The Story Behind the Debut of This Potato-Centric Franchise
In 2011, Allen Dikker founded a fast-casual chain that is all about potatoes.
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The restaurant industry is currently obsessed with fast casual. With brands like Chipotle and Shake Shack riding high, any entrepreneur starting out in the industry hopes to found the next big chain. However, a surprisingly few number of the biggest names in the fast-casual industry are franchises.
Bucking the trend, Allen Dikker decided to debut his potato-centric fast-casual concept as a franchise in 2011. Today, Potatopia plans to open more than 15 locations by the end of 2015. Here's what Dikker has learned as a founder, franchisor and franchisee.
How long have you owned a franchise?
I opened the first Potatopia in December of 2011, in Edison, New Jersey, and then we opened up the flagship location in Manhattan in 2013, followed by our Staten Island Mall location in 2014. This year, most recently, a franchisee opened up a Jersey City location, and our latest location in Long Island is opening up in February.
I wanted to take a competitive advantage of creating a unique and innovative brand similar to a Shake Shack, Chipotle, or Starbucks, as these are companies that most people in my industry aspire to. The difference is that franchisees cannot be part of that success, as none of these companies are franchised. Meanwhile Potatopia is available for franchising. As long as we continue to build the brand's vision and educate the franchisees of how strict we are on the principles of the brand, we can manage the growth.
Related: I Had More Entrepreneurial Passion Than Experience. So, I Became a Franchisee.
What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?
I was the owner of non-traditional advertising company.
Why did you choose this particular franchise?
I had a passion for branding. My dream was always to create a brand and grow it to become a household name. When the recession hit in 2008, my media company suffered tremendously. When the Dow Jones fell to 6,000, I felt the hit instantly. For two years, I continued to keep the company afloat. Consumer confidence for my product started to dwindle as companies' advertising budgets were getting cut. My stress reliever was cooking for my family at night. That's when the idea of Potatopia started to come alive.
It took me about two years of business planning before I opened my first store. Between creating an intriguing brand and an innovative fast casual restaurant concept, the synergy created the perfect recipe for something new on within the industry. I wanted to lead a new segment in the fast-casual arena.
How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?
A little over $200,000. The first store between design, construction and equipment cost close to $150,000 and the other $50,000 was supplies, marketing, working capital, and research and development.
Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?
I became a sponge. I literally asked hundreds of questions, read a ton of industry trade material, traveled to every food/hospitality trade show and worked a couple of hours a day at a quick service restaurant to learn from the operations side (for free). In essence, I became a student of the industry.
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What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?
There are many moving parts while building a company. The most unexpected challenge is "evolving"—systems must evolve to become better. The challenge is questioning, 'What is right for the brand?' Is it right for the operations? Is it right for the consumer? In my opinion and from my personal experience, questioning every change is the challenge. However, changes must be made to learn from good and bad mistakes.
What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?
Make sure you have a clear vision for what you want to achieve, and do not steer away from it. As franchisees come on board, everyone has their own opinion. I believe that it's important to listen, but always make sure all ideas are within the brand's vision.
What's next for you and your business?
Since 2011, we have developed five stores. During this time, we've had the opportunity to learn from any mistakes. We have now honed in on strong site selection, and our operations system is at its very best. Brand awareness also is getting more traction and we are taking it to market more aggressively.
In the next nine months, you'll see another three stores open, and we are looking to have close to 100 stores within five years, between corporate and franchisees. I also have a potato cookbook that will be published in 2016.
Related: It Is Not My Goal to be the Biggest, Simply the Best