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5 Questions for Restaurateur Jeff Sinelli

The 40-year-old “chief vibe officer” for Dallas-based Which Wich and Burguesa Burger talks business strategy and the Dallas dining scene.
photography courtesy of Which Wich?

The 40-year-old head honcho of Dallas-based sandwich chain Which Wich? is one laid-back executive. Sinelli, whose business card proudly reads “Chief Vibe Officer,” is all about keeping things positive—and keeping his restaurant concepts in the black. The Which Wich? franchise is approaching 1,500 employees and is on track to hit $60 million in revenue this year, and Sinelli opened a new restaurant concept, Burguesa Burger, on May 5. Burguesa is slated to begin awarding franchises in September.

1. How’s business?

We’re sitting at 90 [Which Wich?] stores right now, with another 50 under construction, which means as a company we made it from zero to 100 stories in less than five years. I thought success would be if we doubled every year. If we were sitting at 32 right now, I would be extremely happy. The fact that we’re at 90 is exponential happiness.

2. Why do you think Which Wich? is doing well in a down economy?

I think we’re still priced right. We offer value for that under-$10 meal. You can get a sandwich, a chip, a drink, and even a cookie, and still have change out of $10. I think that’s a formula that will be around for a long time, regardless of the economy

3. You just opened Burguesa Burger. Why now, and why did you go in that direction?

Most people are hiding or hibernating right now. I just believe you go forward; there’s a lot of opportunity out there. Now is the time to capitalize on it. If your company is in a position with no debt like we are, we can take advantage of some of the opportunities.

The Burguesa Burger project—let’s just call it a spark. When my wife Courtney and I were traveling in South America and Mexico, we noticed that there was a piece of ham on the hamburgers. It was just kind of one of those no-brainer type moments— I’m going to do a hamburger chain that’s authentic.

4. What’s driving the Dallas restaurant scene?

Dallas is a great place to be in the restaurant business. You have Carlson with TGI Friday’s, Rich Hicks with Mooyah and Tin Star, and Antonio Swad with Pizza Patron and Wingstop. You have up-and-coming restaurateurs that are following behind Norman Brinker and Phil Romano. This is the land of Brinker and Romano. I’m a couple of generations behind them, but I want to be in the record books next to their achievements with brands.

5. What is your business strategy?

I like to keep it positive. I don’t really work; I play. Since I started my career here in Dallas in 1994, I wake up and play all day long. I think part of the success is you don’t look at it as work; you look at it as play and enjoyment. I’m committed to being a lifelong restaurateur.

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