Charlotte’s JJ’s Red Hots, a mini-chain with just two locations in Ballantyne and Dilworth (plus a food cart dubbed Frank the Tank), went up against the big boys in FastCasual.com’s annual list of top fast food brands, the 2014 100 Top Movers and Shakers awards. The smallest of some 900 entries, the local hot dog chain earned a spot among industry giants that included Chipotle (1,600+), Firehouse Subs (700+), Panera Bread (1,700+), and Five Guys Burgers and Fries (2,000+). Besides being the smallest, JJ’s is the youngest (founded 2012), the only hot dog/sausage concept, and the only Charlotte-based brand to make the Top 100 list.
FastCasual, which tracks news and trends in menus, technology and marketing in the ever growing convenient dining industry, singled out JJ’s Red Hots for its innovative use of food carts and other non-traditional locations, as well as its active social marketing campaigns. Owner and founder Jonathan Luther and Brandy Newton, director of marketing, accepted the award at the 2014 National Restaurant Show in Chicago.
Luther told FastCasual that his business plan includes the addition of carefully chosen additional locations, including college campuses, but that nothing would be allowed to interfere with the quality of food and service, or the brand’s motto, “Create joy.” Hot dogs, he said, should be fun.
Newton has the job of running the many JJ’s many promotions and spreading the news among some 1,700+ Twitter followers, 3,300+ Facebook friends, and 1,000+ Instagram followers. JJ’S also has an active text messaging outreach offering weekly deals and a free ‘dog for signing up.
Many of JJ’s most successful promotions involve dressing up the signature Sahlen’s Smokehouse dogs with a variety of unique toppings. “Dog of the Week” offerings have featured such creations as “Blazing Saddles” with fiery Borracho beans, fried onions and BBQ sauce, and “The Big Cheesy” topped with pimento cheese, jalapenos and bacon. All the toppings, including a variety of pickles, are created in house.
JJ’s teamed with local breweries for a brewdog competition and asks local media outlets and celebrities to devise unique toppings for ‘dogs. The breakfast ‘dog, topped with scrambled eggs, bacon and grated cheddar, created by local columnist Brittney Cason, scored a write-up in USA Today.
[Other brands with a local presence that made the FastCasual list include Zoe’s Kitchen, Jason’s Deli, Which Wich?, Smashburger, McAlister’s Deli, Boston Market, Bruegger’s Bagels, Schlotzsky’s, Moe’s Southwest Grill, and Dickey’s Barbecue Pit.]