David and Camille Rutkauskas, 40 and 34, respectively, have created a franchise any mallgoer can appreciate: Camille's Sidewalk Café, which offers a tiny oasis for tired, hungry shoppers. Their idea sets them apart, literally--the cafe offers sandwiches, smoothies, salads, wraps and coffee drinks in an enclosed space away from the packed, noisy, fried-food-dominated food courts.
The couple opened the first Camille's Sidewalk Café in the Woodland Hills Mall near Tulsa, Oklahoma, in October 1996 and began franchising three years later. The company now franchises both mall-based cafes and larger, inline locations.
Before they started Camille's Sidewalk Café, the Rutkauskases owned a deli and a sportswear chain. They never considered being franchisors, however, until the cafe came along. "The concept was tailor-made for franchising," David explains. "It's very efficient, and we felt the system we developed could be easily duplicated."
Camille's Sidewalk Café currently has 16 franchised units, with agreements signed for up to 26 more. The company is also planning to open a second corporate location this year, while plotting national expansion. "We have the right concept at the right time," David says. "The fast-food places are all geared toward kids now, and baby boomers want something quick in a place [with a] warm, inviting atmosphere. Yes, our concept is fast food, but it's so much more than that."