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How a Cafe Chain Rebranded With a Pro Surfer

This story appears in the April 2012 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

When 11-time world champion throws his clout (and well-toned six-pack) behind a company, people notice. That was Bill Trefethen's thinking when planning the turnaround strategy for Daphne's Greek Cafe--a bankrupt fast-casual restaurant chain based in Carlsbad, Calif. Trefethen's Wreath Equity purchased the chain in 2010 and has relaunched it as Daphne's California Greek, naming Slater as ambassador.

"Every brand needs to evolve, and we wanted to create one that's a little edgy, with a shitload of energy," says CEO Trefethen, who believes getting the perfect ambassador was critical to that evolution. Now Daphne's has a new look and logo, drastically altered menu, smart social media presence and a transformed reputation as a supporter of local and independent artists and musicians--plus Team Daphne's, a talented youth surfing team mentored by the Slats himself.

The burning question: What does it take to win a celebrity over? We asked; Slater answered.

More successful companies have offered you bigger deals. Why Daphne's?
I wasn't sure if I would be interested in a food chain, but I started to read about it, went to eat there, talked to Bill about how he was doing a makeover with the look and branding and menu, and it seemed interesting. Daphne's is smaller and private, and it was a way for me to learn and grow with the brand.

So it's not about money.
Not to me. I'm interested when someone represents a certain philosophy that I'm aligned with, and I'll say I like it if I like it, with or without a sponsorship.

What's the philosophy you like?
Really connecting with the community. The thing about surfing and skating is that there's a certain level of access and openness. Any pro can show up in your stretch of ocean or at your park, but Kobe Bryant is probably not gonna be at your basketball court. I get something out of it because I want to be connected to a company that helps connect me to the community. Daphne's is putting money where [its] mouth is, creating a surf team and sponsoring talented kids.

What's the coolest thing about the rebranding?
I like the idea that Bill wants to make every restaurant unique to the local community, from promoting the art and music down to the people he wants to hire in each one. Huntington Beach is going to be different from Newport, and different than something up in L.A. That's what's really cool--that this could grow nationally but stay localized.

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