Researching corner bakery cafe in 2005, restaurateur Mike Hislop discovered two things. The first was that the Dallas-based chain makes one heck of a chicken-salad sandwich. The second was that the 16-year-old cafe concept wasn’t fulfilling its potential.
It just so happened that Hislop, president and CEO of a Corte Madera, Calif.-based chain of Italian restaurants called Il Fornaio, was looking to add a cafe model to his growing company. So he purchased Corner Bakery from Dallas’ Brinker International in February 2006, convinced he could make it the nation’s favorite neighborhood stop.
To lure more patrons to the concept, Hislop knew he had to create a comfortable environment. He got to work, bringing in cozier furniture and spiffed-up displays. Wi-Fi Internet access was introduced, and more than $1 million was spent upgrading the cafe’s coffee selection alone. Hislop also stressed the importance of each Corner Bakery reflecting—and being part of—the neighborhood that surrounds it, introducing a “Get to Know Your Neighbor” program that encourages patrons to mingle with each other and the staff.
Already, Hislop’s changes have been so successful that the restaurant now boasts the highest average annual sales volume of any national bakery-cafe brand. Today Corner Bakery boasts 103 locations in eight states including Texas, California, and Georgia. Besides preparing to roll out 10 to 15 new corporate-owned locations in 2008, Hislop recently introduced a franchising program to help grow the chain even more.
Soon, Hislop says, he’ll be able to get his favorite chicken salad whether he’s at his North Dallas office, at his home in California—or on the road looking for the next great concept.