In 1990, Hermann Weiffenbach, an economics graduate, wanted to open the first in what he hoped would become a chain of crêpes restaurants. But a few weeks before the opening in Munich, he changed his plans. The first Mexican restaurants were opening in the city, and they were a big hit.
“You only had to write ‘Mexico’ on the door, and the place filled up instantly,” he said. So instead of pancakes he opted for tortillas.
He named the restaurant Enchilada and in so doing founded what would become one of Germany’s largest and most quickly growing chains.
Today, the Enchilada group has 118 restaurants, including branches of Enchilada, the tapas bar Besitos, traditional restaurants and the healthy fast-food eateries Dean & David. All draw large numbers of customers. It also owns two other small chains, Mama Chili and Pommes Freunde. The trade magazine Food-Service lists Enchilada among Germany’s 25 largest restaurant chains.
The group is profiting from the trend for healthier food, a fad that is making life difficult for giants such as McDonald's. “Healthy food with organic ingredients, preferably from the local region, has become mainstream,” said Mr. Weiffenbach.
The group is profiting from the trend for healthier food, a fad that is making life difficult for giants such as McDonald's.
According to a current study by the market research agency GfK, 53 percent of Germans have come to pay attention to healthy eating.
To cater to this market, the group is fast opening new franchises of Dean & David, which makes great play of using fresh and natural ingredients.
Last year, the group’s sales again rose sharply, by 14 percent to about €105 million, or $120 million. It is opening 10 to 15 restaurants annually and Mr. Weiffenbach said he can see that rate increasing to 40 to 50.
The large chains in particular are feeling the impact of the trend to more individual concepts and to organic fast-food. For example, after reporting its first sales slump in 12 years, McDonald's chief executive Don Thompson was forced out last month.
Yet hamburgers are far from being out of favor — for many people, they just have to be something to remember. This helps to explain the rapid expansion of the designer hamburger chain Hans im Glück, which is owned by Mr. Weiffenbach's former partner Thomas Hirschberger.
Mr. Weiffenbach intends to expand the business and says he won’t be tempted by offers to buy him out.
The chain offers this description of its business model: “We distinguish ourselves quite deliberately from other burger grills and set standards with regard to freshness and naturalness for a nutritionally aware target group.”
Mr. Weiffenbach says the Enchilada group doesn’t consider established companies such as McDonald's to be competitors. Not everyone who eats a fresh Thai curry at Dean & David or a takeout burrito from Mama Chili would otherwise have gone to a fast-food giant, he adds. “But McDonald's is a pioneer from whom much can be learned.”
The 50-year-old had his first taste of the business when he was training as a bank officer and studying economics. During his studies, he worked in one of his parents’ businesses, the Alte Hackerhaus restaurant in Munich. He later rounded out his education by earning the title of marketing specialist.
Today, he credits his intuition as being key to helping Enchilada to grow, especially when it comes to identifying lucrative new restaurant sites. Many are selected on the basis of his personal interest in architecture.
Mr. Weiffenbach intends to expand the business and says he won’t be tempted by offers to buy him out. The latest growth plan that he is working on along with co-shareholder Matthias Machauer is a delivery service for offices.
Many such services have failed, but the pair believe they know how to make it work. “Like everything, it has to be well-made,” Mr. Weiffenbach said.
The author is head of Handelsblatt's Munich office. To contact the author: [email protected]