At a Glance
Tasti D-lite founded
Planet Smoothie founded
Average project duration
On one hand, you can’t really mess up dessert. But on the other, you can always make it better. That’s the goal of Tasti D-Lite and Planet Smoothie, the combined franchise chain that is now developing cobranded stores to give customers the best of both worlds: soft-serve ice cream and smoothies. And for Dedria Ryan, vice president of operations for both brands, the process is a matter of details.
“I’ve pretty much been on all sides of franchising, and that’s been partly to get a clearer vision of the stores but also to understand how franchising works,” she says. “This really helps on the operations side, to work on both the front end … as well as everything leading up to opening day.”
Tasti D-Lite was originally founded in Manhattan in 1987 as a healthier soft-serve ice cream business. Until 2007, it was operating as a licensing system, with more than 20 stores in the New York City area under its name. The brand has since branched out into a franchise system and currently has 40 stores in operation.
In 2011, Tasti D-Lite acquired Atlanta, Georgia-based Planet Smoothie, which was originally founded in 1995. This added about 100 stores to the national dual-brand network and prompted development of the cobranded stores. Eight have already been developed, with 15 more planned by the end of 2013.
Though Tasti D-Lite is still young as a franchise, it has undergone three radical brand redevelopments over the past five years, its most recent aesthetic concept employing a pink and blue color scheme and a sophisticated, modern presentation. Planet Smoothie has bright colors, pseudoretro signage, and a playful presentation. The dual-brand stores attempt to unify these designs into a cohesive aesthetic in order to integrate the franchises as they continue to mature.
Ryan joined Tasti D-Lite a few years after its license owners converted to a franchise system, a process that included a reset of the brand’s initial 20 Manhattan locations and a buildout of the flagship store in Columbus Circle. Ryan assisted by coordinating with the construction department, which, along with the design department, works closely together with operations and training “because operations always needs to look for ways to lower expenses but also strives to enhance the customer experience,” Ryan says.
Tasti D-Lite first contracted a design firm for its brand reset in 2008 and got a concept that mimicked a traditional ice cream shop aesthetic, with classic coloring, custom millwork, and larger store footprints. By 2010, though, Tasti D-Lite recognized that the aesthetic was dated and required a larger start-up investment from franchisees, so the brand downscaled the prototype from 1,200 to 900 square feet and streamlined the material palette.
After the merger with Planet Smoothie, the prototype was again reinvented, incorporating self-serve stations. “We’re constantly evaluating what should be going into the stores so we can continue to minimize costs but still stay up to date on trends,” Ryan says. “The cobranded stores just make sense, and they allow us to cross-pollinate some of our ingredients as well as some of our design plans.” The first fully remodeled, cobranded store opened in January 2013 in Altamonte, Florida, and it incorporates a cool-toned color palette with custom millwork and silver accents.
“Everything is being integrated right now, from recipes and ingredients all the way to uniforms and everything in between,” Ryan says. “When we were going through the codesign, bringing the two brands together, we chose palettes that made sense for both brands, and we’re just pushing forward to make sure the brands continue to grow.” ABQ
Meet Dedria Ryan
Where did you go to school?
I went to Arizona State and have degrees in sociology and criminal justice. Nothing related to the restaurant business [laughs], but I have been working in restaurants since I was teenager.
What was your first construction job?
I was part of the project team that opened the first drive-through for Cold Stone [Creamery] in Kansas. I was highly involved in the design of this store, and this was really the first time I saw how closely store design and operations need to work together to execute the customer experience at a high level. This was back in 2003.
How did you wind up working for Tasti D-Lite/Planet Smoothie?
I had a colleague from Cold Stone that worked for Tasti D-Lite, and we kept in touch. I was attracted to the start-up, entrepreneurial environment, so I reached out to the CEO, and we started having some great conversations. And once I met the executive team, I fell in love with the team and the vibe of the brands. I moved here because it was an opportunity for me to have direct impact on the brands and with the franchise owners.
What personal goals do you have in your current role?
I’m always trying to lower costs in the stores while also trying to be a premier brand that customers really enjoy—but that owners and team members also love working for.