How a Struggling Veteran Found Success at a Train-Themed Restaurant Franchise
Franchise Players is Entrepreneur’s Q&A interview column that puts the spotlight on franchisees. If you're a franchisee with advice and tips to share, email email@example.com.
As a veteran returning from Iraq, it took a while for Shaun Garry to get back on his feet. After four years struggling to find work and accumulating $30,000 in debt, Garry heard about 2Toots from a fellow veteran. The train-themed restaurant concept was like nothing he had heard of before. Even better, 2Toots was searching for veteran franchisees. 2Toots wants to become the first predominantly veteran owner-operator franchise in the U.S. Here's how Garry and 2Toots are working together to achieve business success.
Franchise owned: 2Toots Train Whistle Grill in Glen Ellyn, Ill.
How long have you owned a franchise?
I liked the notion of getting into a business that was already established and successful. I wanted to be in a business where the operating model was already mature and proven by experienced owner-operators who could teach me the “ins and outs” of successfully running my business and also be available to me should questions or concerns arise.
What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?
I was a student at Benedictine University and had been looking (unsuccessfully) for employment for over four years. Over time, I determined that my military combat service was somehow seen as a detriment and was also being held against me.
Why did you choose this particular franchise?
I was referred to 2Toots by a friend and fellow combat veteran from the Wounded Warrior Project. My wife, Stacy, and I then met with Lynn Lowder, the 2Toots Chief Operating Officer and a Vietnam-era Marine combat veteran. He was informative and straightforward about becoming a 2Toots owner-operator. As we met him in a 2Toots restaurant, Stacy and I were able to tour the store, meet the staff, eat the food and watch the customers experience the unique store concept.
We really liked that 2Toots was a ground-floor opportunity (2Toots is in the early stage of franchising). Their monthly royalties are low and very fair at 5 percent with no regional or national monthly requirements. The family-friendly concept created by Dale Eisenberg and Mike Ventre -- two owner-operators with 80 combined years of experience in restaurant franchising – attracted us as we have children of our own.
The franchise also has a multi-generational customer base comprised of grandparents, parents, and kids. They have two well-established locations and there are over 27,000 kids under the age of 12 in the 2Toots Birthday Club, meaning lots of future customers. The food is delivered by Model O trains on a track that goes by every booth and counter seat in the store. The kids were truly excited by the train delivered food. The menu contains many good choices with some healthy food options like grass-fed beef (hamburgers, hot dogs, and chili), gluten-free buns, and organic milk.
Their local store marketing is community-connectivity focused and they have no real competition in their train-themed, family-friendly, healthier-choices market. I also liked that they were truly veteran-supportive. For Lynn, Mike and Dale, it’s more than just words. They personally got involved to help me and Stacy start this business and are looking to help more veterans get into the 2Toots franchise.
How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?
I bought an already existing restaurant so my costs were in gearing up for a grand store opening and other local-store marketing efforts. All together my costs were around $4,000. Lynn, Mike, and Dale helped me finance the store purchase through Ridgestone Bank – a pro-veteran community bank in the Chicago area.
Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?
I got most of my information from the Franchise Disclosure Document and online feedback. Stacy and I visited the 2Toots restaurants to experience the concept first-hand. I also spoke with 2Toots owner-operators about their experience and also asked about their top-line annual sales, food and labor costs and related financial questions. I went online and researched the backgrounds of the 2Toots management team on LinkedIn.
Related: I Was an Entrepreneur From Day One
What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?
It was challenging as this is my first time in business, but I didn’t really run into anything unexpected. I felt well-prepared, especially with the mentorship and coaching Dale, Lynn and Mike provided. My leadership experience from my time in the Army also serves me well. The main thing is to communicate consistently with the management team about the details and any day-to-day concerns. You’ve got to know the operational model in detail and stick with what works.
What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?
Do your homework. Owning your own business is a big step, but it’s also very liberating to be your own boss. Read the franchise disclosure document thoroughly. Speak with other owner-operators and ask them how they’ve done and what their thoughts are. Find out if the management team is competent, caring, and responsive. Spend time in the stores to observe what’s going on and talk to the staff and the customers. Check online to review customer comments and research the management team’s background and experience.
What’s next for you and your business?
My wife and I want to become multiple store owner-operators.