Bojangle's is still cooking up hearty sales.
Rutledge continues to move patiently in trying to attain those heady restaurant growth targets, recently opening its first spot in Kentucky. In 2015, the company opened about 35 new restaurants.
"I have learned more about what not to do in the past 37 years than what to do," says Rutledge, who believes the company's biggest opportunity is in Texas.
"We have every confidence that the company's culture of operational excellence positions it favorably to realize its substantial unit growth goals," pointed out Piper Jaffray analyst Nicole Regan in a Nov. 5 note. Regan rates Bojangle's shares at a neutral.
Despite the momentum in Bojangle's business last year, the company now finds itself in a battle with fast food heavyweight McDonald's (MCD) , which launched its all-day breakfast platform in the fall to good responses from consumers.
Bojangle's has traditionally served its menu of indulgent breakfast biscuits all day. Breakfast items, or those items sold before 11am, represent about 38% of Bojangle's overall business, while lunch accounts for roughly 28% of Bojangle's business.
More recently, McDonald's debuted its "McPick 2 value" menu this month, setting off a chain of similar discount program announcements from Restaurant Brands International's (QSR) Burger King, Domino's Pizza (DPZ) and Yum! Brands (YUM) Pizza Hut.
"McDonald's has taken some share," conceded Rutledge, adding, "there has been a good bit of discounting from McDonald's, Wendy's and Burger King and we have been forced to respond."
The chain recently ran a $0.99 steak biscuit promotion, a sharp discount from the normal price of $1.89.
Bojangle's CEO continues to focus on employee culture.
Rutledge said Bojangle's is doubling down on menu innovation over the next two years to attract customers in a more competitive environment. "My favorite item is our dirty rice bowls, and I think you could have a whole platform on rice bowls, such as breakfast bowls," said Rutledge.
While Bojangle's seeks to add more sizzle to its menu, it's also keen on preserving the attention-to-detail oriented culture that has been instrumental in its success. For instance, Bojangle's still makes its trademark biscuits by hand, and is fresh off holding its 19th annual "Master Biscuit Maker Challenge." The two latest winners took home $2,500 in cash.