How Corner Bakery Cafe Is Leveraging Tech for Revitalization and Growth

After buying Corner Bakery Cafe out of bankruptcy last June, Dallas-based SSCP Management began something of a muffin makeover—from bringing back the original logo to "back-to-basics" training to baking up new tech.

"We're diving into data analytics tools headfirst," CEO Chris Dharod tells Dallas Innovates. Results are so promising, the company plans to add "five to seven new cafes" to its 100-plus lineup this year.

One year ago this week, Dallas-based Corner Bakery Cafe declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy after struggling for years with “weakening sales and shifts in consumer behavior,” according to Restaurant Business. Last June, an affiliate of Dallas-based SSCP Management won a bankruptcy court auction by paying $15 million for the fast-casual chain and taking on some of its debt.

And thus began something of a muffin makeover.

SSCP wasn’t new to this game—the family-owned company acquired Cici’s Pizza out of bankruptcy in 2021, and now owns and operates over 500 restaurants nationwide under five concepts, including Cici’s Pizza, Corner Bakery, Sonic Drive-In, Applebee’s, and Roy’s.

So SSCP President and Corner Bakery Cafe CEO Chris Dharod got to work. The goal: stabilizing Corner Bakery Cafe and laying “a strong foundation that would drive growth of the 100-plus-unit chain in 2024 and beyond.”

Increase in volume led by catering and ‘much-improved counter sales’

Some positive results are already in for the brand, which operates in 18 states and Washington, D.C. In the last six months alone, Corner Bakery Cafe reports a $200,000 increase in system Average Unit Volume across its cafes. The company says this trajectory “is expected to continue accelerating throughout 2024 with growth led by catering sales and much-improved counter sales.”

How did SSCP turn around those numbers? The company cites improved, “back-to-basics” training programs, prioritization of providing robust career opportunities, recognition programs and new employee incentives, which have “already played a role in regaining trust and re-energizing the team.” The company even brought back the brand’s original logo to reinforce its commitment to “returning to its roots.”

“Our plan from day one was to invest back into the business in virtually every area, from developing and providing growth opportunities to our people to ensuring that our cafes are refreshed and inviting to our guests,” SSCP President and Corner Bakery Cafe CEO Chris Dharod said in a statement. “We see so much potential for the Corner Bakery Cafe brand, and we’re thrilled that our efforts are already paying dividends.”

Another big ingredient in Corner Bakery Cafe’s uptrend has been technology, Dharod told Dallas Innovates.

“The restaurant scene is always evolving with new tech advancements, and keeping up with these changes is key to staying on top,” Dharod said. “We believe that understanding what our customers love and how they behave is crucial. That’s why here at Corner Bakery Cafe, we’re diving into data analytics tools headfirst.”

Baking up tech partnerships with Qualtrics, Stingray, and Bite

Key ingredients of the bakery-cafe brand’s turnaround are its partnerships with data and technology companies, adding to a tech stack that Dharod calls “a cornerstone in our strategic blueprint for growth.”

Through our partnership with [Seattle- and Provo, Utah-based] Qualtrics, we can gather invaluable feedback from our customers in real-time, allowing us to continually refine and improve our offerings to meet their needs better,” Dharod said. “This kind of instant insight is invaluable because it helps us stay agile and responsive to the ever-changing preferences of our guests.”

“We’re also looking forward to partnering with both Stingray Business and Bite to test new kiosk-ordering technology,” Dharod added. “To make in-cafe ordering quick, efficient, and frictionless, this new technology will help streamline our ordering process and empower our customers with convenient self-service options.”

“By teaming up with innovative tech partners like Qualtrics, Stingray, and Bite, Corner Bakery Cafe isn’t just keeping up with the times—we’re setting new standards for excellence in the restaurant industry while deepening our connection with our community,” Dharod said.

Tailoring everything from menu to marketing ‘for each individual customer’

Instead of thinking about Corner Bakery Cafe’s clientele as a whole, the company is heating up its “individual customer” focus.

“Our team is dedicated to upholding a customer-first mindset with everything we do and we’re full steam ahead to restore the brand to its former glory,” Dharod added.

“We want to make sure our menu, promotions, and marketing efforts are tailored just right for each individual customer, making their dining experience with us extra special and keeping them coming back for more,” Dharod said. “In order to give our customers a seamless experience, we’re also looking to bring more technology in-house in order to become more agile, flexible, and further eliminate vendor fees.”

The company enlisted Addison-based Champion, an integrated marketing agency focused on the restaurant industry, to develop a brand awareness program to ignite Corner Bakery Cafe’s social and digital presence. The strategy focuses on re-engaging current fans, bolstering awareness among future guests, and elevating brand affinity to propel in-store, online, and catering sales.

A leadership team of ‘heavy hitters’

A restaurant brand needs more than tech to attract customers. It takes people at the top to help make sure things come out of the ovens just right—for both the restaurants and the bottom line.

To beef up its team, the company brought in some “heavy hitters,” including two Corner Bakery Cafe veterans—COO Erin Hasselgren and VP of Development Bob Hartmann—who returned to leadership roles, bringing back to the brand their collective 27 years of experience.

“Fueled by our people-first culture, commitment to empowering employees, passion for providing unmatched guest experiences and innovation-forward growth strategy, I believe we’re better positioned for rapid success than at any time in our 33-year history,” Hasselgren said in a statement.

Marketing Head Melanie Barichivich and procurement consultant Glenn Hurley are other “key members” of the team, the company said, noting that in a matter of months, Barichivich “completely overhauled Corner Bakery Cafe’s marketing strategy, resulting in substantial lifts in brand awareness, affinity, and sales.”

The company added that Hurley is “already making strides in optimizing Corner Bakery Cafe’s supply chain and driving profitability.”

Remodeling coming soon—with aims to open five to seven new cafes in 2024

So what’s next for Corner Bakery Cafe? The company says it has a “comprehensive plan” to remodel most of its corporate cafes in the coming months.

And it’s now set to open five to seven new cafes in 2024—”a prelude to an accelerated growth trajectory beyond the current year, ensuring that guests can anticipate an unparalleled and dynamic dining atmosphere.”

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