I think on some level most people like the notion of owning a cafe.
Maybe they’ve thought of it and discarded it. Maybe they’ve taken it a bit further and made some loose plans.
But for the rest of us, there is that fleeting moment when the thought was once there.
Perhaps it’s a dream. A yearning?
Why is that?
Is it because they like to entertain, host, plan parties and generally be in the middle of it all?
That was it for me.
Before my wife and I got married, we were in an eight-year long distance relationship.
Very long distance.
3845 km to be exact.
We’d meet up in cities all over the US and Canada.
We usually stayed at hotels and went out for meals.
Every city for eight years then became, unwittingly to me, a local research project of cafes and restaurants.
When I look back, I realize that this was an incredible entrepreneurial gift, borne of romantic necessity.
The gift was mostly in the repeated discovery of immense talent, design acumen and gastronomic creativity in the world of hospitality.
But it was also a lesson in what not to do. It helped me form opinions about what works, and what wouldn’t work.
I would walk into an establishment and immediately try to figure out what their business angle was, and why they were so busy, or, why they were so slow.
I would talk to owners and servers and bussers and baristas. Everything was interesting to me.
Eventually this “research” also led to the interminable drumbeat of discussions of my own cafe or restaurant plans.
I would mention to my wife that I came up with a new cafe idea, she would say “oh that sounds great” and then usually the subject would change.
Finally, she turned to me one day and said I should “quit talking about it and just do it already”.
She also said that she would help in any way possible. This was all I needed, because as I soon found out, it is super important to have one’s spouse on board when starting a new venture.
When word got out that I was creating a cafe, some friends and family couldn’t understand it:
They weren’t all wrong. The restaurant industry is hard. And I hadn’t run a café before.
“Oatmeal?!??! You can’t do just oatmeal.”
“You’ve never run a cafe.”
“The restaurant business is so hard.”
“You’re gonna get killed in this!”
Truth be told, we learned a lot of lessons the hard way.
To name a few… we took out a lease on a space that wasn’t previously a restaurant or café – this makes for an expensive build out – and then proceeded to build the Sistine Chapel of cafes, which made for an even more expensive build out.
Initially, we didn’t focus enough on some key metrics. It hurts when you realize your food costs were too high only after the fact.
We overstaffed and spent time focussing on things that didn’t move the needle.
All of this has been fixed today, but like I said, some lessons get learned the hard way and we are better for it. In the restaurant industry, the “hard” way costs money.
But we also did a lot of things right. Because we weren’t from the restaurant industry, we had a fresh perspective and didn’t follow any of the industry norms.
We always treat our staff with respect and support them.
We built a brand from scratch.
We broadened the notion of what could be done with oatmeal.
We created the world’s first oatmeal chain.
And most of all, we make this business fun, when all the fun had left hospitality.
We’re over five years in now, with two locations and I’m still enjoying it.
It allows me a creative outlet… thinking up new ideas, marketing initiatives, or simply solving a problem that’s come up at a café.
I get to see our staff learn and grow. Many have been with us for a long time and have moved into supervisor and manager roles.
Everyday we have customers coming into the store for their first time and they are blown away by our offering – whether it be the food, drinks or the beautiful cafes.
Or maybe it’s a friendly regular coming in for their third visit of the week.
It might sound cliché – but each day seems to bring something new.
So why franchise?
Well, when you’re in the service industry, you want to serve. You want to see smiling faces and great experiences.
We’ve done this with our two locations, but we know we can do it with many more.
I feel fortunate that through hard work and perseverance, we’ve made it past the 5-year mark. I know I would have saved time and money if I had someone to help me make the right decisions early on. But those lessons qualified me to be able to guide someone else and to do so with an appreciation for their perspective.
I know we have a unique offering like nothing else in the world.
It’s impossible to find a food offering that is healthy, fast, casual and original. What we offer is fun, delicious and has mass appeal.
I can see the immense opportunity for us.
I think life can be boring if you aren’t taking opportunities. Like my wife said over five years ago: “just do it already”.