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Colorado Sandwich Chain Smiling Moose Gears Up for Growth

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Colorado is known as a breeding ground for fast-casual chains that have gone national with the likes of Chipotle, Noodles & Company, Qdoba and Quiznos all getting their starts in Denver. But smaller chains like Smiling Moose, which got its start in Edwards in 2003, are also looking for a piece of the action outside of our state. Smiling Moose president Sue Daggett explains that changes to the company's menu and style are intended to emphasize the focus on its roots as a "Rocky Mountain deli" and position it for future expansion.

"We've really spent the last two years building the infrastructure for growth," she notes. The goal is to expand in new and existing markets, including a new franchise agreement in San Antonio, Texas that will see six new Smiling Moose delis in the next three years and an overall plan to hit 100 stores nationwide by 2020.

To do this, the company first looked at the menu, eliminating twelve dishes, re-imagining fourteen and adding six new items. Daggett feels that the Moose differentiates itself from other sandwich chains by providing breakfast (starting at 6:30 a..m at the downtown location on Wynkoop Street) in the form of sandwiches and skillets as well as by using a grill to boost flavors beyond the usual turn through the toaster that many hot-sandwich eateries use.

Smiling Moose's menu — much bigger than those of most other fast-casaul concepts — feels like more of a deli too, with a wide range of chopped salads, wraps and hot and cold sandwiches in addition to the signature "Mo" grinders stuffed with loose ground beef. One of the significant menu changes is that cold sandwiches are now served on ciabatta rolls while hot sandwiches are made using baguettes from Denver's Bluepoint Bakery.

Daggett also explains that the Rocky Mountain theme is important to the Smiling Moose brand, so hearty, adventurous and outdoorsy elements are stressed. But since many of the chain's original sandwich monikers were hyper-local, like the Minturn Mile, some names were changed to avoid confusion in other states. That Minturn Mile (a hot stack of turkey, roast beef, bacon, Swiss and cheddar) is now called the Mother Lode.

The menu changes have already been implemented in Colorado stores and the Smiling Moose will also begin interior upgrades in the first quarter of 2016, with a new color scheme, the inclusion of more natural-wood elements and the addition of menu banners in the queue area to help customers make their choices before they get to the counter. Nationwide, there will be three upgrade levels available to franchisees, depending on the level of business at each store. The downtown location will receive a full overhaul in the next month or so but will remain open by making most of the changes when the store is closed on Saturday nights and Sundays.

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