Native Plans Expansion

Why this Phoenix-area restaurant chain’s plans for expansion meant ditching its New York name


For 40 years, the former Native New Yorker pizzeria was prosperous in the Valley. That’s because when people went to the restaurant, they thought of it simply as “native,” sans the New Yorker part altogether.

“The culture we found was people saying, ‘This is my native,’ and leaving out the ‘New Yorker’ part,” said Dan Chaon, Native Grill & Wings new CEO. “It’s native to Gilbert, native to Chandler, to Phoenix.”

So when Chaon and his team were looking to expand outside of Native’s 27 Arizona locations, they figured it would be best to ditch the “New Yorker” name and go with Native Grill & Wings, the current name of the chain.

“What does that name mean to that potential customer out-of-state?” Chaon said of the restaurant’s market research. “Everyone said ‘native.’ People resonated with that.”

Chaon, who had worked with major restaurant chains like Chili’s, knew that to make the brand successful nationally, customers needed to connect to the eatery on a personal level.

Native Grill & Wings expanded to San Antonio; Rapid City, South Dakota; and Missoula, Montana, making sure to personalize each restaurant with features like murals representing each location — Missoula’s mural, for example, highlights the University of Montana.

“We want to give them their own individuality to be part of the native family and culture,” Chaon said.

That method has put Native Grill in a position to open eight other franchised locations within the next several years in cities like Tucson and Yuma, Boise, Boston, Tulsa and Dallas.

Chaon said Native Grill is aiming to have a steady opening of 20 to 25 locations a year, both with franchised and corporate locations.

“We’re looking at Kingman, Prescott, and the East Valley for corporate stores in Arizona,” Chaon said, adding they would like to add five to seven more Arizona locations. “We think a corporate store in the panhandle area like Kansas would do really well too.”

Native Grill’s new brand and new sense of personalization, along with other initiatives like an app specifically made for restaurant orderings and bookings, has put the restaurant in the big leagues, Chaon said.

“People are looking at us as a great competitor to Buffalo Wild Wings,” Chaon said. “We do really well with families and parties.”