I called Wayne and said, ‘I get it now.’”

The two started diving into the financials and said Fuego Tortilla Grill’s average unit volumes are “well above average,” and that was the cherry on top for the two to bring it on as Uncommon Brands’ first concept in what they hope will eventually be a sizeable roster. Should their goal come to fruition, Uncommon’s portfolio will be full of similar concepts – emerging restaurant brands with strong fundamentals and potential, but lacking the infrastructure needed to bring them to the next level.

“We want Uncommon to be a world-class restaurant organization and the goal is finding these amazing brands and making them world-class. The things we can’t fix are the menu, the concept, the differentiation,” Moore said. “What we’re solving for is the lack of corporate infrastructure – all of the capabilities we can add to take this great brand and really expand it.”

Mills added that Fuego “doesn’t look like a booming restaurant brand in 2024” on the surface – the brand’s online ordering is disjointed, there is no app, there are different logos for different locations, the website isn’t interactive. But beneath the surface is the sweet spot for Uncommon Brands.

“What we can do is the low-hanging fruit – website redesign, launching an app, the real estate side, the development side, the menu architecture, finance and modeling to making sure margins and CapEx make sense,” Mills added. “This is why I joined the company. How Wayne described what he wanted to do aligned with what I saw as the big opportunities in this industry, where you have concepts known and loved and with loyal guests – concepts that check a lot of boxes – but for many reasons are constrained in their ability to flourish and grow and extract all the value possible.”

Uncommon will get its sea legs through Fuego but is looking at concepts all over the place to add, so long as they can translate from market to market. What the team is focused on are limited-service restaurant brands with a strong off-premises mix that skew toward younger consumers. The food is non-negotiable, as is the service and the unit economics. As Mills explains, Uncommon is not looking for dying brands to revive, but rather strong brands with strong growth potential, but that just lack a playbook.

Five years from now, Mills expects Uncommon to have a full team in place, including “restaurant people who understand finance,” maybe another concept or two, and about 20 new Fuego locations and perhaps even more depending on how numbers five through 10 perform. Uncommon is open to franchising to accelerate that growth, but that is not a near term priority.

“With corporate-owned, we control our own destiny. We know it could work, but you have to crawl before you can walk or run,” Moore added. “Right now, our priority is taking this great first brand we have and making sure others we add are as good or in the same ballpark. We’re not just going to buy a mediocre brand, but rather exceptional brands that can grow into hundreds of units.

“We know there are a lot of them out there and now we have the vehicle to do it.”

Contact Alicia Kelso at [email protected]

TAGS: Finance
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