As a veteran of the restaurant business for more than 20 years before he opened his first franchise, Joe Racchi, owner of several White Spot and Triple O’s franchises in Kelowna, B.C., says the switch from a corporate location to a franchised restaurant was a relatively seamless transition.
However, things were a bit different when he opened his first “built-from-the-ground-up” franchised location, but he and his team faced the challenges head on and became very successful.
Racchi recently spoke to Canadian Business Franchise about these topics, along with why he believes Kelowna is such a unique spot and the challenges faced by the business in the wake of the global pandemic.
CBF: Did you always envision yourself as an entrepreneur? (If not, what were your career aspirations?)
Joe Racchi (JR): My family immigrated to Canada when I was 12 and my parents quickly saw the opportunities in this country. I have always been a very driven person and am not afraid of hard work. Having previously worked on a farm back home, I needed to look for work in Canada, and my first job was with the Vancouver Sun as a shack manager. Through a friend of mine, I got a job dishwashing at the Lonsdale White Spot in 1971. I worked my way up through the ranks and became the head grill cook. I left for a short time to try automotive mechanics, but my heart was in hospitality, and I saw more opportunities at White Spot. In 1979, with some help and training, I was promoted to a manager and worked at several locations in Vancouver. I was married to my wonderful wife and partner, Martha, who I met at the Lonsdale White Spot. In 1983, I accepted a position as the general manager at the Nanaimo White Spot and relocated my family. I moved one last time in 1986, taking over the Kelowna White Spot location.
CBF: Why did you choose franchising?
JR: I wanted to be my own boss and be in control of my success.
CBF: How did you discover this franchising opportunity?
JR: White Spot began franchising in 1993. I met with the team at the company’s home office, and it was an easy decision. I had already been with them for more than 20 years as a corporate employee and I believed in the brand. Becoming a franchisee was the next logical step for me.
CBF: When did you buy your franchise?
JR: I became as a franchisee in 1994. I formed a partnership with a group of investors, and I was the operating partner. I was able get financing for my initial investment using our home’s equity. When given the opportunity to buy out our majority shareholder, I took it. We also brought on two more partners who operate the White Spot today as general manager and kitchen leader.
Head office strongly encourages all franchisees to do their due diligence when making the investment, and for me, having the right accountant and lawyer for advice is critical. You need to feel comfortable and confident in your decision. For me, the location choice was easy because I already worked there, and my family and I love Kelowna.
CBF: What was involved in opening your franchise?
JR: I was lucky, I franchised the location I was already running as a corporate employee. I knew the staff and the guests—it was an easy transition. Once we had our financing in place, the turnover was not difficult. In 1997, White Spot began franchising their second brand called Triple O’s and, in 1999, a site became available in Kelowna. We were given the opportunity to take the site and we took it. Unlike the White Spot opportunity, this was a brand-new build and a very different process. We had to negotiate a lease, hire contractors, get financing, hire and train staff, etc. It was a very stressful time, but all along we had the support of the franchisor.
CBF: Describe your opening day.
JR: Leading up to our opening day, we take time for hands-on staff training. We invite friends, family, and others within the community to practice on. During these practice sessions, we do not charge for anything, but it has been a longstanding tradition for White Spot and Triple O’s to collect donations during this time, to give back to a local charity. Opening day is always full of butterflies, so you start early, have lots of people scheduled, and make sure everything looks great, but this ritual is pretty much every day, with the exception of the butterflies.
CBF: Describe a typical day of running your franchise.
JR: Nothing is all that different to what we do on opening day. We make sure the restaurant is well maintained and in good repair, and above all, clean. We greet our staff, check previous day numbers to make sure the staffing level is good, and check inventory, reservations, and weather. Community events, if any, could make a difference in your normal day, like professional development days (PD days) at schools, which is always busier with grandparents and pirate packs, as kids are out of school on these days. We also use many tools provided by the franchisor to help keep us focused.
CBF: Do you feel your educational background helps in your day-to-day tasks and overall business decisions?
JR: Throughout the years, White Spot has had many workshops and accreditation classes I enjoyed and learned so much from. We basically received our business degree from White Spot. There is a red seal program for employees, managers, and franchisees right now.
CBF: What have been the highlights and challenges of running your franchise?
JR: We have many challenges that we face today in our restaurants, including things such as pandemic protocols, supply increases, increased labour costs, staffing, or when a guest leaves unhappy, and you don’t know about it. I’d say one of the biggest challenges we are facing right now is the lack of staff. I do utilize foreign workers to help stabilize our staffing needs, and being an immigrant myself, I know what it’s like to get a life-changing opportunity.
One of the highlights is when you run into guests outside of the restaurant and stop and have a chat, and they give positive feedback. The restaurant business is hard work and stressful at times, but at the end of the day, you get such a feeling of accomplishment and pride, it always puts a smile on my face. Maybe this is why we have opened our second Triple O’s—our third franchise.
CBF: Is there anything unique about your market?
JR: Our market is very much like a big city; we have all the brands here now, but are small enough not to have major traffic problems. White Spot is very well known in British Columbia, and in Kelowna, we have had a very loyal following since 1981.
CBF: How do you make your franchise standout amongst others in the market?
JR: I wish it was the summer because one of the ways I like our restaurant to stand out is with our gardens and flowers. Michelle (our gardener) does such an incredible job making our place come to life that she has won us a Communities in Bloom award several times. We strive to have well-trained staff that take good care of our guests with excellent tasting food and clean, well-maintained surroundings. We also have regular meetings with our managers and leaders to look at how we are doing and how can we improve (because we all know being perfect is hard to achieve.)
CBF: How has the business evolved since you started?
JR: When I first started at White Spot, it really was more like a coffee shop. Over the years, the brand has evolved into a family casual full-service restaurant that provides an environment for everyone to feel comfortable with. You can hang out with your friends, celebrate a birthday with your grandparents, bring the kids, or be on a date. Our menu has evolved to have many different offerings for everyone. Most restaurants also have full bars now. The Triple O’s brand was not even developed when I began working for the company. It’s hard to believe that 50 years later, I am a multi-unit franchisee with one White Spot Restaurant and two Triple O’s.
CBF: How has COVID impacted your franchise?
JR: Our Triple O’s locations have fared okay throughout the pandemic, but the biggest impact has been at our full-service White Spot restaurant. The head office team were incredibly supportive, especially at the beginning, as our president and senior management had a daily phone call with all the operators for many weeks. They helped us pivot to adhere to the public health orders and implemented programs to support increased take-out and delivery service. Thankfully, many of our employees that were on CERB did return to work, but it was difficult as a business owner to have to lay them off.
CBF: What are your future plans?
JR: I don’t think I will ever be able to get out of the restaurant business entirely. In fact, my whole family is involved, but I do hope to try to work less and get in some travelling once the world gets back to normal.