Featured on nrn By Joanna Fantozzi

Although many restaurant brands have been struggling during the pandemic, Atlanta, Ga.-based, almost 900-unit Tropical Smoothie Cafe has been on an upswing. After being sold to Levine Leichtman Capital Partners in September, the company announced that they have seen a Q3 same-store sales increase of 19.5%, with the peak of their sales surge in July when comps hit 25.5%.

CEO Charles Watson sat down with Nation’s Restaurant News to talk about the different elements that played into their success equation over the past quarter. First and foremost, he said, they credit the strength of their franchisees for much of their success. But during a pandemic, other operations strategies were also at play, including menu innovation and the ability to be flexible and pivot to drive-thrus and off-premise sales over the past six months.

Watson also said that Tropical Smoothie Cafe is exactly the type of brand that would appeal to the COVID-19-era consumer who may have gotten tired of heavier comfort food and wants healthy takeout options but doesn’t care to sacrifice taste.

“It takes a lot of grit and toughness to weather this storm as we have and to come out of it and finish at 19.5%,” Watson said. “I think the tide has come our way in terms of necessity to be a little bit healthier. That has certainly come to the forefront when we dealt with COVID. We provide optionality to our guests. At the end of the day the American consumer wants a convenient and healthier option. If we served wheatgrass on cardboard, we wouldn’t have 900 locations.”