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Ian Bruggeman’s foray into the restaurant industry with 40-unit Naf Naf Grill wasn’t just shaped by COVID—it was founded on it. In January 2020, Bruggeman left his job at the Indiana State Pension Fund to join his partners at 316 investments—formerly one of the largest and most successful QDOBA franchisees in the system—to become the first Naf Naf Grill franchisee in the country in Indianapolis.

Never having worked a day in a restaurant, Bruggeman had to quickly learn from his cooks, bakers, managers, and front-line workers to catch up. He and his team opened up the Carmel, Indiana, location on March 16, 2020, and closed that Friday due to the pandemic, and didn’t reopen until May 25.

That management experience was invaluable, and seeing how a fast-casual restaurant ran from the ground up paired with my finance and accounting background allowed me to take the next step in my career,” Bruggeman says. “But it was a trying experience; anyone that ran a store during COVID knows just how difficult it was, and it was even more difficult opening two restaurants during the throes of the pandemic

He and his team led the restaurant to significant sales growth over the next year. They opened another location in downtown Indianapolis, which were eventually bought by Naf Naf Grill and became corporate locations. This allowed Bruggeman to transition from an operations role to his current role as director of financial planning and analysis.

“My long-term goal for Naf Naf Grill is to make Middle Eastern cuisine accessible to as many folks in the United States as possible while remaining true to our founder’s authentic recipes, vision, and culture,” Bruggeman says. “If we stay true to who we are, and execute the brand, then I think the opportunity set is limitless for us.”

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