GREENSBORO — Over the course of the past year fast food drive throughs and fast casual curbside to go dining have seen massive increases in popularity during the coronavirus pandemic. Yet even under normal circumstances there will always be those regional fast food joints that locals crave whenever they’re away. Headquartered in Greensboro, Biscuitville Fresh Southern is certainly one of these places and the family-owned company has become wildly successful since first opening its doors as a pizza restaurant back in 1966. In fact, USA Today recently named Biscuitville number seven in its “10 Best Readers’ Choice” list of best regional fast-food joints for 2020. The top ten winners, in order were: Sheetz, PDQ, Schoop’s Hamburgers, Pal’s Sudden Service, Whataburger, Cook Out, Biscuitville, Hattie B’s Hot Chicken, In-N-Out Burger, and Zippy’s.
Furthermore, the fast-food industry as a whole is currently in the midst of what has been dubbed “the chicken sandwich wars,” with at least 10 major U.S. chains including McDonald’s, Shake Shack and Jack in the Box introducing fried chicken sandwiches over the last four months. According to the Wall Street Journal, “the hottest item in the burger business is chicken” with some franchisees even calling the chicken sandwich “the future of eating out.”
Biscuitville is a family-owned company serving authentic Southern food made from locally sourced ingredients. Known as the Home of the Biscuit Window Since 1966®, Biscuitville makes its award winning biscuits every 15 minutes. The company was founded by Maurice Jennings who opened two pizza restaurants in Burlington, NC. Using a family recipe, he later added fresh-baked biscuits to the menu—which proved so popular, the brand evolved to become Biscuitville. Today, they are perhaps best known for their classic Southern breakfast. Biscuitville employs over 1,800 people and operates in North Carolina and Virginia.
The chain’s success dates back long before a global pandemic or chicken sandwich war took hold and they recently announced that company president Kathie S. Niven will also become the company’s CEO. Burney Jennings, who was formerly Biscuitville’s chief executive officer, will become executive chair.
“Kathie has tremendous passion and a deep knowledge of Biscuitville and its culture, and she’s fully prepared to assume the role of chief executive officer,” Jennings said. “Biscuitville has thrived under Kathie’s leadership as president during the last several years, and I’m thrilled that she has accepted new responsibilities as chief executive officer.”
Nation’s Restaurant News, a leading food service industry magazine, included Niven in its list of “2018 New Top Restaurant Executives.” Under her leadership, Biscuitville has continued to grow and has renovated, remodeled, or rebuilt nearly all of its 62 restaurants. While the majority of the new locations have been within Biscuitville’s traditional footprint it also includes expansion into the Fayetteville and Charlotte markets. Niven credits the company’s people-first culture with its ongoing success. “Our commitment to diversity and accessibility begins with me, and as a female executive, my role reinforces our shared belief that we cannot limit our vision of what leadership may look like,” she says.
Prior to becoming president, Niven served as Biscuitville’s chief brand officer where she oversaw the creation of Biscuitville’s Fresh Southern® brand positioning, including a new logo, restaurant redesign, packaging, employee uniforms, and trademarking. She also created a department to maintain the company’s commitment to high quality, locally-sourced food and helped oversee the effort to launch the most successful promotional product in the chain’s history—the locally sourced Spicy Chicken and Honey Biscuit.
In a recent interview, Alon Vanterpool who oversees Biscuitville’s marketing offered a few more details about the company’s rich heritage, the secret to its success, and its future growth plans.
NSJ: Tell me more about the company’s history — what was the original pizza place called before becoming Biscuitville?
Alon Vanterpool: “Maurice Jennings founded the company in 1966 and originally sold just bread and pizza. Using a family recipe, he later added fresh-baked biscuits to the menu—which proved so popular, the brand evolved to become Biscuitville. This reaction made it clear to him that he needed to transition the core product from pizza to biscuits. Today Biscuitville Fresh Southern® remains family owned and local with its headquarters in Greensboro. There are 63 locations, including one that opened in Concord just days ago on January 14.”
NSJ: How many employees total and how diverse is leadership and staff?
AV: “Restaurant staff at Biscuitville come from diverse demographic backgrounds, with 67.4% being female, 47.8% being Black/African American and 15.9% being Hispanic/Latino. Biscuitville believes diverse teams make better decisions and continue to strive for the advancement of females and ethnic minorities. Our restaurant management is extremely diverse, with 74.4 % being female. And nearly half (45.7%) of being ethnic minorities; 29.8% being Black/African-American, 11.2% being Latino/Hispanic, and 4.7% being Asian and Native American. Amongst restaurant operators, over 60% are female and 37.7% are ethnic minorities. The leadership team is made up of seven individuals, 3 of which are female, one of these females being the President and CEO and one female who is Latino/Hispanic. While these numbers are promising, the Biscuitville leadership team seeks to see them improve by increasing its’ commitment to create a workplace where everyone is equally supported and empowered to realize their full potential.”
NSJ: Please explain the process of making a Biscuitville biscuit.
AV: “Biscuitville sets itself apart from other restaurants by making scratch-made biscuits and baking them fresh every 15 minutes right in front of guests. Our biscuits are an original family recipe containing three main ingredients—flour, buttermilk and shortening—blended in perfect proportions, rolled out and baked by a team of master biscuit makers.”
NSJ: Where in the state do you source from and what do you get from these places?
AV: “We source flour from Sanford Mills in Henderson, country ham cured in Wilkesboro, eggs from Monroe, all-natural chicken from Mt. Airy, Georgia, and coffee roasted in Concord.”
NSJ: In addition to the Spicy Chicken and Honey Biscuit what are some of the most popular items you sell?
AV: “Our classic Bacon Egg and Cheese Biscuit which starts with one of our scratch-made biscuits with flour from Henderson and includes griddle-cooked bacon and a fresh-cracked egg from Monroe. There is also our classic Sausage and Egg Biscuit that has sausage from Kodak, TN. In addition to biscuits, we also offer a variety of platters. One of which, is our hand poured, griddle cooked pancake platter. Our bakery items include favorites like our warm apple fritter drizzled with icing, our classic blueberry muffin or our seasonal muffin. Currently we are offering a French Toast muffin with cinnamon streusel.”
NSJ: How have you responded to consumers’ pandemic habits?
AV: We’ve implemented curbside service options and created double and triple-lane drive-thrus, and installed our first temperature controlled, covered drive-thru lane in Burlington. We are developing an online app and hope to launch this early in 2022. To maintain control of food quality and costs, we made the decision not to partner with third party delivery providers. While we appreciate the value they add, we feel maintaining our quality is more important.”