Biscuitville President Kathie Niven talks about company rebranding

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- You could say Kathie Niven has come full-circle.

Just about every day while attending Hugh M. Cummings High School in Burlington in the 1980s, she stopped to pick up something to eat at the Biscuitville on Maple Avenue.

“It was sort of a soulful place to eat,” she told me when I met her recently at Biscuitville’s newest restaurant on Peters Creek Parkway in Winston-Salem. “That concept of watching somebody make your biscuit right in front of you just made a connection.”

Today, she not only runs the company, she’s been the major force behind its rejuvenation.

Promoted to president last year after spending nearly eight years as the company’s chief brand officer, Niven’s had such an impact a leading food service industry magazine just named her one of its 2018 New Top Restaurant Executives.

When Biscuitville hired her in 2011, the company was at a turning point. The customer base was getting older and sales were flat. She knew a brand overhaul was needed.

“And that was tough for us because we didn’t know how far our guests would let us go modernizing the brand and keeping up,” she said.

She knew she didn’t want to modernize without respecting the company’s history.

That history started modestly when flour-broker and bread shop owner Maurice Jennings decided in the late 1960s to satisfy a demand for takeout pizza in Burlington. Pizza-To-Go soon became Pizzaville. Pizzaville would grow to a chain of stores in the Piedmont Triad.

But then Jennings came across a restaurant in Georgia selling biscuits. He thought it was a great idea. Morning biscuit sales at Pizzaville soon overtook the pizza sales in the evening and Jennings dropped the pizza entirely.

The first Biscuitville store opened in Danville, Virginia, in 1975. And would grow tremendously through the next 25+ years.

“It (was) not altogether different than why we are where we are today,” Niven said. “It was high-quality food.”

So Niven and her team started rebranding Biscuitville by, in many ways, re-emphasizing the past.

The words “fresh” and “southern” were added to the main logo. The messaging also drove home the company’s use of mostly local vendors. Biscuitville’s signature “biscuit window” (next to the registers where customers can watch the biscuits being made) was expanded.

Relying heavily on consumer research, Biscuitville added a lunch menu and new menu items like the Spicy Chicken and Honey Biscuit. It would become the company’s most successful product launch.

The newest menu items (introduced last fall) include three combinations of waffle sandwiches. Spicy Chicken; Bacon Egg & Cheese; and Sausage Egg & Cheese are placed in between two Belgian waffles and served with custom-made Maple Brown Sugar Spread.

Then there was the issue of the growing number of health-conscious consumers.

“And you know, that was a decision to make,” Niven told me. “'Do we even care if people chose not to use us because of their lifestyles?' And ultimately we decided we do.”

It’s why English muffins, turkey sausage, grilled chicken and protein platters are on the menu.

Now that the rebranding is accomplished, Niven’s looking at updating the menu. She wouldn’t disclose the next product launch other than calling it “lunch-centric” and “fabulous.”

But she was a little more candid about another issue: growth. How big will Biscuitville get?

She says while the Jennings family still owns the company and has no plans to sell franchises, it’s very open-minded.

“I don’t think there’s a limit,” she said. “I mean biscuits are just so popular in New York. How fun would it be to have a Biscuitville in the middle of Manhattan!”

While taking biscuits to the Big Apple would be intriguing, Niven says the company’s actual plan includes perhaps doubling the company’s size in Virginia, South Carolina and North Carolina where currently its 55 stores and more than 1,200 employees make and sell an average of nearly 33,000 biscuits every day.

For more information on Biscuitville, click here.

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