On the strength of a unique business plan - and stacks of crepes, fresh fruit and omelettes - Cora Tsouflidou, 62, is building one of the fastest-growing restaurant chains in Canada. Since 1987, the Quebec-based entrepreneur has overseen the launch of 100 locations in her home province as well as Ontario, Atlantic Canada and the Prairies, with four more franchises slated to open this summer. All of Cora's restaurants follow the same formula: breakfast and brunch only, operating between 6 a.m. and 3 p.m., and producing artfully presented plates in a bright, homey setting. Here is her recipe for making it work.
Let people have a life: I know that many dream of having a restaurant. But then the hours, the operating hours of a restaurant, are really a turnoff. In the Cora concept, you can have a restaurant and you can have a life - and you can have a family life. And believe me, this is a big, big advantage for franchisees.
Be driven by business opportunities, not numbers: We do demographic analysis when we go into a place to make sure there are enough people to feed a Cora's, because it's a big investment and we must make sure that the franchisee will make it. We're not driven by the number of stores that we open; we're driven by the number of good business opportunities. We don't want to open stores just to open stores; our people are not on commission to find franchisees. We often refuse propositions because the rent is too expensive or the location is not good enough. We say no very often. But certainly, we are people who have drive and are enthusiastic, and I can't wait for the moment I will have 200 stores in Canada, which will come. My people would say it would come in three, four years. Myself, I don't care if it's five years: I just want to have 200 well-located stores in Canada.
Fine-tune your business model: We've always got to make it so the business model works. Unfortunately, now, we have to raise prices more often than usual because the price of so many basic food products has increased. So we do our homework and we're very meticulous. We buy centrally and redistribute to all our restaurants. There are not too many companies that have a central commissary, but we do. We have a big advantage: As we grow, our volumes are bigger and bigger, and this helps us to negotiate even better prices with suppliers.
Never lose your appetite for customer service: Customer service is part of the breakfast. I tell my franchisees, "You are the first bite of the breakfast. The way you welcome people, the way you salute them, each one of your people is a bite of the breakfast. If the first bite is no good, already the taste of the breakfast starts to fade. It's all part of the plate; it's not disassociated."
Keep it real: I'm the brand figure - they use me. It shows that this company is the authentic thing; it has a real founder. I have a huge kitchen in my house where I do practice runs, because I've still got to give my blessing to each new item that goes on the menu.
Provide an experience worth talking about: I believe in conversational capital. When you are the talk of the town, this is when you're rich. I always explain to my people: I want the Cora experience to be so great that a lady would call her neighbour or best friend to tell her, "I discovered this great place," or a man who brings a colleague to lunch would go home, talk to his wife and bring her back on the weekend. This is what I want: that we provide an experience worth talking about, that we become the best address in town. It's people, and their conversation, that does our marketing.