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June 12, 2011 / John Edwards

Interview with Biscuitville’s CEO, Part 1: History, Footprint, Expansion

Let’s play word association.  I’ll say a word, and you think of the first thing that comes to your mind.  Ready?

Fast Food CEO.

What are you picturing?  Probably a man in a suit, mid 50′s, with a rather round figure.  At least, that’s what I had in mind of the archetype Quick Service Restaurant executive.

Burney Jennings, the CEO of Biscuitville, reminded me more of Lance Armstrong: slim and trim, with a big smile and a firm handshake.  I met him at the Biscuitville headquarters for an interview mid-week, and he had the presence and physique of someone who likes to run for 60 minutes a day.  Whether he does or not, I don’t know.  It never occurred to me to ask when I sat down to talk with him about his restaurants.  But I did have the time to learn more about Biscuitville, its corporate structure, and its operations.

John: I read on the website that Biscuitville started out when your father founded a chain called Pizzaville.  Can you tell me about the evolution of Pizzaville to Biscuitville?

Burney:  My father started out in the Pizza business.  He had twelve restaurants called “Pizza-to-go” and later changed the name to Pizzaville.  At a certain point, he started selling Biscuits in the morning.  He saw that there was a better return on biscuits than on pizza, so he did an experiment in Danville, VA, with a Biscuitville restaurant.  It was successful, so he changed the name and style of all the restaurants.

John:  I heard a story about a grandmother’s biscuit recipe…

Burney:  My great grandmother’s recipe.

John:  It was inherited by your grandfather?

Burney:   The story goes, on my great grandmother’s deathbed, she gave my dad the choice of the family farm or the biscuit recipe.  He chose the biscuit recipe.

John: Can you confirm or deny the story?

Burney: [Laughs] I cannot confirm or deny that.  It’s what my father told me, so I cannot confirm or deny.

John: I’m sorry to put you on the spot…

Burney: [Laughs harder] You’re not the first person to ask me that question and to put me on the spot like that.

John: Local chains can often mirror the local flavor.  California, North Carolina and New Orleans all have their own cultures, which give their chains a certain local flavor.  As far as your footprint goes, where is it? How far does it extend?

Burney: We’re headquartered in Greensboro, North Carolina. All of our restaurants are within a two hour drive.  We have a high concentration in the Greensboro, Burlington, and Highpoint markets.  We also have five in Durham.  We have been in business for 45 years. We have 58 stores in 45 years in business, that is not explosive growth in this industry.

John:  Speaking of growth, what are your plans for expansion?

Burney: Our expansion plans are to do some infill within the radius.  For example, Raleigh is a really populated market, where would like to add restaurants.  We have two down in Charlotte, and could do some infill there. That is our goal before we expand to markets like Columbia [SC] and Spartanburg [SC].  We have a store in Lynchburg, VA, on the north side, but we don’t have any in Roanoke, so that would be a natural place to add.

John: Before, you had a 90-minute radius.  Now it’s two hours.  Why do you keep stores so close?  Is it a producer in the area?

Burney: We do our own warehouse distribution, which is pretty unusual in our industry.  Typically, you sub that out to distributors.  It’s located in Graham.  That’s not the issue.  You can service restaurants in Atlanta from Graham.  It’s more of a management issue.  For us, because we don’t franchise, we have supervisors who visit the restaurants once a week.  If we went further out, we would have to hire supervisors just for those areas.  So right now, if it looks like we can add restaurants near our own home base, that’s what we’re going to do.

John: I had in my mind that 90 minutes was a producer issue.  Where do the ingredients come from, then?

Burney:  We make the biscuits in the restaurant.  We have fresh ingredients coming into  the warehouse.  The sausage comes from Sevierville, Tennessee.  The Ham is coming from Wilkesboro, NC.  Our Chicken is out of Mississippi, the bacon from Ohio, and the steak from St. Louis, MO.  Oh, and the flour is from Henderson, NC, just northeast of Durham.  When you’re looking at a map, most of our key ingredients are 8-10 hours away maximum.

For the second half of the interview, stay tuned.  I’ll be releasing it soon.  In the meantime, the full, official history of Biscuitville can be found on their website.

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