Sep. 10—An Atlanta-based restaurant chain that acquired the 23 area Burger King restaurants at the end of last year is planning to add seven more Burger King outlets in the region within the next five years, including a new Burger King to replace a former Shoney's restaurant in Kimball.
GPS Hospitality, which bought the local Burger King franchise in December from Gordon and Elliott Davenport, expects to grow the Burger King footprint in Southeast Tennessee, adding a new restaurant in Kimball next year and a half dozen other sites by the end of 2025, according to GPS Hospitality's Vice President of Operations Carmen Gianguzzo.
"We already operate near where the Davenports had these Burger King locations and we always liked what they did with their operations so when these restaurants became available it made all the sense in the world for us to acquire them," Gianguzzo said. "We're really excited about where we are right now in Chattanooga and we're going to look for the right opportunities for more growth."
Gordon and Elliott Davenport, the grandsons of one of the founders of the Krystal hamburger chain, acquired the Burger King franchise in Chattanooga in 2003 after they left the Krystal Co., and grew the franchise to 23 units under their Hometown Folks LLC ownership.
Despite the closing of more than 110,000 restaurants and eating establishments last year during the pandemic, Gianguzzo said Burger King has remained popular and he sees room for more growth for the "home of the Whopper" in the Chattanooga area.
To staff the local eateries and help sustain the company's growth, Burger King is conducting a job fair Tuesday and is looking to hire 150 more workers in Chattanooga. Burger King restaurants throughout the greater Chattanooga area have immediate openings for 110 crew members and 40 managers, Gianguzzo said.
GPS Hospitality, which operates more than 475 Burger King, Pizza Hut and Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen restaurants, is opening its restaurants across its 13-state footprint next Tuesday for the all-day job fairs.
Giannguzzo, who has worked in the fast-food industry since he started as an hourly worker at age 16, said he has never seen such a tight labor market for staffing restaurants. Although Chattanooga's unemployment rate in July fell to 3.9%, unemployment is still above the 3% rate in the fall of 2019 before the pandemic. Nonetheless, Tennessee career centers are advertising more than 400,000 open jobs, or 2.6 available positions for every person counted in the state as unemployed in July.
"This by far is the toughest job market and is certainly the most competitive to try to get and keep workers," he said. "Certainly, we have increased our wages as most everyone else has, but what I think we have that is unique is a lot of opportunities for someone to grow in our company. If we hire a team member at our job fair next week, in a short period he or she could move up to be a team trainer or a team lead or a shift leader or an assistant manager — all of which boost what a person may earn. That career development is what we want to do and with a company our size we just provide a lot of opportunity for people."
Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 virus which forced many restaurants to close last year, Giaguzzo said sales held up well across the GPS brands with more take-out business and open lobbies when permitted.
"There were a lot of people that lost their jobs during the pandemic, but we were one organization that continued to grow," he said. "By us keeping our restaurants open through most of the year, we were able to provide opportunities for our staff and serve our loyal customers."
GPS gave out several rounds of what the company called "CARE bonuses" to employees to reward their work during the pandemic. Any employee who worked 30 hours or more a week got $150 bonuses "as kind of a thank you for their hard work."
Overall, GPS Hospitality awarded more than $5.5 million in bonus dollars to its operations teams across the country.
"Restaurant workers are essential workers so there was a lot of stress on everyone so we tried to be there for our teams to meet their needs and make sure they were getting days off, vacation and helping them as we could," Gianguzzo said. "2020 ended up being pretty good financially for us just because of our people and their ability to keep our restaurants open and safe. It was certainly a challenging year, but we were able to come out stronger and more galvanized than before."
Gianguzzo said management-level positions are eligible to receive performance-driven monetary bonuses, paid vacation and other benefits.
Hiring managers will be on-site to meet with potential applicants and to conduct interviews from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. next Tuesday. No appointment is necessary, and qualified applicants may be hired on-the-spot.
For applicants who prefer to meet virtually, candidates may apply online by visiting careers.bk.com and interviews may be conducted via video chat or phone.
" If you want a job with flexible hours, bonuses, training and growth potential — we are here to meet with you, Giaguzzo said.
Contact Dave Flessner at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 423-757-6340