If anyone deserves a black belt in restaurant scaling, it is Henrik Mattsson. He helped the famous Swedish burger brand Brödernas expand from seven to nearly 100 locations in less than three years.
In this episode, Henrik reveals his blueprint for restaurant growth. A blueprint he developed through trial and error while scaling several food service brands. Carl Jacobs and Henrik discuss everything from concept, training, partnerships, SOPs, technology and more.
Carl: In this episode, I’ll be talking to Henrik Mattson. Henrik recently joined Hospital, a company that invests in scaling restaurant businesses. But before that, Henrik was a deputy CEO for Brothers, which is a very popular Swedish burger brand. Henrik has played a crucial part in the success of this chain under his supervision. The concept grew from seven to nearly 100 locations, and if that wasn’t enough, he did it all under 30 months. That’s just amazing.
Let’s jump in and discover his recipe for success. All right. Good afternoon, everybody. This is a new podcast of the food service growth show. And today we have Henrik Mattson in the podcast. Henrik, Very welcome to the podcast.
Henrik: Thank you. Happy to be to be part of it and happy to be to get the opportunity.
Carl: I’m very happy that you can join us because I have been told that you are someone who scaled a business from 1 to 100 outlets in in in 30 months and two and a half years. And I’m very curious to hear more about that.
Henrik: So I’m born and raised in Sweden, but I worked my whole I’m 42 years old, living now in Stockholm with my my son Wilhelm, that’s eight years old. But I spent my whole career in the restaurant, my whole adult working career in the restaurant industry.
And I worked from the years of 20 to 30. I worked in many places around the globe in different positions. It’s just I just let destiny and work. Just take take me where the opportunities were. So I’ll be living in town a summer in magaluf dun dun dun.
A season or ten months in Ireland, been in London, been in Australia on a working holiday visa.
I was working on luxury cruise liners and, and a bit of other stuff. So that’s what I did between 20 to 30. And then I decided to, to study hotel management just to reach that sort of more senior level because I was working as restaurant manager and I was hungry for a bit of more responsibility and and also curious to where the career path could take me.
So for the past, after I’ve studied hotel management, I’ve been working more and more in senior roles of hotels and restaurants also in many parts of the world. So with the focus on building, with the assignments being very commercial, operational and organisation and and a lot of and a red thread is scaling businesses. If it’s a hotel business, it’s restaurant business in in, in many different different shape and forms.
So that’s the short summary of who I am.
Henrik: Now, what attracts me, I love the process of starting with on a blank piece of paper and in a room with the mood board and with, say, a lot of my assignments has been I’ve been offered opportunity and then sat down in the room with people, with very creative people that has has an idea and has a vision and has a goal and has and has a budget, but they don’t know how to do it.
So I like to be the one to come in and go for Operation Make Make everything come alive. And it’s a fantastic feeling to go from from that first meeting and then just to see everything come alive and the energy that you have in, in the scaling process of those first initial stumbling step to build that, to open up the first restaurant and then just go on to the next one, then see everything develops as you go along.
It’s a fantastic. I just love that face of of a company. And that’s also where I choose to specialize in.
Henrik: Yes, I joined Brödernas. It wasn’t 1 to 100 though. It was seven units when I joined them. But the vision and the and the mission was very clear.
And the dream for the owners was very clear. So they contacted me and we set up a plan together. And then we moved from seven units up to 96 when I left. So it wasn’t 100. That was the internal target. But so we opened maybe one unit a week.
Carl: That’s really a very incredible pace. And if you look back on that period and you look back, how how did you do that?
Because you say, okay, I love getting into a room with a blank piece of paper and a mood board. And and two and a half years later, you leave a business and you’ve opened up 89 different restaurants.
Henrik: To start with, you can’t do it by yourself. You need to be surrounded with very good and hardworking people, very talented people. But the first step is that you set the basic organizational structure, the meeting structure, that you set your roll out plan. And then you start to set your framework.
When I arrived, the concept was already there: the menu was in place, the interior was in place, the machine park, everything was sort of ready. The one thing that wasn’t ready was procurement.
Clear roles, titles, organization. How to build an organization. So we made a plan. So you make a three month plan and then you make a six month plan and then you make a 12 month plan. But everything is built on streamlining as much as possible. So in the case of Brödernas, everything had to be a copy paste and had to also be not as copy paste as a McDonald’s kitchen.
But we knew that these are the machines we want to use. This is the suppliers we want to use. These are the delivery types that we can accept. These are the days that we can get deliveries. This is the way we open. This is the way we train staff, and everything then put into a project planning tool called Monday, which I can really recommend so that everyone has access.
So you can share that platform, you can share all the documentations so you can by doing it, you can also take away a lot of mail and phone correspondence and you need someone to be responsible of tracking and then set the meeting structure to have the follow up on every step of the journey.
Carl: I’ve written down quite some things to take into account. But one thing that that interests me in particular is the organizational structure. So I hear you talking and I hear you say,you need good people, good, hardworking people.
Henrik: When I came in, it was the owners and we had one controller, the rest we had to build.
And then we had restaurant managers. So in the first unit that we opened, we hired one extra. So we moved with the restaurant managers that we hired from the first. That was the whole strategy.
So we hired a bit overqualified restaurant managers that had a solid restaurant management background. We trained them and we let them do their own openings.
We supported them with the openings. And in that opening they also had the number two with them. So when we moved on to the next five, we took the number one out of the business and then we moved the number two up and then we scaled in Stockholm to start with.
So we moved from seven to I think 20 to 25 units in Stockholm in a very fast time. So we had had a smaller geographical area to scale on to start with.
And then when we reached 25 units, we had a solid experience base. The guys that then went outside of Stockholm to open new units there, they already had opened two units each.
So then we can just spread it across the country. And then we duplicated the process again and again and again. And then once we got up to 40-50 units, we then split it into regions or areas first and then areas became regions.
So now Brödernas today, they have nine regional managers. So we just we just scaled it from from those restaurant managers. Obviously, it’s super important that you keep these key players.
So you need to make sure that the workload is like, a healthy, balanced workload as well and keep constant contact with them.
Check in how they are if they need to rest. Because one thing you can’t do, you can’t lose these people or the key players at the beginning. So it was a very decentralized structure. Everything was bottom up to start with. So.
All the training was done locally but controlled and set centrally. And then once we started rolling it out, we just gave the trust, the responsibility to the people that we had chosen to give the opportunity to open up these restaurants.
And then they also got the opportunity to make a very fast career with us.
Henrik: It happened pretty much after after after we’d done Stockholm. When we had the core knowledge of I think six really good restaurant managers that then had the experience.
But then the other part that I forgot to mention is that we said “what we need to do, what we are experts in that’s taking care of our guests. It’s opening up restaurants, it’s training staff. That’s what we should focus on.”
We we said in terms of the actual building of the restaurant, the project lead of the building of the restaurants, the machines and interior and so on, that should be done by external experts.
So instead of having our own in-house team, we choose to work with experts in their core business, they’ve built kitchen for in 40 to 50 years. So they know how to build the kitchen.
Same thing with interior. Same thing with builders. Same thing with… so we said the staff will have access to the restaurant and we’ll see the restaurant when they walk into the restaurant the first day because we never involved them in drawings. We never involved them because by doing it, we also reduce meeting times and again, it’sall about trust.
You would always have a head chef. You would always have a restaurant manager. They will have strong opinions on how a restaurant is built. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion.
But you can’t have consensus with everyone in. If you’re working in this rapid pace, you need to go. You need to trust the expert. You need to let the expert take the decision and you need to.
And if for some reason, if the decision is wrong, just everyone will just come together and then we solve it. Instead of having a lot of meetings, you could easily have 40 meetings leading up to an opening discussing how a kitchen should be planned.
But we used to have none. We used to just give it to you, to the experts. Same thing with choosing suppliers.
We relied on burger chains. We relied on our meat supplier to choose our meat mix. When we just said “Look, you guys are the experts. You tell us what meat that we should use.”
That’s the best for the market. You know the market better than us. So again, we used a lot of our suppliers instead of having this internal process, we had it externally. So by doing it, you also created a very, very big organization without having having to hire experts and having to pay for the experts.
Carl: And how did the suppliers react on this question? Because more often than not, they probably just get the order from the chef because the chef knows best. And then they just have to deliver, preferably on time.
Henrik: It might sound like the most natural working process in the world. It sounds simple, it’s very hard to actually to be able to do because you need to convince the key members of staff which you need to do when you recruit them and you need to explain to them that this is how we work here, this is your responsibility, this is what I expect from you.
But from a supplier perspective, they love it. Of course they love to get the opportunity. So my experience is that they’re getting more involved. They want to grow with you as a partner. They will make sure that the business is solid for for everyone.
There won’t be any argument about a penny here and there, it just creates a very healthy, trustworthy relationship. And you also get so many more experts working on the same challenge than you would ever have in trying to solve it internally.
Carl: That is quite new to me. I haven’t often heard this. This relationship with suppliers. You know, my gut feeling would say that they are trying to offer you the most expensive meat or the meat where they have the highest margin. Was this something you encountered?
Henrik: I understand what you mean. No, I was also very clear with my expectations, I just said, look, this is it, I give you the opportunity. You are the expert. Show me that you are the expert.
But I will see it quite fast if you try if you try to fool me. But you know, when you say we will open 100 restaurants, it’s very few people that will actually believe you.
But luckily for me, I had worked with some of them before, so they knew that this is a journey will never happen again, I guess. But at least scaling journeys together. So there was trust there. And they also just said, yes, I trust you, you should trust me.
And then just let’s make a good deal together and then don’t fool us because we will see it. We have all the systems in the world to see that as well.
Everything was digitalized. I will I will actually have a have an intro tomorrow of the whole of the whole Apicbase platform. So I’m looking forward to it. But I believe in using what you guys have built because there’s a thought behind it.
There’s probably customers out there that would like to have to change some details in the system all the time, which is I can also respect it, but I personally don’t see the point in questioning experts.
I rather see that and I rather tell my staff this is the function, this is how we use it and the end game and the rest have to still be the same. We just need to accept this. This is the way we need to do it.
And then instead I prefer to have a sit down and have a longer sort of discussion, a strategy, discussion of what can be done long term. Instead of focusing on the short term, how should we change the systems that we use? How should we change the layout of a POS, or how should we have different design of an inventory system?
This, again, you can end up in so many discussions. That is for me personally and the way I like to build companies together with my teams is unnecessary.
If the solution is already there, just use it as this and then again as a restaurant expert, focus on what we do best, meaning taking care of our guests, educating our staff, being a good manager. I mean, that’s the most important thing, making sure that your restaurant looks good and nice and focus on the core business and let the rest focus on let the experts on all the other areas do the work for you.
Henrik: The key technology I think you need is, again, the key decisions. And again, from my perspective, the key decisions should be as close to the guest as possible. I mean, I would like to see technology replace processes, meetings, even overhead counts.
If you can give the restaurant manager or the general manager, the person responsible for running the day to day business, the chance to solve recruitment themselves, contract themselves, procurement themselves, do the end of month themselves. Do the analytics of the business themselves…
That’s what you need. I mean, there’s another system similar to your system, I think, you know, for hospitality in UK. I worked with that before. I know it’s not your platform, of which I will get more information tomorrow but this is what’s also missing on the European market. We don’t have this 360 solution platform on the European market at the moment.
Well, you guys are building it and it’s it’s coming together nicely. You have it, you have a broad offer, but it’s not on the Nordic market. I guess you’re coming into the Nordic market, but on the Nordic market, the 360 solution isn’t there as it is with if you look at Fourth hospitality working in the London chain, for example, then you have a general manager that can control, control their business and run it.
You don’t need that big overhead. The challenge in the Nordics, for example, is that we lose a lot of people there. Perhaps they will come into their thirties. There will be times when they become parents or for some other reasons, can’t work evenings or weekends.
Then you lose a lot of experience if you have the technology platform where we can actually run everything from the restaurant. Then you can offer these restaurant experts the chance of working Monday to Friday, and then they could focus on ordering, scheduling, forecasting, budgeting and menu engineering. Attesting invoices, end of month, all of it.
And then we could hire younger shift leaders that can just focus on the kitchen day to day operation, the restaurant day to day operation without having the obstacles of thinking about, Oh, did I schedule right today? Did I have I ordered the right amount, they could just focus on the actual product, the service, and then they could trust that the general manager or the restaurant manager have done the work for them.
So I think the key for me is to have the platform and have the system that will put the key decisions as close to the guest as possible and not in the head office too far away because it’s also value.
It’s value destroying for a company if the overhead is too big. And finally, it’s also good to be able to have the general manager can also be on the floor, for example, during lunch for two and a half, 3 hours. And they can also do training on site. So you can combine a day with administration, with operations.
And by also doing it, you can also have a more efficient schedule. If the general manager can spend time on training, you don’t need an area manager, you don’t need you don’t need a regional manager.
You save time on travels, you save time on hotels. You can raise the salary for the general manager. You can even add a better bonus. So I believe in decentralized structures which centralize technical solutions.
Henrik: Well, first of all, we had a controller working full time analyzing everything. So first analytic platform. So where we we gave them access on a daily basis to the KPIs.
But the KPI, the most important thing is to forecast for every unit. So you forecast sales and then you have your targeted staff, staff KPI percentage. And that then generated a scheduled amount of hours that you had to.
So you could only schedule 250 hours. So that’s something that was controlled on a on a daily basis, or at least before the week started. It was controlled by a controller and they could just say, look, you know, you scheduled 20 hours above your forecast. Can you explain? And then once the week passed, you also said, well, congratulations. You went 20 hours below.
So we work with Caspeco and Caspeco has a forecast module built into the salary system. And then you get all this. So you do the sales forecast and then you have all the contracts and the salary information of the staff. So you get an average cost per hour and then you take your forecast, you put in your KPI salary percentage and then you get your hours.
So they could easily understand this is the amount of hours. So they can say, look, you need to save hours. You need to take your risk on Monday, for example, and then you need to put it on Friday.
Henrik: Exactly. So they can easily understand, and another thing was obviously cost control in terms of the raw material. But then we looked at the top 25 freshly produced or the top 25 turnover products.
That’s where we did inventory weekly and the rest of inventory monthly. And then turnover per hour. So those three basically were the key KPIs for us. That’s the way you can compare similar units to each other.
And then you can say: Look. And then you can look at hours. You can say you have the same turnover, you use 50 hours more, you have the same amount of seats. How come?
And then you can also switch, you can switch place and they could cross train each other. So this is how we do it here. This is how we can actually manage. We can reach the same sales with. In a similar operation and so on.
So three KPI factors and then that end of month, obviously other costs has been a big, big part now with the energy and everything going up.
Henrik: We’re closed. We’re close, too. And the reason was because they were in. Do you have do you have PADEL courts in in Belgium?
Carl: We do. It’s big today!
Henrik: So it was a big hit in the Nordics. It’s not a hit anymore, unfortunately. So we had two restaurants in Padel court arenas. But then the people just stopped playing the sports. And then we had to close them. This is just the flow of guests coming into them. And then we sold two of them. So, yeah, if we had kept them, we would have had hundred.
Henrik: You definitely need to get the communication and the project management right. That’s the key. And the follow up where I say the project management tool is the key.
And of course, also to be in the recruitment phase, to be very, very clear with expectations in terms of this is what I expect from you. The rest will be will be done by these people and experts.
And be very clear that you have, especially from the way I’m working. So everyone understands that.
What’s their role, what’s their responsibility? And there needs to be trust in each and every other part of the business. Just because the most dangerous thing is when your key players or key individuals start to lose focus, if they start to think more of the design of the kitchen, more of the… When will it be ready? Or they start to think about all other other stuff.
Then train your staff, make the restaurant ready, make sure it’s clean, make sure the guests are happy. So it’s just very important that. There needs to be boundaries between the responsibilities. So you have this is what you guys need to focus on the rest. You need to trust that it’s been taken care of by your colleagues, that we trust all of you to do this.
Henrik: Today, I’m at a company called Hospitio, which is our hospitality group. It’s a group initiated by a group of investors where they wants to build a restaurant group or have given me the responsibility as the CEO to build a restaurant group on the northern European markets.
If you look at the northern European market in restaurants, it’s basically only one segment that has some big players in it, and that’s the burger segment. If you’re looking at kebab chains, or pizza or Asian or Mexican or healthy food, you will find that it’s very fragmented.
You don’t have any big players on those markets. So what we see, we see a big, big gap in the market to consolidate, to build new brands that can grow similar to Brödernas. But then you have 4 to 5 portfolio companies that we can scale.
There’s plenty of opportunities on vegan sort of food cafes. Well, you have vegan junk food in Amsterdam. But I think that’s theonly one in the northern Europe you have. There’s no big Pizza Hut, but there’s no massive pizza concept in Northern Europe.
There’s no Tex-Mex. So we see we see a very, very big opportunity and especially in the sector where you can offer products, where you can be relevant and offer products to a wide range of people, Monday to Sunday lunch, dinner and takeaway.
There’s also a bit of a paradigm shift in you know, the supermarket, the prices in the supermarket compared to buying food on the lower segment, on the food that’s available as I mentioned Monday to Sunday lunch, dinner and evening, the price gap isn’t that big.
And there’s a lot of people that the knowledge of cooking food is somewhat disappearing with the generations and also the knowledge of there’s a lot of people living by themselves and there’s a lot of people working a lot.
So, I mean, five years ago, the restaurant industry past the supermarket industry in US. So there’s only a matter of time before this will also happen in Europe. So that’s where our aim is going to be.
Henrik: It’s a combination. So you want to be you want to be relevant in all the retail world, in all omnichannel, in all sales channels of the market. So eating, takeaway, catering events, festivals, curbside pickup.
But then also working on the market with the products that we’re already eating today. But just make a brand out of it. That’s the whole idea. And then you can also do it with a low CapEx cost and, and the same strategy and as we done with Brödernas.
Carl: And, and do you do you do you already have a concept which is live or are you working on the first one at the moment.
Henrik: Now we’re working on the first one. But we will actually look at buying companies instead of creating one ourselves. But instead of creating, we rather go in and buy companies that has maybe 3 to 5 units. They have a proof of concept that has a potential, a profit. They can show that they can. They have a profitability.
And where you have, we want to keep the entrepreneurs in the company.
We want to be a reinforcer. We want to be a facilitator. We want to be that part that can help them with the finances, with the whole system, the whole platform that they don’t know.
Scaling companies are knowledge. And we have the network. We have all the systems in place. Let’s see, hopefully we can find a way to work together. And then you could cover the technical part. But then we have whole connection with wholesalers, staff, builders, architects and all every single supplier I.T. Social media marketing that you need on the northern European market from, within my own network and my shared network.
And together have a great advisory board that we are now building with senior operational profiles in our industry. So we want to be that partner to good entrepreneurs that wants to scale their companies, but they don’t have the opportunities.
And then obviously we will benefit from their ideas, so we will make money on it. So we may. Yeah, so, so for all the entrepreneurs out there that that are listening, I’m open for discussions.
Carl: Fantastic. That’s a fantastic thing to end on. I just conclude by saying that you’re building actually with this group a network of specialists that you can offer to businesses in order for them to scale. Thank you very much, Henrik. This was a very interesting conversation and thank you for being with us on this show.
Henrik: Thank you. Have a great. Have a great day.
Carl: Thank you. Henrik, what an amazing story the Brödernas business is, especially on how a decentralized approach can work. If you trust your managers and provide them with the right tools to excel.
And for the audience, thank you for joining me on this podcast. We will be releasing plenty of more interesting interviews. Make sure to subscribe so you don’t miss out on any episode. And for now, thanks for listening and see you next time.
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