Breakfast is often touted as the most important meal of the day, and the following five Canadian franchise systems have certainly taken that to heart. Whether they solely focus on this first meal of the day, or offer a strong breakfast menu in conjunction with lunch and/or dinner, these brands offer opportunities for franchisees to get off to a good start in franchising, while their customers get off to a good start with a balanced breakfast.
Torontonians who drove along Queen Street East in the Beaches area of Toronto in the 1980s and saw long lineups snaked outside the Sunset Grill aren’t surprised that the restaurant is a successful franchise today. Started by Angelo Christou in 1985, the idea for Sunset Grill came from an all-day breakfast restaurant Christou encountered in the U.S. way back then. Its name comes from a Don Henley song.
Stelios Lazos, Chief Operating Officer of Sunset Grill, says that the operation started off pretty small. “He (Christou) did the cooking himself. It would come out steaming hot, go onto the table, and all you would hear is ‘wow!’ Imagine this food in 1985 – he was ahead of the curve.”
Lazos says the ideal qualities of a Sunset Grill franchisee are passion, patience, and personality: “Passionate about being there and running the show, personality to create a web of goodwill, and patience if you have a quiet day or week.”
The biggest benefits of running a Sunset Grill franchise, says Lazos, are the lifestyle it provides, thanks to the lack of late hours, and a good income, thanks to a high profit margin. The challenges facing franchisees, on the other hand, are rising labour and food costs.
The franchise offers two weeks of full-time training at the training store, with managers on-site for the first week after opening to ensure things run smoothly. Right now, there are 71 Sunset Grill franchises, with another 20 expected to open this year. The franchise can be found in Ontario and Alberta, with plans to branch out to the East Coast and California.
When Humpty’s Restaurants International Inc. started out back in 1977, the restaurant was known as Humpty’s Egg Place, after the famous Humpty Dumpty himself, and served primarily breakfast. “We researched the breakfast market in Calgary, and found that it was very boring and usually ended at 11. Our idea was to be more creative. By 1982, we were serving breakfast 24 hours a day,” explains Don Koenig, President of Humpty’s Restaurants International Inc.
The restaurant became so successful that it started franchising in 1986 in Red Deer, Alberta. Koenig says the menu helps set Humpty’s apart. “We spend four months every year preparing for our next season, always trying to get as creative as possible.” In fact, there likely aren’t many places where you’ll find S’mores Pancakes or Banana Bread French Toast.
The franchise has evolved since then, and is now open from early in the morning until late at night. While Humpty’s serves all three meals, breakfast makes up 56 per cent of its sales.
The benefit of running a Humpty’s franchise location is the great return on investment it offers, while staffing is the biggest challenge. Koenig says personality, motivation, and passion are all key qualities for a franchisee to possess, and that while franchisees don’t need to have any restaurant experience, they should have some financial understanding, along with strong interpersonal and communication skills.
Seven weeks of training is provided, with four weeks in office and three weeks in the store, and area managers are always on call. Humpty’s is located mainly in Western Canada, with plans to expand to the Maritimes and smaller Ontario communities.
In 2008, Chairman Brands got that breakfast feeling. “We recognized a void in the market for a full service breakfast concept. We opened in Bowmanville [Ontario] with 60 seats, operated it corporately for a while, and then started franchising in 2011. We are a 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. (4 p.m. on weekends) full breakfast and lunch sit-down restaurant that offers great service and healthy breakfast and lunch options for an entire family,” says Steve Michalopoulos, VP of Brand Development.
Since then, business has boomed for Eggsmart, now with 45 locations in Ontario, the majority of which can be found in the Greater Toronto Area. The franchise is now moving into Alberta, with four franchised locations scheduled to open this year – three in Calgary, and one in Banff.
“What makes Eggsmart unique is that we use fresh ingredients and every plate is customized to the customer using high-quality ingredients,” says Michalopoulos.
Larry Santolini, VP of Franchising and Real Estate, says the biggest draw for an owner-operator is a single shift operation model which provides for a great work/life balance. “A lot of our franchisees are young people with families and children who don’t have to give up their existing life to own a business. As in any service-driven business, running an Eggsmart presents its own challenges. You have to work very hard to maintain the service provided at a high standard and please your guests.”
“You also get to be your own boss within a well-established system that provides support every step of the way and provides multi-unit growth opportunities,” adds Michalopoulos.
Ideal franchisees have a positive attitude and outlook, along with strong communication skills and work ethic, and restaurant experience is preferable, but not necessary, Training consists of a four-week training program in one of the established training stores, including two weeks in the kitchen, one week serving guests, and one week learning management functions. Corporate operational support is further available for several weeks before and after opening.
It all started in North Vancouver in 1962 with the opening of a pancake and chicken house called Ricky’s, famous for its buttermilk pancakes and breakfast specials. The company started franchising in 1987, and in 1997, Frank Di Benedetto acquired Ricky’s as the majority owner, CEO, and President. The company soon became Ricky’s All Day Grill, with the menu expanding to include full lunch and dinner, and the breakfast menu also growing to include favourite items such as Eggs Benedict and Brekkie Bowls.
There are now 87 Ricky’s All Day Grill franchise locations across Canada, mainly in Western Canada, with two in Ontario.
“Our number one focus has always been on our menu – we change it often, always introducing new flavours,” says Stacey Hansson, Senior Vice President, FDF Restaurant Brandz, the parent company of Ricky’s, noting that Ricky’s also serves raised without antibiotics (RWA) breakfast pork products.
The benefit of operating a Ricky’s franchise is that it offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with a wide variety of foods available to help appeal to everyone. “We have customers who came to us as children, visited us as teenagers, and now are bringing in their children and grandchildren,” says Hansson. “Our franchisees like having a Ricky’s, because they get to know their customers.”
Hansson says the franchise also offers a good work/life balance. “It’s for a high-energy person who is actively involved. You really have to like people.”
While franchisees don’t need cooking or serving experience, leadership is probably the most important skill to have on their résumé. “We can teach people to do a lot of things, but people with great leadership skills do really well,” says Hansson, noting that they also need to be involved in the community, and to follow the system.
The company offers a minimum of 12 weeks of training, and a training team comes in to train staff, as well. “When you’re learning, you don’t have to worry about training your staff,” says Hansson.
When you get involved with Smitty’s, “You’re joining the Smitty’s family,” says Chris Chan, President of Smitty’s Canada Ltd. “We’re not in the business of bringing in franchisees just to get franchisees. We look for people who have the same values as us. Like many of our existing franchisees, our families will be working with each other for hopefully 30 years and beyond.”
Smitty’s, which started out as a restaurant and a franchise in 1960 in Calgary’s Chinook Centre, now has 86 locations from Port Alberni, British Columbia to St. John’s, Newfoundland. Breakfast is served all day, and the restaurant also offers everything from pastas to steaks. The restaurant chain is anticipating the opening of four units in the Prairies and in the Maritimes in the near term, and plans to increase its presence in the interior of British Columbia and in Ontario.
Chan says there are many benefits to owning a Smitty’s franchise. “We’re a family-owned restaurant company with 57 years of experience operating successfully. Our brand and concept are very strong.” Challenges to running a Smitty’s location are heavy competition, government regulations, and labour costs, “But these challenges are offset by our established operating system, product mix, and terrific buying power,” says Chan.
“Restaurant experience isn’t necessary, but a positive outlook is paramount,” he adds. “If they come in with the right attitude, it will definitely work; we can train the necessary operational skills.”
Corporate training is offered at Smitty’s for two to three weeks, as well as at the franchisee’s location for the same amount of time during their initial opening. Franchisees can also choose to run turnkey or leased operations.
Chan says that for a Smitty’s franchisee to be successful, “We encourage our prospective franchisee partners to do their homework, ask lots of questions, and feel comfortable with the leadership of the company and the concept they’re buying into.”
By Georgie Binks