Famous Toastery Forges a Path for Franchisees to Recover in COVID-Era

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Famous Toastery pivoted on a dime to keep its business rolling when the pandemic shuttered dining rooms, but the brand never took its eye off the ball. Now, it’s ready to reap the benefits of pent-up demand as the COVID-19 vaccine starts to spread.

Famous Toastery, a casual dining better breakfast concept with dozens of locations around Charlotte, North Carolina and the Southeast, didn’t just survive the pandemic, it laid the groundwork for a full on takeover of the pent-up demand for dine-in restaurants when the country gets back on its feet.

In some ways, Famous Toastery’s response to the pandemic followed a familiar playbook in the casual dining scene. According to David Burgess, the brand’s chief operating officer, the company had long been eyeing more tech platforms and payment options for customers, but the pandemic really spurred them on.

“Things like touchless payment and curbside delivery — we had talked about doing those things but it wasn’t until the pandemic that we put them into practice,” Burgess said. “2020 taught us we had to get it done.”

And get it done they did. Famous Toastery always prided itself on giving service with personality and genuine interpersonal connections, but now it’s had to pivot to selling food online.

“Some of it was just pure grit,” said Burgess of the struggle to digitize the entire operation overnight. “We’d spend 24 hours a day finding the right partner. Once we had that, we spent every waking moment finishing it, partnering with our online ordering platform and making sure we were working through the kinks and not accepting failure on it. We needed it to survive. We did what we had to do to put it in place and make sure our franchisees were ready for it.”

Instead of just dropping an entirely new process on the brand’s franchisees, Burgess and the leaders at corporate eased them into the new mode of business.

“We handled a lot of the backoffice side of it to take the pressure off franchisees,” said Burgess. “We waited until they were ready for it. Once they had their systems in their store and were executing on online ordering, we rolled out the next wave on the reporting and refund and promoting side. In the beginning, we dealt with the customers and the backend of it.”

Now, with limited dining room reopenings, the brand has applied that same work ethic to revamping the entire dining experience. While Famous Toastery already boasted the “every server is your server” model of service, it took that to the next level by making virtually any form of payment or communication accessible and acceptable.

“We learned that we can’t be one dimensional when it comes to the approach for a customer,” said Burgess. “We readied ourselves for growth with system-wide touchless payments, pay at the table or via phone options, or you can even scan a QR code and process it there. We went to a digital waitlist. Customers can check in through Google and not even leave their car until they’re ready to be sat. We’ll bring the food out to you. Customers can really do everything from their car in a much more streamlined dining service. However the guest wants to be taken care of, we have the ability to do it.”

Overall, the pandemic caused Famous Toastery to double down on franchisee support. Burgess and CEO Robert Maynard personally stepped in to help franchisees renegotiate leases on real estate when the going got tough. In the future, the brand will create an entirely new position that’s 100% devoted to supporting franchisees with these business challenges.

“We basically helped mostly all the franchisees in negotiations with landlords, banks and on PPP stuff. They’re not there to run the corporate side, they're there to serve people,” said Maynard. “We take that off their plate. They just don’t have the time or knowhow, and we step in and help them negotiate deals and deferment.”

But besides nailing the basics of adapting to the pandemic and supporting franchisees through uncertainty, Maynard says the brand took another, more aggressive approach that will pay dividends as the light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel draws near.

While the pandemic restrictions have caused a boom in QSR, pizza and delivery sales, Maynard says the American people are really missing eating out in a restaurant again. All available statistics and metrics back him up on that claim.

“Life is all about food and beverage,” said Maynard. “What are you doing Friday night? It’s always around bars and restaurants. People are craving going out to nice breakfasts. People want that more than a QSR, they’re really craving that human connectivity they’re not getting. I think you're gonna see an explosion in the casual dining and fine dining world with all this pent-up demand.”

So how has Famous Toastery prepared for the coming boom in dine-in restaurants? By boldly growing the brand while others were struggling to survive.

“We’re setting ourselves up for that boom,” said Maynard. “We’re very bullish for the future. All things pass, and the pandemic will too. So we opened three new locations that show we’re really forging ahead and sticking to our local markets.”

With the first COVID-19 vaccines already in circulation far ahead of schedule, Maynard says Famous Toastery will be there for guests when they feel safe dining out again. For that reason, the time to buy into the growing franchise is now, before the boom.

“For any franchise, if you can grow your brand it helps everyone,” he said. “A rising tide lifts all boats.”

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Lauren Turner
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