Five coffee and baked good franchises share the changes and challenges of serving communities throughout the COVID-19 pandemic
By George Binks
What was the best part of the day when you worked downtown, or your go-to after a mid-day workout with your buddies? Picking up a coffee and a muffin, of course! The COVID-19 pandemic meant a lot of that was put on hold, but now we anticipate a return to the “new normal” of our daily lives—including sharing more sweet treats with friends and family.
Here, Franchise Canada highlights franchise brands Second Cup Coffee Co., Good Earth Coffeehouse, COBS Bread, Brioche Dorée, and Tim Hortons. Each franchise has supported their franchisees in valuable and unique ways, so that they can continue getting coffee and baked goods into the hands of loyal, hungry guests on their daily coffee runs.
It’s difficult to resist the smell of fresh baked goods when walking by a Brioche Dorée café. Alexandra Grudkin, franchise development director, explains, “The French ambiance is very inviting, and the smell of freshly baked goods is quite enticing as well.”
The brand started about 40 years ago in Brest, France and has grown to more than 440 locations around the world, with 11 locations in Canada and one more under construction. It offers a variety of soups, salads, sandwiches, desserts, pastries, and bread that’s baked fresh daily, and is mainly French-inspired.
Grudkin sees COVID-19 as not just a challenge, but an opportunity. “The pandemic kickstarted a restaurant revolution. It really forced restaurants to rethink their business models and re-strategize their store development plan.”
In the early days of COVID-19, the franchise saw a significant sales decline in some stores, with a shift to restaurants succeeding predominantly in the suburban market versus the financial district. Some of those locations are experiencing a much better recovery now, with all the new efforts in place.
To persevere through the past year, Brioche Dorée launched its own app and delivery platform as well as used food delivery apps, supported franchisees with royalty reductions, and helped obtain concessions from landlords. “It’s a matter of continuing to adapt every day to the ‘new normal’ and continuing to listen to the franchisees.”
Brioche Dorée provides a three-week training program and ongoing support from head office.
Most importantly, “Franchisees should have a passion for the brand,” says Grudkin. “They need leadership and people management skills, [should be] business savvy and [have] a track record of success.”
Kiran Behl, a COBS Bread franchisee with two bakeries in Surrey, B.C. just celebrated her 15-year anniversary with the company, and says that her success is all about caring. “I care about the people I work with, my customers, and my community.” Kiran is proof of COBS Bread’s vision to be the favourite bakery in every community.
COBS Bread is part of Baker’s Delight, an Australian franchise that was started in 1980, and today has more than 700 global locations. The brand first opened in Canada in 2003 and now has more than 135 locations, with plans to open 150 more locations in the next five years.
Brad Bissonnette, vice president of marketing and franchise recruitment for COBS Bread, says that the freshness of their products and the company’s End of the Day Giving program are aspects of the brand that sets it apart. “Our bakers rise early in the morning to prepare and bake hand-crafted bread and flavourful treats fresh every day. At the end of the day, all unsold bread is donated to local charities.”
During the pandemic, the franchise re-engineered its product offering to simplify operations to cope with extreme staffing conditions. One of the biggest challenges that franchisees face is staffing bakers because of the early hours and complexity of baking. “Building and nurturing your bake team is a key to success,” Bissonnette adds. The brand also launched an online ordering platform and partnered with delivery companies, as well as completed extensive employee and franchisee training to adapt to the “new normal.”
An ideal COBS Bread franchisee has a hands-on approach to growing the business and building a team, is a self-starter, believes in proven systems, and has a passion for freshly baked bread and treats. Franchisees don’t need previous baking experience as they’re provided with a full baking education alongside comprehensive sales and business management training.
Good Earth Coffeehouse
When the first Good Earth Coffeehouse opened back in 1991 in Calgary, Alberta, founder Nan Eskenazi and her partner, Michael Going, wanted to create a community gathering place that served exceptional coffee and fresh food. Eskenazi says, “We believe in building communities within our coffeehouses and beyond.”
Even with the challenges the pandemic introduced, that feeling of community is one Eskenazi wants to reinforce going forward. “Somewhat ironically, the pandemic has helped us clarify the importance of creating community gathering places,” she notes. “While other coffee brands reacted by shrinking their presence in communities and pivoting to drive-thru and ghost kitchen methods, we embraced our roots and recommitted our brand to creating places for social interaction, environmental responsibility, ethically sourced coffee, and fresh, wholesome food. We all need human interaction, and we can adapt to make our interactions both safe and meaningful.”
Eskenazi adds, “We adapted by accelerating our roll-out of mobile ordering, adding curbside pick-up, modifying our menu, and increasing communication with customers through digital channels, all while respecting the need for safety in our communities.”
Good Earth Coffeehouse now has 45 locations from Victoria, B.C., all the way to Montreal, Quebec. Initial training is five weeks and is delivered partially online followed by in-person in a coffeehouse.
Describing the ideal franchisee, Eskenazi says they should “believe in the value of community, commitment to sustainability, desire to serve others, and, of course, a love of coffee always helps.”
Second Cup Coffee Co.
From its founding in 1975 to its purchase by the Quebec-based Foodtastic Inc. earlier this year, the Second Cup Coffee Co. brand has been part of the Canadian coffee drinking landscape for decades. Peter Mammas, president and CEO ofFoodtastic Inc. claims, “It’s the pre-eminent Canadian specialty coffee chain. All pastries are made by local bakeries and coffee is sourced from South America.”
The benefits to owning a Second Cup franchise are that “we already have a customer base with loyal customers. We have purchasing power and marketing,” says Mammas.
As for challenges with the franchise: “We source locally so we’re dealing with multiple vendors in each province. It’s a big strain on our supply chain.”
The pandemic hit the franchise hard because it’s predominantly based in urban centres and transit locations. Mammas says, “With public transport grinding to a halt in urban locations, we’ve had a lot of issues as far as sales go.”
Fortunately, government rent and wage subsidy programs helped. Mammas says suburban stores that have reopened are already doing better than they were in 2019. Going forward, the franchise is concentrating more on suburban areas with drive-through locations. He also believes the labour market will be improved for restaurants and cafés.
An ideal Second Cup franchisee “is a customer-focused, hands-on leader with a passion for coffee,” says Mammas.
Drive through many small communities across Canada, and you’ll be hard-pressed to not encounter at least a handful of Tim Hortons restaurants. James Gregoire, vice president of franchise operations says, “One of the greatest things about operating a Tim Hortons restaurant is it’s so intrinsically tied to the DNA of Canada.”
The brand started in 1964 in Hamilton, Ontario, and today the company has 1,500 restaurant owners operating more than 4,000 locations in Canada.
When COVID-19 hit, Tim Hortons restaurant owners wanted to help. That’s when the company took the opportunity to donate coffee and baked goods to hospitals across Canada, long-term care homes, and food banks.
During the pandemic, franchisees were provided with daily COVID-19 updates and safety standards relevant to their region. The company also began introducing top of the line digital outdoor menu boards and helped to onboard an increasing number of restaurants to offer delivery.
“An ideal franchisee exudes Tim Hortons values, believes in the product they’re selling, the team members they employ, and the guests they serve,” Gregoire notes. “They value their employees above all else. We also look for individuals who want to do good in their communities.”
Training for new franchisees includes the Tims University training program, as well as site visits and training from designated field team managers and regional marketing managers.
“Being a Tim Hortons restaurant owner is more than just a business opportunity or a passive investment, says Gregoire. “To many, it’s a lifestyle.”