What do the entertainment industry, comedy and running a restaurant have in common? For Danny Hizami of Figueroa Philly in Los Angeles, the red thread lies in improvisation. “I’ve learned to be comfortable with the truth that most times in life, whatever can go wrong will go wrong, and you have to learn to adapt to it. Improvisation is a superpower!”
Growing up, Danny was a restaurant kid. His dad was a serial franchisee who ran three KFC locations in Los Angeles. Since he was eight years old, Danny was surrounded by the fast-paced, people-oriented restaurant industry, spending his teenage years filling sodas and greeting customers alongside his dad.
Danny eventually went on to college where he chose to pursue a career in another fast-paced, people-oriented industry: entertainment. Through his work on awards shows and various productions, Danny learned that things can, and inevitably will go wrong, and when you accept that you can’t control everything, you’ll find freedom.
Taking what he had learned during his tenure in the entertainment industry, Danny decided to pursue a career in something else he was passionate about: comedy. Touring as a standup comedian, Danny quickly embraced the reality that no two days are the same. “To tell you the truth, I’ve bombed a comedy set one night, and crushed a set the next night. You try your best, control what you can control, and let the rest go.”
After spending a couple years touring, Danny’s priorities shifted: he got married and was ready to start a family. “Being on the road was fun but it was tough. I wasn’t making tons of money, I wanted kids, and I didn’t want to raise my kids through a screen, so I decided to reconnect with my roots. I took over one of my dad’s KFC locations, and turned into a philly cheesesteak spot called Figueroa Philly.” When Danny opened the doors to his restaurant right near the coliseum in Los Angeles, the same life lessons around control and improvisation that he learned through earlier live experiences held true.
Being located in the midst of various pillars of culture from sports stadiums to concert halls means Danny’s business changes based on shifts in pop-culture and events. It’s a uniquely Los Angeles scenario – when there’s major construction nearby, Danny gets lots of foot traffic. When the Eagles play the Rams, he sells tons of cheesesteaks. When the Saints play the Rams, Danny’s business is slow while nearby southern spots are packed. When there’s an Iron Maiden concert, he’s really busy. “I guess Iron Maiden fans love cheesesteak, who knew?”
In 2019, Danny started noticing business slowing down. “When the Los Angeles Football Club’s new stadium was being built, our foot traffic was phenomenal. From about 9 am on, we were serving hundreds of people working on that project. But when the stadium was finished, I knew we were bound to lose business.”
To combat the decrease in foot traffic, Danny signed up for multiple delivery services. With every platform requiring its own tablet, the Figueroa Philly team increased their stress levels about as much as they did their orders, “Being on all those delivery platforms meant we had like 15 different tablets. It was crazy, and hard for my team to manage.”
A master of improvisation, he decided to begin looking for other ways to increase business. “I love my restaurant and I love what I do, so I started exploring all my options – from ghost kitchens to food trucks to virtual brands. That’s when I found Future Foods and Otter. Because Figueroa Philly was originally a KFC, we have a huge kitchen with two grills. It made sense for me to use that extra kitchen space to create new brands and fulfill more orders.” True to form, Danny’s first virtual brand was a cheesesteak restaurant – Philly Fresh Cheesesteaks.”
“The process of signing up for Future Foods and Otter was unbelievably simple. I spoke to an account manager who asked me about my current inventory, I told her my sales objectives, and she created a menu for me that was optimized for delivery in my location. I had the space, the employees, and the ingredients, Future Foods handled the branding and set-up, all I had to do was fulfill orders from new menus in addition to Figueroa Philly’s menu.” Once he opened his virtual brand, he also received Otter’s single tablet solution and began running both of his brands on every delivery platform from a single tablet. “It changed everything immediately. I was all in.”
Having to improvise based on a decrease in foot traffic due to stadium construction being finished may have been a blessing in disguise for Figueroa Philly. When the pandemic hit a year after he launched Philly Fresh Cheesesteaks, Danny was already comfortable with the concept of virtual brands and delivery management. “We had to shift to a delivery-only model almost overnight. We were completely closed for on-premise dining. I had one virtual brand, but we were in the deep end swimming with sharks. I knew the only way to stay afloat was through online delivery. So I improvised, and after taking a look at my inventory, I called my Future Foods account manager. We put together a bunch of new menus: from breakfast burritos, to burgers, to fried chicken sandwiches – that meant we had three new brands and three new revenue streams on every delivery platform. I was so lucky that my employees were up for experiment, and my Future Foods + Otter team was there to help us along the way.”
Today, Danny and Figueroa Philly are operating eight virtual brands through Future Foods and Otter. “Every three weeks I talk to my account manager and try something new. As long as we’re maintaining the quality of the food, I’ll experiment with anything. If we open a virtual hot dog brand, we use the best hot dogs and the best chilli. If we open a sandwich brand, we use the best meats and the best cheeses. Maintaining quality and constantly experimenting has worked for us. I mean, how could it go wrong? All it took was the willingness to improvise, great employees, kitchen space, and inventory – all of which I have. And my virtual brands are firing on all cylinders. Most days I’ll have far less drive-thru orders than delivery orders. During this time period especially, I can’t control whether people come to the restaurant. But I’m committed to doing everything I can to increase our reach through delivery.”
Running eight virtual brands and Figueroa Philly out of a single location may sound stressful in theory, but for Danny, the combination of Otter and Future Foods has made increasing reach & revenue through delivery simple, “It all happens through a single tablet. With Otter, every order from all nine of our brands is in one place. There’s only one notification sound, and I can track everything in a unified way. I like it so much I actually open the Otter dashboard on my computer when I get home. I love being able to keep up with our orders and performance even when I’m not in the restaurant.”
“Without Otter and Future Foods, I’m not sure if Figueroa Philly would even still be operating. It’s been a game changer. You really can’t go wrong. I get to keep my people employed, keep my doors open, and experiment constantly. Even when this pandemic is over, I don’t think delivery is going anywhere. It’s a new chapter for the restaurant industry – we’ve been hit hard, and all we can do is try our best, be creative, and improvise.”
His picks? “I absolutely love the Famous Figueroa Philly – it’s what’s made us famous! A cheesesteak sandwich filled with your choice of cheese, grilled onions, peppers and mushrooms. I also love The Lola which is named after my daughter - it’s a cold cut hoagie with turkey, provolone, lettuce, tomato, pickles, sweet hot peppers, mayo, mustard and Italian dressing. Another one of my favorites is the Pizza Steak. It’s filled with steak, onions, pepperoni, provolone, and pizza sauce.”