At a Glance
Rancho Santa Margarita, CA
Restaurant branding and interior design, kitchen development, and kitchen-appliance vending
Look and layout are crucial to any restaurant’s success. Kitchen equipment must be chosen and placed so that cooking staff can move around unimpeded, seating must be arranged to maximize customer capacity and comfort, and signage must be clear and convincing to draw diners in. Café Concepts, Inc., a family-owned consulting business established in 2001, takes care of all of this, and its young age and intimate approach are winning it clients both large and small.
The firm has partnered with restaurant chains’ corporate offices, individual franchisees, and independent eateries, including Baja Fresh, Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop, and the Counter. “On average, we provide these services to about 50 restaurants per year,” CEO Jill Walsh says. “About 70 percent of them involve major national and regional chain restaurants. The remainder is with individually owned restaurants.”
Walsh believes a large part of Café Concept’s success is because it approaches service delivery from a different perspective than its competitors. “Many of them have been in business for more than 70 years and have fixed, bureaucratic business models,” she says. “But as an entrepreneurial-outsourcing provider, we offer the advantage of quick and nimble response to the shifting needs of our customers—sometimes at the drop of a hat and more than once.”
Top 5 Pillars of Success for Café Concepts
1. Possess a standard of quality that parallels or exceeds customer expectations.
2. Be nimble in order to respond quickly to changing customer needs and desires.
3. Remain familiar with the latest technology for design, procurement, and all vital inventory and PLU services.
4. Keep close relationships with manufacturers and be intimately familiar with any changes in their products and services.
5. Retain relationships with food-service purveyors, both domestic and international.
Jill and her husband, Café Concept’s vice president and COO, have noticed a significant shift in customers’ needs in the down economy of the past five years. The company is still doing substantial business, but it’s working less on new construction and more on rebuilds and remodels. A lot of the builds are in locations such as strip malls or sites where other businesses are immediately adjacent, and there are still some renovation projects involving old stand-alone locations, but Café Concepts takes the same passionate approach regardless. “We do full project management,” Walsh says. “We will go out and do rough-in plumbing and electrical checks, wall-backing checks, field measure the jobs, and manage the installation—either by our crew or the general contractor’s.”
Each new client and project comes with its own set of challenges, and some of the trickiest have involved negotiating strict franchisor-franchisee relationships. “The franchisors grant us the access to the account, and we must hold firm to their standards, designs, and specs, but the franchisee is the one who contracts with us and purchases from us,” Walsh says. “Our mantra of responsive, personal service becomes an asset in helping to build a solid consensus between franchisor and franchisee within a window that’s often much less than 90 days.”
Café Concepts works differently but just as closely with independent restaurant owners. “The dynamics are different because a single restaurant owner is so intimately invested in his or her project, which often includes a unique brand or standard of service,” Walsh says, adding that many independent owners also have special needs, including particular kitchen setups for their chefs. “Here again is where our responsiveness is an asset because the sequence of development can be different.
At the end of the day, Café Concepts is there to help all its new franchise owners and independent clients create successful businesses, and that means Walsh and her team have to do whatever it takes. “We do a lot of adapting and adjusting in short periods of time,” she says, “but that’s our stock-in-trade.” ABQ