Turning my favourite food into a franchise opportunity
In September 2011, my friend and I were travelling in the U.S. During our travels, we both mentioned our love of Mexican food and agreed we could eat it every day. On our five-day trip, we decided to go for it and eat it at least once a day, stopping at restaurants along the way.
On our way home, we stopped in Grand Forks, N.D., and since we had not had our Mexican fix yet that day, we pulled into a Qdoba Mexican Grill. As soon as we walked in, I felt the business would work in Brandon. We ordered our food, sat down facing the crew and watched people order. I saw how busy it was, even on a Monday night, and got an idea of the menu. I searched for franchise information in the store, but there was not any available at the time, so I was not sure yet if they were corporately owned or franchised.
When I got home late that night, I went online and began researching if Qdoba was in Canada. The timing was probably as lucky as I could ever get. After some initial digging, I got on the phone with the head office, and they mentioned Qdoba had just finished its disclosure documents for franchising in Canada. It was very early in the process, so we made a date to meet at the head office in Denver, Colo., the next month. By the end of October, my wife and I were in face-to-face meetings with them for potential franchises.
After we had done all of the paperwork, we had to find a location, which was one of the biggest hurdles. There was a shared parking area between our original walk-up style Dairy Queen and a Rogers Video store. Since Blockbuster had just closed down, I figured Rogers would hold onto their lease for their last two years, but they vacated soon after. We knew right away we had to speak with the landlord to become the new tenant. We ended up getting things in motion a lot quicker than expected. That was at the start of 2012 and we opened in December.
I had signed on with Qdoba in January 2012 and then had to get site approval. Then we had to get into training. I went to Denver for four weeks and took manager training, then sent other hired managers to train in the fall. Then there was the construction side, where we had to get an architect, go over the plans, get permits issued, etc. We had a template from Qdoba, so at least we knew what the store was going to look like.
Overseeing construction as we got close to the opening date was a big job, and 2012 was a bit of a whirlwind for us. The weekend before we opened, we had more training in-house from people at head office. They helped set everything up and did a lot of work, especially since we were the first franchise to open in Canada. They spent hours helping us lay out the restaurant and explained about using dry storage and how to organize the walk-in cooler properly. Qdoba has a really good system for food safety and ensures every restaurant has the same policies and practices. Finally, we were ready to open the store on December 3, 2012.
Since opening, the experience has been great. The franchise has met and exceeded most of my expectations. We have a lot of regular customers and the word of mouth we have received around Brandon has been fantastic. When I am outside and away from work, I hear people mentioning Qdoba and saying they have already been there, they have yet to go but have heard great things about it and the food is awesome. It is humbling to hear so many good things and that we are so welcome in the community. You want to keep that momentum going, not come out of the gates strong and then hit a plateau.
We have started seeing some patterns. At first, we did not know what to expect, but going into the warmer weather, there is a bit of a shift in the evening crowd since the sun stays out later. Lunch times are also busy in the winter because we have a warm flavour. We do not have a very spicy menu, but we appeal to people with full flavour without using hot spices. The numbers have been steady and we have not had any peaks or valleys yet. We want to focus on growing on an annual basis, rather than month to month.
I try to cover lunch because it is the busiest and most intense time. Customers are typically away from work and on strict schedules for their lunch hours. I come in and support my staff during the afternoons, but also change my hat many times throughout the day, from human resources (HR) to managing. My wife and I offer support anywhere that needs it. In the beginning, we were both in the back doing dishes, because we wanted to have our key staff doing their job at the front. I like serving the guests, too. Maybe that is from seeing my dad engaging with his customers. You get the best feedback when you are on the front end, because you are more approachable when customers get to see you. You do not want to just sit in the back office and hide all day.