starting a quick serve restaurant brand (part 4 — opening day + week!)

Test kitchen over. Enter real world. The Bombay Frankie Company is open for business.

Self doubt will kill us from day 1. And so will romanticizing about changing the world with tasty ethnic food. So in order to succeed, we have to truly believe in our product and clearly define the purpose of why we’re actually going down this road. For me, it’s a lifelong realization come to fruition along with lending my skills as an entrepreneur to a business model that isn’t entirely complicated but can succumb to being victimized by potentially ‘love it one day hate it the next’ diners.

The three of us won’t be deterred.

The ultimate effort in personal S&M (Sales and Marketing)

I don’t think I’ve ever thought much about sales much or even how I, Hiram, Mr. Mac, as a brand will ultimately affect the direction of this venture. The idea of nearly accosting people as they enter the door in an attempt to find any angle to start a conversation about food, let alone Indian food would’ve made me shudder 10 years ago. But today, being so heavily invested in the ultimate success forces you to adapt. The outcome is binary: sink or swim. I’ve wanted to open a restaurant since I was cutting class in college to perfect a French culinary technique but never was able to take myself out of the kiddie pond. So if sales and persuasion skills are what I needed to learn over the past couple of years then I think I did a decent job of doing so.

Speaking of which, there’s an endless stream of Gary Vaynerchuk and Grant Cardone videos I’ve been watching that have served as the ultimate catalyst for kicking some high energy into my sales pitches about Bombay Frankies and various chicken curries and vegetable dishes.

Because we are located in a convenience store, to entice people to come over to our side, we’ve been offering free chai (the kind that takes hours to make) and rice pudding (kheer) samples. Then once they realize that what we’re offering tastes great, we then advance to pushing samples of one of the two chicken curries (standard and the creamier chicken tikka masala) or a freshly prepared vegetable (aloo gobi, saag paneer, or bhenghan bhartha).

Priyanka put this awesome vegetarian bowl and board together for one of our Instagram posts

Division of labor

Between me, Priyanka, and Dean we’ve got a handle on how we should run the front of the house, sales, and marketing, while our chef Kamal and team members take care of the preparation, cooking, and general upkeep. However, that model can fall on its face the minute we exit those double doors. So we’re trying to lead by example and enthusiasm. Zero ego and no hierarchy. We wash dishes, do prep work, assemble orders, and mop the floor.

Even with entirely removing my tendency to be idealistic, in the end I can imagine there will be a near 33.33% split (evenly between the three of us) in the division of responsibility and labor to get this business to our $2k daily target. By the way, we finished day one just shy of $200. In all honesty, I had given us no credit throwing out a paltry $50 sale. The average ticket was just about $10 with an even split between curry/vegetable/lentil bowls and the Frankie. Adding naan and mango lassi helps in getting that number up!

The great product and feedback

There has been nothing but a tremendous amount of positive feedback about how great the food is. In fact, it’s nothing short of spectacular. At first, we couldn’t believe it but, even with us being the toughest critics of our own food, we completely stand behind our product and eat copious amounts of it everyday! Willingly and happily! Since our chef is a longtime veteran of the restaurant industry, he understands the Los Angeles market and its finicky dining crowd. Then there are the dietary restraints. Anticipating the gluten intolerance crowd and vegan followers, we understand every component of our food. Down to every micro allergen. Correspondingly, we’ve marked on the menu any vegan items. After all, the three of us are very conscious of what we eat so it only made sense that we truly enjoy the food we are selling and know about everything that goes into it.

Yelp reviews

Bad reviews during this trying period will break us. And I don’t even think we can afford a 3 star one. But what’s to stop predatory competitors from doing this? Let’s start with bad karma. Fortunately, we’ve gotten 6 five star reviews from real paying customers. And we’re urging customers, with every order, to review us. For better or worse. Either way, we just want them to be honest! And if at all possible 5 stars, pretty please!!!

Priyanka the ‘can do’ graphic designer and artist

Priyanka, bringing all of her fashion merchandising and digital marketing experience to the table, has been instrumental in assembling our visual oriented branding from the choice of typography to the graphic design and photoshopping. The use of a vintage typewriter setting was a conscious decision in helping to augment the brand name. Specifically, we want it to represent timelessness while also being able to evolve — the vintage and antique look set atop a monochromatic sleek (modern) backdrop.

Fortunately our creative skill sets are mutually exclusive — while her eye for detail sits in the image space, mine takes over where motion comes into play and video takes center stage. In fact, check out our latest #bombayfrankie video which showcases the paneer frankie.

Dean the ‘all knowing’ construction and facilities resident expert

Dean’s background enabled us to even have a kitchen and buildout to set up shop. From procuring electrical to plumbing and telecom work, he got it done and made sure the job was 100% complete. Last minute shelving and counter space for where the POS would eventually sit? Done in 2 days. Even when customer feedback after the first two days strongly suggested we add some counter seating, he rather easily removed some of the shelving that had been allocated for various types of chips which allowed for low bar stools to be sourced, delivered, fitted (all in the same day).

“Two or more people actively engaged in the pursuit of a definite purpose with a positive mental attitude, constitute an unbeatable force.”
— Napoleon Hill

Operational difficulties

Our team are true professionals. They understand how to properly handle, prepare, cook, serve, and package each menu item. So I’m going to say at this point, we’ve been lucky to not have encountered many operational stumbling blocks other than the expected ones.

The average time from order payment to bagging for a Frankie takes 9 minutes while a bowl is less than 90 seconds. I’m theorizing that while one Frankie will take 9 minutes to prepare, even 4–5 Frankies can be made during that time. After all, the tandoor has enough space to accommodate 4 pieces of naan and 4 chicken skewers at the same time.

We have to constantly reiterate that we don’t serve fast food. Anything cooked in the tandoor will take time and that time is what makes all the difference in the taste, presentation, and ultimately the brand.

Health and sanitation awareness and handling

  1. Disposal of used cooking oil to fry samosas and potatoes
  2. Enforcing the use of gloves to assemble the Frankies. While hands are ALWAYS clean, there’s no reason to take any chances. We’re committed to observing this practice at ALL times.
  3. Cleaning of surfaces with towels that can only be used for that surface
  4. Handling cooked chicken (hot from the tandoor) while assembling the frankies. While our team is well aware and has been flawlessly executing the strictest standard of food handling, we needed to remove any ambiguity by placing multiple tongs and spoons in the refrigerated prep area.

Print menus and signage

Potential diners and even existing convenience store customers who’ve been anxiously awaiting our opening don’t really know we’re actually open for business because our signage isn’t very prominent.

Me posting in front of our window sign on opening day

Solution 1. We’ve decided to invest in a monument street side sign (on Santa Monica Boulevard), changing the window sign (the old one is pictured above), and a couple of standing signs that will sit in front of the door.

Solution 2. While the TV display menus looks great, many customers want to be able to look at a printed one or have the ability to take it home or their workplace. So Priyanka got to work and a day later these well designed and true to branding menus were printed!

We don’t want to be caught in a situation where the writing is on the wall and we’re choosing to ignore it. If more than a couple of customers give us the same suggestion, chances are we’re going to get it done!

Social Media Posts

I’m not going to hide the fact that we’re having a lot of fun with this. Daily posts are essential all while being carefully planned with appropriate photography. Figuring out the theme/backdrop beforehand has been key to not getting too caught up in it. Also, we had to watch out for the slippery slope of striving for perfection. Initially, we were so caught up in lighting choices and filters not to mention the tag verbage and proper hashtags that one post could easily consume 1–2 hours per day! Now we’ve been able to get that down to 15–20 minutes. And because there’s less overthinking, the quality has improved!

Modifications to menu and prices

At the onset of our restaurant planning and menu design we had incorrectly calculated food cost and labor required per menu item so we collectively decided to raise prices by anywhere between fifty cents and a dollar which would also preclude us from having to do so when California minimum wage rises to $12 per hour. Unfortunately, there’s no way we would be able to absorb that so I can only imagine many other labor intensive food businesses will follow suit.

We remain completely committed to whole or half dollar (50 cents) pricing and my rationale is explained in this Quora response.

Online ordering

Grubhub. Very easy to setup but very hard to stomach the 30% fee from each order. It’s one of the most ubiquitous online food platforms so we’re ‘head first into the deep end’ going with it. Pro: Since our other QSR has been using it for a couple of years, the service has been able to capture an entirely new demographic — one that’s never even set foot inside the restaurant and increasing the average order to $24. Con: the sales rep is quick in getting you to sign on the dotted line but incredibly slow to get you up and running. It’s been 72 hours and I’m still waiting to get fully started even after having signed the paperwork! Needless to say, I’ve reached out to their support account on Twitter.

DoorDash. Again very easy to setup but with a similar cost structure, we’re making less than $2 per order. #necessaryevil nonetheless! Since it’s only been 24 hours since we signed the paperwork, I’m hopeful we can get it all setup by next Monday.

Clorder. Since our chef knows the primary technology guy (Shridhar), we got setup within 2 hours. Epitomizing the highest level of customer service and attention to our account, he paid us a visit, tried the food, installed a countertop tablet, and got our menu uploaded along with ensuring everything worked. We ran a test order this morning from start to finish and the process is seamless. Their fee structure is so much fairer but lacks the market share of the GrubHub and DoorDash.

Also, because Shridhar truly understands restaurant digital marketing, he’s advised us to start a Facebook page and slightly change our web presence. His candid feedback on our company name — it’s too long and takes too much time to type into a search engine. But since we are admittedly emotionally attached to it, so why not create a clone which feeds off then nurtures it. The clone he suggested is Bombay Frankie LA. Since we’re really in no position to question it, and from a practical standpoint it actually makes sense, we’ve already made the necessary changes. And that also means we changed our hashtags to @bombayfrankiela across the board (Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter).

The guesswork of our first month loss

Assuming our current run rate and a slight ramp over the next 3 weeks, we’re on track to lose the amount we had budgeted to do so. Not bad. But in terms of calculating our initial investment, that has gone up another $15k with the following:

  1. Print menus
  2. Additional exterior signage
  3. Kitchen equipment
  4. Countertop equipment (samosa warmer and fridge for lassis and desserts)
  5. Counter area improvements and bar stools
  6. Repairs and improvements to prep refrigerator
  7. Additional maintenance to get steam table and fryer working
  8. Test kitchen extra ingredients

That brings our total initial investment to $25k which is $25k under budget! Since we’re projected to lose $6k this month, we’re trying to minimize eating into the remaining $19k.

Switching out of financials back into the #bombayfrankie state of mind, if you’re in the West Los Angeles area, by all means, stop by and try our food!

..and then please review us on Yelp!

If you liked this post I would absolutely love ❤️ if you clicked the heart button and then please check out my blog c-store ‘nomics!