Alice Crowder is the Vice President of Marketing at The Krystal Company®, the brand famous in the South for its signature square hamburgers. Crowder sat down with Ink Link to describe what’s cooking at the iconic chain and how her personal experiences with the brand allow her to be a better marketing advocate.
Q. Why did you choose to pursue a career within the Krystal® organization?
A. For me, there was so much that was – is – compelling. I was reared in Savannah and Krystal® was part of our family and how we ate, so I have a deep personal connection to the brand. Krystal® is so unique in size and in flavor and it has this great history of delighting guests, so naturally, I was thrilled to be able to be a part of that heritage. Once I started the interview process, I was so impressed with the quality of the talent working for the brand and I knew that being part of the team would make me a stronger teammate and leader.
Q. Do you have any personal stories about Krystal® from your youth?
A. This will show my age, but one of the things that I tell people is when I was a child my parents would take us to Krystal on birthdays. Krystals were a quarter each so it was easy for our parents to figure out how many we could have with just the change in their pockets and so every birthday was just a feast for us at Krystal. Today, our team at Krystal® keeps an eye on value so that the memories formed by me and people like me are possible for today’s young families as well. It’s about great memories, craveable food that can be enjoyed without breaking the bank.
Q. Please describe your previous work experience and how you were able to utilize your experience when you joined Krystal®?
A. My first job was with Pennzoil-Quaker State Company; I learned very traditional marketing from them, and I hope I bring that to Krystal. I’ve been fortunate enough to work in restaurants that are different from fast food, which will help me see our niche in the industry a little bit differently and a little more openly. But probably what helps me the most is that I have a passion for food of all sorts, so I’m always looking at what other folks are doing in all parts of food service, and anything I love, I always think about how we can make that work for us.
Q. What was the biggest surprise when you joined Krystal®?
A. Breakfast! We most naturally talk about the folks that engage with Krystal® for the Krystal itself, at lunch and at dinner, and (when I was a little bit younger) at late night, but we have an amazing breakfast. We have this three-egg breakfast with sausage or bacon, Krystal® Kryspers, toast or biscuit, and a small drink that’s under $5 in most places, and you just can’t beat that. And I came out of Denny’s system, so that’s saying something. We also have this item called the Scrambler, which has sausage or bacon, cheese, scrambled eggs and grits, all stacked in a bowl, so you get a full breakfast. Even while you’re driving, you can get all the delights of breakfast.
Q. What were, and have been, your biggest obstacles throughout your time at Krystal®?
A. You know what? Atlanta traffic. I don’t know that I’ll ever get that all worked out. Ha!
Seriously, I’ll tell you that we’re doing a lot of work on who our guests are and what they want from us. We have a great creative team that has a ton of ideas, but we’re challenged to be thoughtful about what we choose to put into our system. Everything’s perfect in a test kitchen where you can take as much time as you want to make every item exactly perfect, but the onus is on us to ensure that we only introduce things that we’re confident our restaurants can make in a high quality way in great quantities and quickly for our guests. So that’s the filter that’s always our biggest challenge.
Q. Since Krystal® is a southern brand, how has the South influenced menu items and new product development?
A. We have 354 restaurants across the Southeast. We’re in 11 states, but 88% of our units are in Georgia, Tennessee, Florida, or Alabama. We enjoy this wonderful Southern footprint but we’re not what you would call a country restaurant. We are going to cater to the palates of the guests that come into our restaurants, and bring in flavors that are broadly craved by the folks that live in our neighborhoods.
Our Southern roots also influence our service. How could you operate in the South and not understand Southern hospitality? We respect our guests and our time, we speak to them with the warmth with which you greet new friends, and we always thank them for choosing us.
Q. What menu items should guests of Krystal® expect in the near future?
A. We’re moving very, very quickly, but we’re moving in a smart way. We’re talking to our guests and understanding what they want, and then brainstorming around those wants and testing out our interpretations before we launch. So I’d expect you to see and taste some great flavors and some truly craveable items, both centered around our current favorites like Krystals and Chiks, as well as things that are very new to the world.
Q. What is a typical day like at Krystal® headquarters? Describe your typical team meetings.
A. They’re loud! One of the things that I love about this brand is that the team is so passionate about the business. We have an understanding at our team meetings that whoever doesn’t speak their mind can’t complain about decisions made, and that has not been tough to encourage. What makes it work is that everybody on the team is so focused on delivering the best we can for our guests, and the natural discussions that come out of that focus – even the disagreements that come out of that focus – make us a better company for our guests and ensure that we serve a better product.
Q. What innovative ideas are you bringing to the Krystal® brand?
A. I hope I encourage everyone on the team to think about who we are and who we can be, and that I create an environment where we all explore different kinds of food, ways of presenting and packaging the food for our guests as well as how we talk about it. We’re a really fun brand, and I’m just looking to encourage that fun and spirit of creativity and uniqueness that’s inherent in our brand and really in our team.
Q. How is your team illustrating that there is more to the Krystal® brand than just burgers?
A. We have an amazing set of creative partners that help us engage with guests on TV and via social media and through PR and local store marketing, so you’ll see us be more active in our communities and in all the ways that our guests interact with our communities. We’re doing a lot of remodeling of our stores and opening new restaurants. We have a great team that works with those areas we move into and ensures we introduce ourselves – or reintroduce our self, in some cases – in the best and most appropriate ways.