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You’ve Got What It Takes: Tammy Wright, Chris Diana and Ricky’s All Day Grill

crop3By Peter Saunders
You don’t need a business degree to become a franchisee. Franchising is the world’s most successful business model because it takes people from all walks of life and gives them the tools they need to be entrepreneurs. Considering your talents, skills and life experience, you’ve probably got a lot to be confident about as you prepare for your franchise journey.

Still have doubts? Maybe your career thus far has been different from the franchise you hope to run? In ‘You’ve Got What It Takes,’ we show you how your past career and other types of experience can be applied in a franchise setting.

What they do:
Tammy Wright and Chris Diana co-own and operate a Ricky’s All Day Grill restaurant as part of the Best Western Seven Oaks Hotel in Regina. Tammy serves as the franchise’s general manager (GM), while Chris runs the kitchen.

They met in 2007, when Chris joined Seven Oaks as its in-house restaurant’s chef. As one of the partners running the hotel, Tammy had already planned to close the generic restaurant and replace it with a higher-profile franchise. That same year, they settled on Ricky’s as a good fit.

“We wanted a Canadian casual family restaurant that served all three meals,” Tammy explains. “After an extensive search, Ricky’s was best-suited to Best Western’s image and brand.”

crop2“I had been to Ricky’s and liked its atmosphere and colour, so I got excited about investing as a partnership,” says Chris. “The strategy was to start getting people who weren’t hotel guests as customers for the hotel’s restaurant. Breakfast was important, for example, because there are hardly any other breakfast restaurants in the neighbourhood.”

As Regina’s first Ricky’s franchisees, Tammy and Chris travelled to Calgary for training. Chris also visited one of the system’s busiest franchises in Chilliwack, B.C., to see how its kitchen operated.

“We’ll try to beat them!” he laughs.

They converted Seven Oaks’ existing banquet halls into a 465-m2 (5,000-sf) Ricky’s with 200 seats and street-front exposure. The older restaurant, in turn, became the hotel’s new banquet space.

“I lead the kitchen for the whole hotel and we still have a buffet service for banquets,” Chris says. “I have a kitchen staff of 25 and sometimes have to bring in more.”

crop1Indeed, both Tammy and Chris describe the restaurant as very busy, but also manageable.

“I thought it would be harder to get up and running,” says Tammy. “It was certainly a day-and-night job at the beginning, but it quickly became easier and we’ve maintained consistent sales since we opened. Usually, the hotel food-service business goes up and down more at different times of year.”

“Our strategy has worked out well for us, as the restaurant attracts people from outside,” says Chris. “The parking lot is always full!”

In 2010, they won the Franchisee of the Year award from Ricky’s for the region encompassing Saskatchewan and Southern Alberta.

“That was a big shock for us!” says Tammy. “They look at operations, performance, sales, quality and consistency of food—and we had only been open for a few years.”

One of the reasons for their success is how well they work together.

“Tammy’s a great partner,” says Chris. “She handles the front end and cash, while I’ve got the back end and ordering. I also have a kitchen manager and a sous-chef to help run the restaurant. You need all of those skills in this business.”

How they got here:

  • Chris emigrated from the Philippines as a teenager and got a job washing dishes for a Regina restaurant. One week when the chef was away, he got his first chance to show off his cooking skills, preparing a seafood buffet.
  • Tammy was born in Melville, Sask., and moved to Regina as a child. Her favourite high school subject was accounting. After graduating, she got into the hospitality business, working at a local franchised restaurant.
  • Chris rose through the ranks of the food-service industry, becoming a line cook, a hotel sous-chef and an executive sous-chef before opening his own restaurant in 2000. He also participated in culinary arts competitions, both in Canada and internationally, winning 161 medals in food preparation and associated events like ice sculpting.
  • Tammy transitioned into the hospitality industry, earning her certification as both a food and beverage server and a hotel front-desk agent. “I like hotels because you’re dealing with the public and the scenery changes as you work in different areas,” she says. At Regina’s iconic downtown Plains Hotel, she rose up to assistant GM—where her accounting background helped with bookkeeping—and finally partner in both the Plains and Seven Oaks.
  • After running his restaurant for seven years, Chris sold it and became head chef at Seven Oaks. “Owning my restaurant wasn’t enough,” he says. “Being in a hotel, I can still compete in food and ice sculpting events.”
  • Tammy and her business partners decided to sell the Plains and use the money to buy a franchise for Seven Oaks. The Plains was bought by BrightStar and Westgate Developments, which announced plans to demolish and replace it with a new Hilton Garden Inn and the Capital Pointe condominium complex.
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