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Maid-Rite growing quality, size


Bradley Burt’s vision for revitalizing the Maid-Rite quick-service restaurant chain is beginning to take shape.

This month, construction begins on a new Maid-Rite “superstore” at the Little Amana complex off Interstate 80. It will be the first of 20 new Maid-Rite restaurants planned for Iowa and Kansas City under a recently signed development agreement. It’s one of six new Maid-Rite restaurants currently under construction across the Midwest.

Every aspect of those new restaurants will reflect the new “Maid-Rite Way” of doing things, emphasizing a high level of cleanliness, quality and personal service, said Burt, the company’s president and chief executive.

“One of the things we felt was important was to have consistency,” he said. “The Maid-Rites of the past were all hodgepodge and had no standards.”

Under the new ownership group that bought the company less than two years ago, Maid-Rite Corp.’s goal is to grow to a national chain with 1,000 outlets within the next 15 years. The short-term goal: 35 new locations in 18 months.

To accomplish that, the company has established its Maid-Rite University to train new franchise owners, and is working with current franchisees to bring existing restaurants up to the new standards. It has dropped about 10 franchise stores and added five new ones since January 2002, bringing the total number of restaurants to 75.

Burt said Maid-Rite has a list of more than 400 qualified franchise prospects, many of them couples in their 40s who are looking for a new challenge after building and selling successful businesses. Its strategy is to be a low-cost franchiser, with a $15,000 franchise fee and 4 percent royalty fee, about half that its larger competitors.

The company is currently negotiating area development agreements for Phoenix, the Florida Gulf Coast and parts of Chicago. It also has signed a co-branding agreement with Salt Lake City-based TCBY as an added draw for franchise owners to bring in customers.

As the only loose-meat sandwich chain in the country, the 77-year-old company has enormous potential to grow, but only if its well-known brand can be reinvigorated, Burt said.

“That logo is what we’re known for, and by having that brand reinvented and bringing it into the 21st century of franchising … it has great opportunity.”

A new menu of more healthful items to complement the signature Maid-Rite sandwich is one of the key changes. Each restaurant will be equipped with a bread oven to bake fresh buns for the sandwiches daily, along with fresh cinnamon rolls each morning and cookies in the afternoon.

Also on the new menu are soups served in homemade bread bowls, fresh-cut fries cooked in healthier shortening, and a new line of “Healthy Salads” launched within the past two months. And for the first time, there’s a children’s menu.

Burt said daily sales at Maid-Rite’s 100th Street restaurant in Urbandale are up 200 percent since the new menu was adopted.

“That’s really the proof of the pudding,” he said. “We see a lot of new customers we’ve never seen before. In this business, you have to have great-tasting food. And then you accent that by having great service, and by how comfortable they are when they come into your restaurant.”

In November, the company will launch another first: television commercials, featuring Burt’s wife, Tania, as the reincarnation of the Maid-Rite Maiden. The ads will initially run in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota and Nebraska.

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