McHenry Group Creates Experiential Dining While Serving Utah
Michael McHenry has a long history of creating restaurant concepts and then developing them from his headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah. He helped create Costa Vida Fresh Mexican Grill, which now has over 100 units, and 5-unit Blue Lemon, an early example of the fast-fine category of limited-service restaurants. And more recently he sold Dirty Bird Fried Chxx, a concept inspired by Nashville, to Wags Capital, end of August.
“That’s our mission: to create these experiential brands, prove their viability at an early scale, and then turn to those great qualified funds,” said McHenry.
He continues to operate several concepts in Utah under the McHenry Group, including Oak Wood Fired Kitchen, serving pizza, pasta, wings, and more. ; Ginger Street, specializing in Southeast Asian hawker-style street food as a quick and casual concept by day with table service at night; and its brand new concept, Sunday’s Best, a full-service restaurant serving brunch all day.
He also has a pandemic-born virtual concept called the Southside Pizza Company, which operates in Oak.
“We turn it on and off,” McHenry said of Southside. “That’s what’s great about digital brands. “
Created to appeal to a younger demographic than Oak’s higher-end customers, Southside only offers five wings, eight pizzas, one salad, and one dessert, mostly using what the team already has at Oak. It’s offered through DoorDash, and McHenry and his team make it available when they expect high demand, such as on game days.
So Happy Burger was also created as a virtual concept in partnership with local chef and restaurateur Tyler Stokes, also a partner of Ginger Street and Sunday’s Best. McHenry has said So Happy Burger will likely be a brick-and-mortar concept in the future, and more concepts are in the works, including what he hinted to be a Mexican concept.
“I can just tell you that everything is better in a tortilla right now,” he said.
While McHenry and his team quickly adapted to the needs of Utah consumers when the pandemic hit, they also anticipated the need for the return of experiential dining with Sunday’s Best, which opened in June 2021 with 200 seats. and 100 parking spaces.
“It was a big risk for us, ”said McHenry. “I can tell you there were nights where I was like, okay, I believe it, but am I the only one who believes it?” “
But it burst open, offering pancakes and champagne to patrons eager to reconnect.
“We’re excited about it,” he said. “We are seeing new locations. We plan to open in Southern Utah, near St. George, and we plan to head to Northern Utah after that and then to Boise, Idaho.
The McHenry Group also operates its own marketing agency, Always Noon, which mainly focuses on its own brands but also consults other restaurants.
Its philanthropic component, the Healthy & Full initiative, was launched in early April 2020.
With 140 employees, including the Stokes restaurant, Provisions, McHenry said he felt pressured to keep his staff employed as the dining rooms closed. So he looked for companies or individuals who could sponsor meals for healthcare workers.
“It allowed us to stand up for a business or an individual within the community, it created stability for our restaurant teams and it provided chef-prepared meals for this nurse who works 24 hours a day, and she doesn’t sit down to have cheese string and an apple. She can mash Thai basil chicken stir-fry and a mushroom roll.
They ended up serving hundreds of meals a day and had more sponsors than they could afford.
“We will activate it in times of need, crisis or disaster in the communities we serve,” he said.
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