The skinny on Fatz: New CEO talks changes, plans for the future
Mar 01, 2017 04:53PM ● Published by Makayla Gay
By Emily Stevenson
Photography By Amy Randall Photography
They say that the best way to lure a journalist to cover your story is to feed them. On an unseasonably warm, sunny day in January, Fatz Café did just that. The food in question, which was delicious and more than this reporter could even eat, included items from their seasonal Fish Camp menu that launched Feb. 15 and from their new core menu that launched Jan. 31.
The revamped offerings are just one of the hallmarks of new CEO Jim Mazany, who took the helm of the Taylors-based chain in October.
“We have a tremendous amount of loyal guests that are advocates of the Fatz brand and support us in all the communities we do business,” says Mazany. “My goal is to continue to offer innovation from a culinary point of view to bring more southern-inspired flavors to the table for our guests.”
If that’s his goal, Mazany is off to a great start. All fried items will now be cooked in the same manner as the chain’s popular lightly breaded and fried Calabash chicken. Platters are served with a soup, revamped broccoli slaw and French fries, along with a mason jar of homemade pickled vegetables that might possibly be the star of the show. Fatz’ new menu is a change from typical restaurant trends, and the team hopes to use that to drive business.
“The trend in restaurants is to take away, but we’re putting a lot on the plate,” says Zac Painter, vice president of marketing. “We took what you like and made it bigger, or better, or both.”
Bigger and better, indeed. According to Painter, the chain updated, changed, or introduced 30 items. Items that didn’t reflect the chain’s southern brand were removed, including the Asian chicken salad and the Mediterranean tilapia.
“The menus change seasonally [with our campaigns], but I don’t know that such a significant change has ever been made in one swipe,” says Painter. “This is more of a menu renaissance. We’re taking the menu to where the founders in 1988 would have intended it to be in 2017.”
“The brand has been around since 1988, but I think we’re getting back to our roots and getting back to the core qualities the brand was founded upon,” Mazany says.
So far, the men say test audiences and patrons have responded well to the menu changes. Part of their cuisine’s popularity is their commitment to using local ingredients wherever available.
“You look at a brand like Fatz, in the community we do business in, we support local farmers and local communities,” says Mazany. “Any time we can produce a farm-to-table product or locally sourced seafood, it’s the right thing to do. From a business standpoint, it’s economically the right thing to do.”
Mazany has had plenty of experience doing the right thing in the restaurant industry. Prior to joining Fatz, he was the president and COO of the Joe’s Crab Shack system, a $400 million annual revenue brand with 130 locations nationwide. He’s also worked with national brands such as Applebee’s, TGIFridays, and Romano’s Macaroni Grill. The decision to join Fatz was an easy one for this 30-year restaurant veteran.
“I love what the brand stands for,” says Mazany. “It has a rich, great history. When I look at the positioning and the southern cuisine, southern hospitality, it’s something from a macro and micro point of view that is the place to be within casual dining right now.”
The Fatz brand currently has 46 locations across Tennessee, Georgia, and the Carolinas. Mazany hopes to ramp up growth by moving into newly developed markets that customers are now living in.
“As a brand, we have done really well with our Carolina consumer, so giving our guests the opportunity to use the brand in more places is what we’d like to do,” says Mazany. “The goal is to start to grow the Fatz brand in 2017 and 2018 into four to five more locations in the Carolinas.”
With all of the restaurants out there, particularly in the Greenville market, the restaurant business is a hard business to be in. Mazany says that continued craveable food offerings and genuine southern hospitality are what sets Fatz apart from the competition.
“People work very hard for the dollars that they have,” says Mazany. “When you go out to eat, you want to go to places you trust and that have done a good job for you historically and have provided a consistent experience that exceeds your expectations. We have a lot of really loyal guests that are advocates for the brand.”
But the brand perhaps has no better advocate than Mazany. He is hands-on with the menu creation as well as the expansion and business side of things. In the end, it’s his passion that drives him, and ultimately the restaurant chain, to success.
“I believe if you’re a restaurateur and a CEO, you have to be passionate about food,” he says. “I get up every morning excited about wanting to take care of our guests and our employees and deliver hospitality at the highest level. You’ll see that in a Fatz when you come in.”