The Chick-fil-A Journey in Michigan: A Chat With Brian Jorbin

Apr 1, 2024 | Commercial Real Estate, Market Insights

In the business of quick service restaurants, entering a new market is an adventure filled with opportunities and challenges. Brian Jorbin, Director of New Restaurant Real Estate – Midwest Region, who has been with Chick-fil-A since 2017, sat down with us to talk about that journey in Michigan. 

Starting the Journey 

When Jorbin started with Chick-fil-A, the company only had a few licensed locations in Detroit, a food court location at the Somerset Mall, a location inside the Student Center at Oakland University, and another in the Detroit Medical Center. The company had yet to establish any free-standing locations in Detroit, as they were focusing more on expanding on the western side of the State of Michigan and just starting to explore the idea of the Detroit metro area. 

Chick-fil-A has always been mindful of when and how they expand and this is true in Detroit. “When we enter a market, we try to learn ways we can be a good neighbor while also meeting customer needs,” explains Jorbin. Soon after Jorbin joined Chick-fil-A, he sought Keystone to help. “In 2018, we started discussing and interviewed Greg, Matt, and Keystone to represent us in Detroit. We knew that their understanding and impact in Detroit would add immense value to us. We knew there was strong demand within the DMA from our opening of the Somerset Mall location. However, the true extent of demand and excitement for the brand in Detroit did not become apparent until they opened their first free-standing location in Allen Park in January 2020. 

The Keystone Partnership 

Since then, Brian notes the partnership with Keystone Commercial Real Estate has been instrumental to their success in Detroit. The relationship has grown, along with Jorbin’s trust and faith in Keystone’s Greg and Matt. “The partnership has been very rewarding for both sides,” says Jorbin. He told us that Chick-fil-A’s priority is to have a positive impact and provide opportunity for the people and communities it serves, and Keystone has helped them deliver on that brand promise. The growth of Chick-fil-A in Michigan is a testament to the company’s thoughtful approach to market entry. 

A Strategic Future 

When asked about Chick-fil-A’s future growth in Michigan, Brian revealed that they have seen significant excitement for the brand, particularly since the pandemic. “But as Chick-fil-A expands in the area we want to make sure that the customer experience is still there,” he added, saying they want to ensure customers aren’t waiting too long in drive-thru lines and that the service is convenient and consistent. As such, they are looking to open more locations to ensure the customer experience aligns with this increased demand. 

Currently, Chick-fil-A has nine freestanding locations in greater Detroit, with four more starting construction this spring. However, Brian believes that they are “just starting to skim the surface.” He sees the potential for 30 to 40 locations in Detroit and the Greater Michigan area over the next 10 years. 

Top-down Company Values 

When asked why Chick-fil-A has gained such a following in over 3,000 locations in the U.S. and Canada, Brian believes it’s a combination of delicious food, signature hospitality and the teams that deliver on that promise. He emphasized the role of the franchisee or better known as the “Operator” who are truly active managers in their restaurants and fully invested in their community, teams, and business. Most local Owner-Operators only own one restaurant and can only operate up to three. This focus on detail and leadership, he believes, creates a unique experience that many other QSRs are unable to deliver. For example, a local Owner-Operator of a Chick-fil-A restaurant in Detroit previously worked with the Detroit Pistons organization and consistently gives back to local schools through community care events. Chick-fil-A has already given over $280,000 to local non-profits that are making an impact in Detroit, like Life Remodeled and Dutton Farm.  

Brian also notes the positive company culture of Chick-fil-A’s corporate office, “we are a privately held, family-owned company with core values, started by our founder Truett Cathy in 1946 that is still true today, like generosity and financial stewardship.” It’s that type of culture that was created from the top and is experienced in our restaurants, like being closed on Sundays to give our Team Members a well-deserved day of rest. 

The Future is Mobile 

When wrapping up our conversation, Brian was asked about the company’s first mobile pickup store that recently opened in New York City. The design, which is being tested in New York City, allows guests to conveniently order their favorite items ahead of time in the Chick-fil-A app. When guests arrive, their freshly prepared order is handed to them by a Team Member with a smile, and they can quickly be on their way. Chick-fil-A is always looking for ways to stay at the forefront of technology and improve customer experience and Brian believes the Chick-fil-A app and its features, like geofencing that alerts the restaurant when the customer is nearby, are steps toward a future that embraces the mobile and digital experiences.  

Now Michigan fans eagerly await news of the next Chick-fil-A location, in hopes for a site near them. It is great to know the future of the brand in Michigan is undeniably bright, and that Chick-fil-A remains dedicated to bringing delicious food, with its signature hospitality, to communities across the state. 

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