When Fasil brought us to eat at Sunset Grill, I didn’t know what to expect. He’d heard good things, tried the food before and told me we needed to go. The food was fresh and tasted great, plus the schedule would work well for us as franchisees opening early and closing in the afternoon. We knew it was the right move for us after we spoke to a couple of franchisees, asked questions and learned more about the relationship between them and head office. We were thoroughly impressed with everything we heard and decided to move forward. Originally, we thought it would take two to three years to open a location, but it turned out fate would step in.
Although I am finance-minded, I had never run my own business before, let alone a restaurant. This was new territory for me. Ayni and I took all the information we could get about Sunset Grill, did more research and weighed our options. We figured out the expenses, talked to other franchisees about their experiences and decided to put our names on the list for potential franchisees.
There were 20 candidates ahead of us, so we carried on visiting different franchises making sure this was the right move for us. One day in 2013, we went to visit our family in Kitchener, Ont., and inquired if there was a franchise there. There was and it was clean, nice and part of a big subdivision with more than 2,000 houses.
As it turned out, when we went back to the franchisor to see if there was something similar for sale, we were told that exact location was available. We requested the financial information. I ran the numbers and figured we could make a living on the business they’d been doing before, so we bought it in September 2013.
The franchisor sent us to train at another franchisee’s location for two weeks. Here, we learned how to handle inventory, ordering, how to properly clean and organize the restaurant and how to cook everything. Anytime I needed help, I would send an e-mail or make a call to the franchisor and got an immediate response.
The takeover and buying processes were not easy. Even though I worked in accounting, I didn’t understand most of the legalities involved. Fortunately, Fasil and the franchisor took care of it. The head office directed us on how to get a lawyer and helped us navigate through every step.
When we first opened, business did not go well. We would have an empty restaurant with servers standing around. There were many nights I spent in tears. I was scared we were going to fail, but I couldn’t let that show, especially to my employees. I knew Fasil was working very hard and doing his best. I also knew the franchisor believed in us and the quality of food we were serving. I hoped it wouldn’t be long before people started coming in the door.
I couldn’t understand why people weren’t coming in to eat. I had run the numbers myself and done the research, but naively thought we’d be making the same amount of money the day we opened as when the restaurant had previously closed. Our finances were in the red for several months and we started drawing from our personal savings to help pay for our expenses.
Fortunately, the franchisor wanted us to succeed and did whatever it could to help us out, whether it was one-to-one coaching, new marketing materials or other support initiatives. I learned a business takes time to turn around.
I can’t count how many conversations I had with the franchisor only to be reminded to hold on, understand this is how business is sometimes and to compare weekly results. There were many nights where we believed we would end up with nothing after wiping out our savings and giving everything to a five-year franchisee agreement, but the franchisor always believed in us and its system, and in the end, set us up for success.
Customers would come.
Eventually, they did.
Those were a tough first two years, but our sales did go up slowly in 2014. Today, we’ve managed to increase our sales 15 to 20 per cent annually and we couldn’t be happier with how the business has turned around. We no longer have to stress about paying our bills. We keep focused on the bottom line and the bigger picture. Some months will be down while others are up. At the end of the day, our employees still have jobs, they get paid, can send their children to school and have a roof over their head.