Jacqui Collins And Team Implement A Massive Brand Overhaul at Moe’s Southwest Grill

After successfully completing more than 200 buildouts for Moe’s Southwest Grill, Jacqui Collins and her team helped chart the course of implementing a brand-wide makeover

In 2018, Moe’s Southwest Grill announced a bold rebrand of its portfolio, which contains over 700 restaurants. The rebrand came for Senior Director of Design and Construction Jacqueline Collins at a strange time. From 2011 to 2018, Collins helped franchisees open up more than 200 stores in a period of rapid expansion, surpassing Chipotle as the king of the fast-casual burrito. The restaurant brand had grown exponentially and with great success, so a 700-plus franchise rebrand came as something of a handbrake turn.

Jacqueline Collins, Senior Director of Design & Construction, Moe’s Southwest Grill Portrait by Paige McCarthy

“Once our ship was sailing smoothly, we decided to turn it upside down,” Collins laughs. “We wanted to stay relevant and hired a third-party firm to do a lot of research about what our consumers want.”

That meant identifying what hallmarks customers of the brand currently notice, as well as what things Moe’s felt customers should be noticing but simply weren’t. The first change was simply the new color scheme. “Since 2010, we had one color palette: every restaurant was built the same,” Collins says. “It’s been a complete 180. Our southwest brand is now in line with our palette of burnt orange, turquoise, and those gray rivers. Our team worked really well together to make sure every aspect was represented: marketing, operations, training, design, supply chain, and construction—everyone who had skin in the game.”

Holly Schaefer, regional sales manager of national accounts for Construction Specialties, a partner of Moe’s, was eager to note that Collins’s creative mind-set was a pinnacle force as these teams came together. “Jacqueline’s passion and dedication has driven the rebranding and new design vision for Moe’s Southwest Grill to a captivating reality,” Schaefer says. “Her proficiency in design and construction management harmonized the internal teams, architects, designers, and suppliers to achieve an inspired transformation.”

Collins says the approach with the rebrand—which included the new menu, new signage, new items, and new equipment—was to throw it all at the wall and see what stuck. “I think we’re in phase 2.0 of the rebrand right now,” Collins says. “Some things worked, and some things were dialed back, but overall the guest reception has been phenomenal.”

The new furniture, graphics, and lighting highlight the signature “Welcome to Moe’s”. Photo by GPD Group

The rebrand had its fair share of challenges, but Collins has a sense of humor about the inevitable bumps and with that has become an invaluable resource for the corporate team as well as for the franchisees. “I think people appreciate that I’m approachable and accessible,” she says. “You can always get ahold of me day or night, and people know that when they come to me, they’re going to get an answer.”

Moe’s owns less than 5 of its 700 locations, the rest of which are franchised. That means that Collins had to work extensively with a franchise council in discussing and implementing proposed changes. “Our brand isn’t some autonomous hierarchy where we’ll tell you how it’s going to be and don’t care what you think,” she says, adding that by juggling these renovation conversations she manages hundreds of email chains every single day.

To add to the inbox, Moe’s doesn’t employ the architects for the building of new construction or the rebrand, so it’s on Collins to coordinate with each individual architect and general contractor to make sure everyone has the most up-to-date specs and is pulling in the same direction. “I can help with layout, parking, egress access, and a lot more, but my strengths aren’t just in construction management,” Collins says.

New exterior materials and signage represent the colors and aesthetics of the southwest. Photo by Jacqueline Collins

Straight out of college with a bachelor’s in architecture, Collins discovered an affinity for woodworking. She wound up doing detailing and case work for restaurant design companies and, with no formal training, picked up construction management almost by default. It offers her a much more nuanced view down to the smallest details. “I’m motivated just by being as good as I can be at my job, and by being a bit of a perfectionist,” Collins says.

As Moe’s goal of reaching 1,000 restaurants continues on, Collins says the temporary slowdown of the rebrand will give way to another influx of building after processes are streamlined and details are ironed out.

“Eventually we’ll find calmer waters,” Collins says with a laugh, recalling the early days of her career when she tapped into that same sense of humor to navigate uncomfortable circumstances. “When I would show up to job sites with carpenters, plumbers, and electricians, they would just look at me and wonder what I was doing there. Now, I don’t really even notice. I deserve a seat at the table; I know what I’m doing, so listen to me,” the senior director says with a chuckle. “I tried the same approach with my kids, but it didn’t work as well.”

The Home Office

It’s impressive enough that Jacqui Collins built more than 200 restaurants in just 7 years, but what’s more is that she did it while working from home. After a spontaneous decision to relocate from Baltimore, Maryland, to upstate New York with her family, Collins found that the remote option was not only conducive to her workflow, but also the best decision for her family. She says that through a healthy combination of flights to the company headquarters in Atlanta, WebEx conferencing, and phone calls, she’s able to spend more time on the lake with her two boys and work beyond the constraints of a nine-to-five.