Photo Credit: Troy Hooper

Troy Hooper’s Kiwi Restaurant Partners have seemingly cracked the code for how to get a restaurant up, running and scaled for multiple locations. He and partner Mark Bailey have teamed up with huge names such as Jim Mizes, founding CEO of Blaze Pizza, and Massimo Noja De Marco, founder of Kitchen United, to execute a new type of launch process that integrates technology and experiential dining for innovative, quick service restaurant concepts. 

“We want to take 5-8 concepts and launch them on 2-3 platforms,” Hooper said. When asked to elaborate on what he means by launching on different platforms, Hooper was quick to note that restaurants now have multiple avenues where they can serve customers, in both virtual and physical locations. 

He made it clear that Kiwi Restaurant Partners’ focus is on QSR and franchising, and his team has outlined a plan to take their concepts from the idea stage to the franchise level as quickly as possible. Simply put, open the restaurant as a virtual kitchen, where all business is done through delivery platforms such as DoorDash and Uber Eats. If the business does well, give it its first brick-and-mortar location in a food hall, which requires lower overhead and receives more natural foot traffic than a standalone property. Successful concepts that “graduate” from the food hall then leave the nest for a pilot location, ready for scale. 

This formula for explosive growth has caught the attention of quite a few players in the field. “We’ve been approached by several prominent regional brands who want to license out their growth to us so we can scale their model,” Hooper said. 

Kiwi Restaurant Partners has made some big moves, growing its internal staff and partnering with investors and restaurateurs on the East Coast. Among Hooper’s larger projects is Mangia Organica, an organic Italian concept that incorporates “clean eating” into traditional favorites such as pastas, salads and flatbreads. Mangia Organica launched in Bloomfield, New Jersey, with the goal of expanding to LA, where Hooper resides, and beyond. 

Food halls play a critical role in the business growth model. Hooper refers to them as “the center of the spoke,” where his team can test how physical aspects play into the customer experience as well as continue to leverage the property’s central kitchen to continue its delivery business. He’s looking at food halls in Hollywood, New York, New Jersey and additional locations in prominent markets. 

“We’re working on 4,000-5000 square-foot spaces with 5-6 kiosks that focus on the customer experience,” Hooper said. “We’re designing it to have glass windows, cameras and screens so guests can see back-of-house production. It builds a trust factor to enhance connectivity between the customer and provider.” 

With customer experience playing a more important role than ever in dining, Hooper is working to create a multi-sensory approach to each restaurant he develops.

“When you walk into Mangia Organica, there’s no line. There are kiosks where you can place your order. You’ll be educated on the concept via a roaming ‘dining concierge,’ who will help can experience the menu via your phone or tablet. We’re working with an augmented reality program on this feature,” Hooper said, only just getting started on visual appeal. 

“We have one Instagram wall with a Vespa mounted to the floor so you can take a photo there. We’re looking to do a virtual 3D mapping projection on another wall. There, we’ll render classic Italian art into a 3D model that creates another incredible interactive and photo opportunity. And, of course we’ll have an open kitchen, where you can see the food sautéed in front of you.”

“When you walk in, there’s a vibe. It starts with the sound, then there’s the smells, then the sight of the food. It’s a multi-sensory experience,” Hooper said. 

Growing up as the son of a nightclub owner in Miami, Hooper had the joys of creating experiences for others instilled in him at a very young age. He started working in restaurants as a teenager and found himself running his first kitchen at 18. After obtaining his culinary certificate and business degree, Hooper worked with several hotels, resorts and country clubs to revamp their F&B programs and hospitality operations, in some cases turning around brands from 7-figure annual losses to 6-figure profits in as little as 18 months. He made the move back into restaurants for their scalability potential.

“I wanted to give myself opportunity to build a bigger business,” Hooper said. “[Kiwi Restaurant Partners] has the vision of being the next Danny Meyer group [Union Square Hospitality] or Fox Restaurant Concepts.”

As for advice for others on how to grow their own business, Hooper is all about telling an authentic story to as many people as possible. 

“Tell everybody what you want to do and that you have a phenomenal idea. LinkedIn message 1000 people, tell everybody,” he said. “People invest in people and the belief that you can pull this off.”