Updated August 2006
MAID IN AMERICA
Maid-Rite’s extensive concept
makeover converts an 80-year-old regional chain into a fresh
new brand with national expansion plans.
the name “Maid-Rite” to a native Iowan, and you’ll likely
see a nostalgic, and probably hungry, look flit across his
or her face. Quick-service chain Maid-Rite, an Iowa
institution, has been serving its signature ground beef
sandwiches for 80 years, with little change to either its
menu or the look of its 72 franchise locations.
Until recently, that is.
Backed by a restaurant-savvy team, owners
Bradley and Tania Burt aim to jolt the Des Moines, Iowa,
chain beyond its Midwest roots and into national prominence.
Maid-Rite Corp.’s game plan for growth
hinges on a cool retro-diner inspired prototype backed by a
state-of-the-art kitchen, a full-blown franchisee training
program and, yes, those ever-popular ground beef sandwiches
served on fresh baked buns. (Maid-Rite’s offering, called
“loose meat” sandwiches, ranks fourth in an Iowa state poll
of favorite food, behind corn on the cob, the Iowa Chop and
The company is definitely on the move.
Since taking ownership in 2001, the Maid-Rite management
team has closed 17 underperforming units and opened more
than 14 new ones. Managers now expect to launch 16 locations
this year and as many as 24 next year. If those plans pan
out, the chain will surpass 100 restaurants by 2008.
And do think “national” when considering
Maid-Rite expansion. With a goal of opening up to 1,000
stores in 15 years, Maid-Rite currently is developing units
in at least six states in addition to Iowa.
Maid-Rite’s new prototypical stores should
also ratchet up the annual per-store sales figures. New
stores are each targeted to bring in more than $750,000
annually, compared to the average figure of $450,000 for
older, traditional stores.
Back To Basics, And Beyond
Maid-Rite has come farther in five
years than it has over the past three decades.
“When we bought the company in ’01, it had
no infrastructure to speak of,” says CEO Bradley Burt, a
former banker. At that point, the Maid-Rite system was a
collection of 70 eateries that shared the same name, menu,
logo and signage. Everything else—from store design to
training to operations—had been determined by individual
The Burts met individually with long-time
franchisees and researched the archives to tap into the
“essential” Maid-Rite. The resulting proto reflects its
heritage and has much in common with traditional stores.
For starters, there’s the familiar open
kitchen, with its surrounding U-shaped counter and barstool
seating. The original red-and-white chain logo—an octagon
fronted by a rectangle—evokes the past. An ice cream
counter, chrome accents, neon signs and checkerboard
patterns round out familiar elements.
But the resemblance stops there. Not only
is the new Maid-Rite prototype larger, the stores also blend
in such features as wireless Internet access, Andy Warhol-esque
murals of vintage Maid-Rite photographs and contemporary
On the operations side, the Maid-Rite team
created standard prototype floorplans for franchisees to
select from for future expansion. They developed an
extensive training program and manuals that are shared with
new franchisees during a 10-day stint at Maid-Rite
University. They adjusted the recipes to rely on freshly
made and baked foods and spec’d new equipment accordingly.
And they installed a state-of-the-art POS system.
“We’re moving the Maid-Rite franchise into
the 21st century,” Burt says.
Would-be Maid-Rite franchisees can choose
from five prototypes. At 3,800 sq. ft., the largest seats
114. The 2,900-square-footer offers 97 seats; the 1,750 sq.
ft. model has 66 seats; and a 1,200-sq.-ft. version offers
40 seats. There’s also a 500-sq.-ft. food court option.
Choosing New Equipment, Top To Bottom
Meanwhile, Maid-Rite’s updated
menu, which retains its famous fresh ground beef and adds
fresh-baked breads and fresh-cut fries and onion rings,
required an equally updated array of kitchen equipment.
Equipment choices hinged on ease of use
and training as well as equipment “smarts.” The development
team, led by Operations V.P. Joe Liston, tested every piece
of equipment at the Maid-Rite training center.
“We chose items we found to be the most
useful, user friendly, safe and cost effective,” Liston
says. The resulting equipment package runs up to $275,000
for the largest store plan.
First upgrade: fryers. Instead of the
lower-priced, low-tech units found in existing Maid-Rite
stores, Liston opted for a fryer with computer-controlled
circuitry and the ability to automatically adjust cooking
times to match temperature variations. He and the team also
liked the fryer’s “instant on” feature and built-in
filtration system. Also key: a carbon filter that lets
shortening be used for up to 19 days.
The braising skillet, used for Maid-Rite’s
signature loose meat sandwiches, is just as important as the
fryers. The ground beef is prepared on site at each
restaurant, so customers can see and smell their food being
prepared—a great leap forward compared to the old method,
which relied on pre-cooked, frozen meat rethermed in 5-lb.
bags. “We like the skillet’s tilting mechanism, its even
heat distribution and ability to cook 20 lbs. of ground beef
at a time,” Liston says.
For onsite baking, kitchen planners went
for an oven-proofer combo, hearth-baked style. Simplicity
drove the choice. The only moving part is the fan for
circulating air in the proofer. One batch of bread bakes in
about 15 minutes, allowing a 135-bun-per hour capacity.
A custom-built steam prep table anchors
the kitchen—and the whole restaurant, for that matter.
Surrounded by the U-shaped service counter and its bar
stools, the table itself and continuous food prep are
constantly visible to the customer. The steam table features
sheet pan storage, a bun warmer, cold condiment storage, and
space to hold the ground beef, hot dogs and soups. The
table’s “smart” aspects include built-in printers for
sandwich orders and built-in electric cables. The entire
table is powered by a single electrical hookup. Flexible
conduits and water sources allow it to be moved for floor
The kitchen ventilation system received as
much scrutiny as any of the cooking equipment, if not more.
The hood was designed to work in tandem with a rooftop
makeup air system, bypassing the HVAC entirely. The makeup
air arrangement delivers outside air in front of the hood
and pulls it out through the hood. Not only does the setup
put less demand on the HVAC, it comes into the kitchen so
gently that grill cooks don’t even notice the outside air.
Liston estimates that the system will pay for itself within
nine months, thanks to savings on air conditioning and
All new Maid-Rites include a full array of
ice cream equipment, too, from high-speed blender to ice
cream display case. The stores can offer an assortment of
toppings, thanks to a co-branding arrangement with Wells’
Blue Bunny Ice Cream.
The ‘Rite’ Design
Front of house got equal scrutiny.
Working with Des Moines-based interior design firm Fabricon,
Tania Burt, executive v.p. of sales and franchise
development, took the lead in defining the new Maid-Rite
Color palate, surface materials and
furnishings all point the decades-old diner-style concept in
an upward direction.
Poinsettia-red walls accented by a silver
wall next to the ice cream counter give the front of house a
warm, active feel. A blown-up, colorized photo from the
original Maid-Rite in Muscatine, Iowa, circa 1926, graces
one wall. The mural can be framed in silver or hung as
wallpaper, and can be personalized by adding the name of the
franchisee and town.
The back wall of the kitchen—visible to
customers—gets special visual treatment. Instead of the
standard white wall made of fiberglass reinforced plastic
found in older Maid-Rite kitchens, Tania opted for a
combination of standard stainless sheet behind cooking
equipment, and above that, a form of textured galvanized
steel produced by Fabricon steel artist/fabricator Phil
Williams. Other kitchen walls are covered with Korogard, a
decorative, higher-end FRP product that meets the health
True to the diner heritage, the floor is a
checkerboard pattern of slip-resistant 18” square Italian
tiles in ivory and light gray. The tiles are set at a 45˚
angle to the walls to heighten visual interest.
The counters and millwork pick up the
checkerboard theme of the floor by using glass blocks for
the front, and a “Gray Nebula” laminate on the top. Some
stores’ glass block counters are lit from behind; others
hide shelving or beverage refrigerators.
Menu boards are handmade by Fabricon’s
Williams. The signs’ backing is made of brushed steel cut
into ’50s-inspired shapes. The menu part is a series of
plastic slips that can be easily changed out as needed. The
menu boards are lit from the front with hanging cobalt-blue
accent lighting attached to a rail on the ceiling.
Neon signs—up to six per restaurant—are
hand-made art pieces created by a local sign company. The
signs, which read “Malts & Shakes,” “Too Good To Be A
Patty,” “Our Name Says It All,” and “Sandwiches That Are
Satisfying,” come in fuchsia, yellow, blue, purple and aqua,
to match the mural and carpeting.
Down The Road
The Maid-Rite team has its work
cut out, both for steady expansion and updating its older
stores. Heading up short-term growth plans are area
development agreements in Kansas City plus stores under
development in Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Nebraska and
Ohio. Other target markets include Dallas, Denver and San
Diego. And at the same time, the company continues to update
Maid-Rite’s older, vintage stores, both in equipment and
Like the name says, the sandwich—and the
store—are “Maid-Rite.” Loose meat, anyone?
MENU/SEGMENT: Fast food
NUMBER OF UNITS: 72
STORE FOOTPRINTS: Four options include 3,800 sq.
ft./114 seats; 2,900 sq. ft./97 seats; 1,200 sq. ft./40
seats; and a 500-sq.-ft. food court
FF&E PACKAGE: $275,000 for largest footprint
EXPANSION PLANS: 16 units in 2006; 24 units in ’07
UNIT DESIGN/SPECIFICATION: Maid-Rite team
FABRICATION: Fabricon, Des Moines, Iowa