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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jeff Cohen opened his first franchise location at only 23, soon after he graduated from UCLA. Quickly, he realized that the chain he had loved since high school could also be a great business investment. So, he continued to open more locations. Here's what he has learned as the owner of 12 Togo's locations.
Name: Jeff Cohen
Total number of franchises owned (location):
I am the owner of 12 Togo’s locations throughout California. I joined Togo’s in 2005, shortly after graduating UCLA.
How long have you owned a franchise?
I purchased my first Togo’s in 2005, shortly after graduating from college. I was only 23 years old at the time. I’d always been a huge fan of the brand for as long as I can remember. There was a restaurant right down the street from my high school that my buddies and I would visit whenever we had a craving for a great sandwich – you can imagine we were there quite often. My favorite is and has always been the No. 9 Hot Pastrami with Dijon mustard and pickles.
During my undergraduate years at UCLA, I would often hear students during break talking about how there weren’t any places around campus that could make a great sandwich like Togo’s. It was during this time that I first began to notice an increased demand for fresh ingredients and meaty sandwiches and recognized the growing opportunity that Togo’s offered. It wasn’t long after I opened my first location that I decided to purchase a second restaurant in 2007. Today, I operate a total of 12 Togo’s restaurants throughout California. I look forward to additional growth opportunities with the brand.
I’ve always had an interest in starting my own restaurant business, but did not have any experience in the foodservice industry. Franchising was an attractive business opportunity for me because of the potential growth that’s possible working with an established brand with a tried and proven business model. There are so many startups that fall flat and I knew I did not want to take that kind of risk. Since day one, Togo’s has provided me with the ongoing training and support I needed to grow my business. Taking the plunge into franchising has been a very challenging, yet rewarding experience. After the opening of my first restaurant in Corona, I never looked back.
What were you doing before you became a franchise owner
Prior to joining Togo’s, I was attending UCLA working towards a degree in engineering, while also serving as a part-time consultant for a construction and medical group. If you had told me that I would one day be responsible for employing more than 170 people in the restaurant industry, I would have never believed it. Working with my dedicated staff has been one of my favorite things about being a Togo’s franchisee.
Why did you choose to franchise with Togo’s?
When I first decided to go into franchising, I knew that I wanted to partner with a highly recognized brand with a loyal customer following and Togo’s offered one of the best franchise opportunities in the sandwich category. At the time, the brand had already been around for nearly 40 years, which is uncommon. Additionally, Togo’s has always stayed true to its roots in doing what it does best – serving big, fresh and meaty sandwiches in a fun, friendly environment. I did not want to base my long-term success on my own decidedly mediocre sales and advertising talents, so I went with a brand whose product has stood on its own for quite some time, and that also offered strong support and training along the way. Quality and value are two things that will never go out of style.
How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?
The initial investment of my first Togo’s restaurant was just under $400,000. I took ownership of this location in 2005. The total estimated initial franchise investment for opening a new or existing Togo’s restaurant is anywhere between $258,000 to $529,500.This includes everything from opening inventory to equipment, fixtures and signage, as well as marketing to promote the grand opening.
Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?
My customers have proven to be the most valuable resource I have found when it comes to advice on improving the business. If you keep the channels of communication open, their feedback will help you find out what’s most important to them so that you can exceed their expectations.
What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?
One of the most unexpected challenges of starting a new business is finding dedicated employees who share the same passion for delivering great-tasting food and outstanding customer service to their community. Many people tend to underestimate the amount ofopportunities for advancement in a growing sector like the restaurant and foodservice industry. Over the years, I’ve learned that there is plenty of room for growth, especially with a brand like Togo’s. We will continue to recruit the best talent in order to keep guests satisfied each they time visit one of our locations.
Additionally, I’ve learned that the foodservice industry is a highly competitive marketplace. With so many choices for consumers, it’s important to stay top of mind. Togo’s strong reputation for its fresh, high quality ingredients and great customer service have kept customers coming back for more over the years.
What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?
Always be ready to work. Put systems in place that will allow you to run the store without you having to be there and have a trusted partner or partners with whom you can discuss your business. Every once in awhile, don’t forget to give yourself a couple of days off with only a few phone calls to check in.
What’s next for you and your business?
We will continue to take advantage of growth opportunities to expand the brand’s footprint in northern and central California.