Eager crowds flock to openings, often just to try something novel
They weren’t handing out gold bricks on 98th Street that day, just selling pizza, and yet the enthusiasm level still was off the charts.
When Godfather’s Pizza opened its first Albuquerque location in about 10 years, lines ran outside the building. Some customers endured a two-hour wait for their pie.
Staff couldn’t keep up with the ringing phones, and the location had to temporarily disable its online ordering component to keep up with on-site demand.
Godfather’s executive Kathleen M. Johnson said first-week sales at the new Albuquerque site broke company records with a volume roughly seven times the average store and twice that of the typical new location.
“Outrageous,” said Johnson, senior vice president for franchise services.
And Godfather’s is hardly the only established name to get such a warm welcome in Albuquerque. The Duke City, it seems, has a huge appetite for new chain restaurants.
Prior to Chipotle’s arrival in the area, local fans of the Colorado-based Mexican grill created a Facebook page called “Bring Chipotle to Albuquerque.”
When the burrito chain finally opened on Menaul NE in December 2011, diners jammed the store and parking lot, prompting a company marketing consultant to describe the debut as “insanely busy.”
Chris Arnold, Chipotle’s communications director, said the scene wasn’t exactly unprecedented.
“That reaction isn’t unique to Albuquerque, and we do see similar things in other markets,” he said in a recent email to the Journal. “But it really doesn’t get old.”
Though it’s been nearly two years since that opening – during which time the company has added two more Albuquerque restaurants – Arnold said interest remains high for Chipotle’s oversized, build-it-yourself burritos.
While the company doesn’t provide sales data for individual sites or market rankings, “we have been very pleased with how our restaurants are doing there,” Arnold said.
With more than 1,500 locations, many of the early Albuquerque Chipotle customers already were familiar with – and passionate about – the brand.
Godfather’s Pizza, too. In fact, Godfather’s had a presence in Albuquerque up until about 10 years ago, and Johnson said the company had heard for years from fans who remembered it fondly and wanted it back.
Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers may not be nearly as famous – there are roughly 100 Freddy’s around the country – but local franchisee Ken Brock said name recognition helped spur large crowds when he opened the first Albuquerque Freddy’s earlier this year.
“Many Albuquerque residents are familiar with Freddy’s from their travels in surrounding states, and we are honored by the excitement they’ve shown for our arrival,” he said in an email.
Brock said enthusiasm for Freddy’s has remained high, something that should bode well when he adds a West Side store later this year at Coors and Alameda.
Laura Olguin, part of the franchise group that opened the new Godfather’s in Albuquerque, has seen the fervor more than once.
Back in 2009, she brought Jack in the Box back to the Duke City. She opened the first two of her seven local Jack in the Boxes within one week and describes the initial response as “very, very positive.”
Familiarity is obviously part of it, but so is novelty.
“Folks here like to try new things,” she said. “They like to go to the latest and greatest thing.”
That’s probably true, says Wayne Story, a local marketing consultant and president of Keep it Querque, a nonprofit trade association founded by Albuquerque business owners to encourage local buying.
Story points out that chains also have the obvious benefit of larger advertising and marketing pushes, but he suspects there is another reason.
Albuquerqueans turn out in force when a name-brand restaurant opens in town, he said, because of the large number of residents who moved here from somewhere else.
“They tend to connect with things they are used to from their old cities, and I think that’s what has a tendency to (provide) that initial boost that gets people excited to go there when they first open up,” he said.
Story said he couldn’t think of a local startup restaurant that had the same kind of opening-day onslaught as Chipotle or Godfather’s, but noted that those with existing reputations often get good crowds when they expand with new locations.
While Keep it Querque encourages Albuquerque residents to shift some of their expenditures toward independent businesses – arguing that more of the cash stays in town – even Story, a Houston transplant, admits he was among the first-week customers when Texas-based Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen first opened in the Duke City.
“There’s no way you can buy everything from a local business; it’s almost impossible,” he said. “What we’re asking people to do is move a small amount (over to independents) and to be conscious about it when they go out to buy (something) and when they go out to eat.”