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Food, friends and franchising at Ricky’s All Day Grill

I was just finishing up a summer class and getting ready for my October convocation when Laura told me about her father’s suggestion that we buy a Ricky’s franchise in Prince Albert. Now, this wasn’t the first time she came to me with a pitch like this. We’d kept in close contact over the years, and Laura was always suggesting ways for us to work together. Some (like buying a Smitty’s franchise in Canmore, Alta.) were slightly more reasonable than others (like opening our own swimsuit shop, despite knowing nothing about swimsuits). It became a kind of a running joke between us.

So, when Laura called one night and told me about her father’s suggestion, she probably figured I would just laugh it off, like she had. To her surprise (and mine), I actually thought it might be a good idea. As determined as I was to go back to school, when Laura mentioned this opportunity, I had to stop and think about it. This Ricky’s was in our home town, so it was a natural fit. Plus, the timing—just after I finished my degree but before I started my next block of schooling—was quite good.

radioA change of plans
I started thinking about my older sister, who, at the age of 24, had purchased my parents’ Humpty’s location in Kindersley when they decided to sell. She had also gone into it with her best friend and had a pretty successful run. After talking to Laura, I called my sister and discussed the prospect with her; she warned me that it would be a challenge, but also said working with her best friend was a wonderful experience.

Naturally, I also asked for advice from my parents, who were in the process of selling their Prince Albert restaurant. By this point, they’d been in the industry for about 40 years, 25 of which were spent running their own location, so I knew they could help us make an informed decision. At first, they were concerned; they wanted to make sure I knew what I was getting into. The food-service industry can be quite difficult at times, and they wanted me to keep that in mind. They were also concerned about the toll running the business might take on my friendship with Laura.

When we found out more about the opportunity, it was almost too good to be true. The restaurant had fallen on hard times, but it had a lot of potential. The corporate franchisee that ran the restaurant was looking to sell off a lot of its assets at the time, so we were primed to get a good deal. Everything seemed to fit. How often are two young girls able to afford a restaurant franchise? We figured since the chance came along, it was worth taking. It just felt right.

We each took out loans and got the financing we needed to buy the franchise. The hardest part about the process was convincing the franchisor to give us a shot. They came in and had an interview with us and checked out the restaurant. We thought we knew it all; we were so confident, convinced we could turn this all around in no time. It’s funny to think back on it now.

Handing over a troubled restaurant to two young girls might not have seemed like the best idea. When all was said and done, though, they didn’t have much to lose by giving us a shot. Taking on this restaurant was a high-risk proposition for anybody, so the fact we were so willing to tackle the challenge worked in our favour. Plus, our parents had reputations as established restaurateurs, which didn’t hurt.

Taking the leap
In October 2007, we left Prince Albert for Edmonton to do our franchisee training. We travelled between three different Ricky’s locations out there, learning the ropes of the kitchen and front of the house. Typically, this training lasts about three months; unfortunately, in our case, the company selling the franchise wanted to get out by December, meaning we had to cut our training down to just one month.

Given this whirlwind pace, we relied heavily on our franchisor for support in our early days. Head office representatives were always available to us, keeping their phones on at all hours to answer any questions we had—and trust me, we had many, sometimes on a daily basis. To this day, we feel a special connection with our franchisor, as well as our fellow franchisees. People are always really interested in how we’re doing. It’s almost as if they want to take us—the relatively new, young franchisees—under their wings. Everybody is so invested in seeing us succeed.

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