|People wait in a line in front of Eggslut restaurant in COEX mall, Seoul, last Friday, upon its very first store launch in the country. / Courtesy of SPC Group|
By Kim Jae-heun
A former SPC Group Vice President Hur Hee-soo, who was dismissed from the company after being accused of smuggling and smoking liquid cannabis-derived products, may return to management in two years on the back of impressive sales of the company's recently launched Eggslut brand.
The growing in popularity California-based egg sandwich operator commenced business last week with the grand opening of its first Korean branch in the affluent Gangnam district. On the first day of its opening, more than 300 people lined up in front of the store at the COEX mall, southern Seoul. Founded by chef Alvin Cailan back in 2011, Eggslut is known for its egg sandwiches made with a brioche bun, coddled egg and sriracha mayo sauce.
The chain now operates stores in four different countries including the United Kingdom and Japan. Given its sandwich's fluffy texture and rich flavor with scrambled eggs and melted cheese, expectations are that Eggslut's popularity will rise, pushing SPC to open other Eggslut stores in downtown Seoul or other metropolitan and larger regional cities.
Former vice president Hur was known for securing contracts related to Eggslut's operations after he also helped the group introduce Shake Shack burger, here.
It also created a buzz around Shake Shack in the country when the burger chain launched, selling 90,000 burgers in the first opening year and drawing 3,000 visitors on average per day at its Gangnam branch in Seoul. Hur is said to have played a crucial role in ultimately signing a contract to earn the business rights for Shake Shack here after defeating 30 other candidates.
After launching Shake Shack, here, in 2016, SPC Group won the right to operate the U.S. burger chain in Singapore, where it was aiming to have more than 10 outlets by 2024. SPC brought Baskin-Robbins and Dunkin' Donuts brands to Korea. The country's leading bakery group secured the right to open Eggslut there too in 2021.
"It was Hur who made it possible for SPC Group to open Shake Shack restaurants here, having traveled back and forth to New York to win the deal over five years," a SPC official said. "We had so many competitors who wanted to sell Shake Shake here creating fierce competition."
Last November, Hur helped SPC Group to open its own snack brand City Deli in Gwanghwamun, central Seoul, too. City Deli is a simple walk-in snack bar combining convenience store- and a restaurant-type service for customers to quickly grab ready-made food. There are over 200 menu items including fried rice, noodles, sandwiches and salads sold at the store.
The brand is a test bed for the group to expand its food business while creating a chance for it to diversify business portfolio.
"SPC's several new businesses that opened with assistance of Hur are meeting with favorable reviews but it is shame that he is completely excluded from the management from a one-time mistake," an industry source said.
It is likely that the group will bring back Hur who has been mentioned as the heir of the bakery giant before.
When SPC Group signed a deal with global food company Kraft Heinz last June, the company accredited the major accomplishment to Hur.
At the time of the Heinz contract, SPC Group said it was Hur who paved the way for the deal to exclusively supply Kraft Heinz products in local market.
"Hur met with the General Manager of Northeast Asia at Kraft Heinz offices and led the behind-the-scenes work before working-level discussions," an SPC Group official said.
In March this year, Hur also joined a meeting held relevant to the company's new business. However, SPC Group has denied that this indicates the former vice president will return to a management position.
"He only joined to give advice as a major shareholder and it is irrelevant to any possible comeback to a management position. There has not been a discussion about this return internally," a SPC Group official said.
While the group has successfully launched the popular burger and sandwich brands, it is now under pressure to convert the popularity of the brands into substantial profits as SPC's net income has slumped 77 percent since reaching a record in 2016 mostly because of heavy losses from overseas investments and costs incurred due to work status-related changes for its employees in order to meet labor regulations. In Korea, its share value also declined.
Food analysts dismissed the significance of SPC's lowered share value saying the group is "on track" to grow its brand recognition outside Korea. The spread of COVID-19 is forcing many restaurants to shut down their eat-in premises and lay off employees. But SPC Group recently said it will increase the number of the group's outlets, globally, to 20,000 by 2030.
SPC is better known as the operator of "Paris Baguette," a brand operating in many major global cities including Los Angeles, New York City and Shanghai.