Childhood friends Robert Maynard and Brian Burchill are gradually breaking through what they call “the boring casual breakfast segment” in building Davidson-based Famous Toastery into a chain of about 40 restaurants, half in North Carolina. Entrepreneur Magazine’s Franchise 500 listed the chain as one of the companies to look out for this year, and plans call for five more stores to open in the Charlotte area. Maynard talked about the business in an interview that is slightly edited for clarity.
Where did you grow up, where did you go to school and how did you get to Charlotte?
I grew up in the Bronx and then moved to Long Island where I met Brian. After high school, it became clear that college was not the right choice for me. I didn’t agree with all the debt and time involved. I always knew I would be an entrepreneur, always knew I was meant to make my own way, and the best way to learn as an entrepreneur is on the job. I started visiting Charlotte and Davidson in the early 2000s and fell in love. After living in Manhattan for 20 years, the change of scenery was welcome not only for Brian and myself, but also offered a fresh new place for our business.
How much experience did you have in restaurants before starting Famous Toastery?
Zero. Brian worked in all the best restaurants in New York. I come from a banking and real estate background, but could speak his language because we grew up together, on the same block on Long Island and then in New York City. When the time came to open a business, partnering with Brian was a no brainer, and I trusted that his restaurant experience and my financial experience were a match made in heaven.
Who are your financial partners, if any?
Famous Toastery is solely owned by us.
How many stores do you want to open?
I feel like people get too caught up in the number of stores a company has and keep track of that number like a score. We don’t think that way at Famous Toastery. We are more concerned with serving locals quality breakfast and lunch, made from scratch, every day.
Is most of your growth through franchising?
Out of the 10 locations we are looking to open by 2020, three will be corporate owned, while seven will be franchises. We understand the ups and downs of owning and operating a restaurant and can relate to the challenges that come along with the territory.
How many units have closed over the period you have franchised the concept?
We have closed three locations since opening in 2005. They are three great examples of what happens when a business plan is not followed. People do not buy franchises to reinvent the wheel, but to own their own business within an existing structure in place, which we provide, and when that structure is compromised, problems begin to arise, which could lead to a closure.
For those who do choose to franchise with us, however, structure is essential, and we don’t advertise it falsely. When a franchisee first opens a Famous Toastery, they should be there seven days a week, from before the doors open until long after they are closed. It’s simple. We provide the structure, the brand, and the resources. After that, it is up to franchisees to work hard and create their own success. We are more mature now, and able to open corporate locations, so it allows us to be more selective with who franchises with us. I foresee that allowing us to avoid closures in the future.
What does a franchise cost?
We founded Famous Toastery in 2005 ,and it wasn’t until 2013 that we introduced franchising with a barebones location known as a “cold, dark, shell,” starting at $600,000 and going up from there. Of course, things can change depending on various factors, like the location being an existing restaurant already.
Is the declining number of family owned diners specializing in breakfast options helpful?
Famous Toastery’s success is due to being good at what we do. We have one goal: to provide our clients with excellent service across the board as well as excellent food made from scratch every day. We make everything in house. Every day, we roast our own turkey, fly in fresh lobster, roast our own corned beef hash, make our own dressings.
How does FT distinguish itself from casual breakfast chains like Denny’s and IHOP?
Comparing Famous Toastery to Denny’s and IHOP is like comparing apples to wrenches. Our food is fresh, served from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. We don’t own fryers or heat lamps. Do we all serve breakfast foods? Sure, but that is about all we have in common. They do what they do well, and so do we.
What has been your biggest challenge with Famous Toastery?
Lately it has been employment. There are more jobs than there are people it seems. Personally, I am happy to see that employees have more of a voice in the workplace, that they get to dictate and demand more. Overall, I don’t see it as a challenge, but rather as an opportunity to use new regulations in place to my advantage and to hire better people.