For a sports fan, nothing beats the camaraderie that comes with cheering on your team with other devoted supporters, especially when it can be found in a welcoming dining environment that also dishes out great meals and beverages.
If you’re interested in catering to these avid sports fans, read on to learn more about four sports bar franchises that are all-stars at creating the ultimate sports and dining combination in their restaurants.
It all started back in 2003, when Tom Anastopoulos was serving his family ribs. Lamenting the fact that there weren’t many restaurants focused on serving wings, dinner table talk turned to the idea of combining both wings and ribs for an amazing taste experience. This, in turn, gave birth to the successful AllStar Wings & Ribs franchise.
Nadeen Borg, Marketing Manager for the AllStar Group of Companies, explains, “It started out as a location back in 2003 in Markham, Ontario, with approximately 16 tables. People would wait two to three hours for a table.” From there it expanded to Richmond Hill, then Vaughan, and the rest is history.
Borg says what distinguishes the restaurant – aside from its selection of 200+ different types of wings and assorted other delicious dishes – is that “we’re a family-friendly sports-themed restaurant, where people can enjoy and feel comfortable cheering on their favourite sports team under the flags of the world. Families can feel comfortable bringing their kids here at any point during the day. Our food is made fresh to order, prepared in-house with signature flavours and homemade recipes.”
The biggest benefit for franchisees, says Borg, is that they have the potential to make a good return on their investment, while servicing an uplifting atmosphere. As well, “It’s a very fun, fast-paced environment; definitely different every day.”
Franchisees should have a business background, and a background in the restaurant industry is also an asset. “You have to understand the back end as much as the front end of the business. You have to be a very hands-on manager, be a leader. You have to be organized and offer a good level of customer service. We look for a positive attitude,” says Borg. “Understanding the back end of the business is just as important as managing the front line, a support function we take pride in teaching our franchisees to do effectively and efficiently.”
Franchisees receive an eight-week training course, along with ongoing operational and marketing support.
The company, which started franchising in 2008, now has eight locations, and is focusing its efforts on expanding in the Greater Toronto area.
“You need to have passion if you want to find success with this franchise,” says Peter Karamountzos, VP of Obsidian Group, which owns Crabby Joe’s.
Crabby Joe’s started in Ingersoll, Ontario in 1996, and is currently undergoing a rebrand. “All of the new stores we are building and renovating have the new rebranded look. This look is a modern, open concept feel with large screen TV video walls, while keeping the fun and casual dining atmosphere that has always made us successful. We’ve done that with our Waterloo, Stratford, and Listowel stores, and two more recently-opened locations in Mississauga and Guelph.
“We call it a rebrand, but it’s more of a new look, new design. We’re keeping the name, updating the interiors of the locations to a newer, more modern look, and redoing exteriors. We launched our new menu two years ago,” explains Karamountzos.
Right now, Crabby Joe’s has 30 locations, many of which can be found in southwestern Ontario, and is looking to focus its expansion on the Golden Horseshoe area in Ontario. The restaurants offer steaks, wings, pastas and bowls, ribs, and salads, along with Crabby Joe’s Skinnylicious® line, which features healthy and calorie-conscious menu items.
The benefits of running a Crabby Joe’s franchise, says Karamountzos, are the operational support, menu development, design, and locations that are offered, along with the turnkey nature of the operation. The challenge, on the other hand, is staffing, especially when it comes to the kitchen. “Finding qualified kitchen staff and retaining them is the biggest challenge,” says Karamountzos, noting that it can also be a challenge to develop unique menu items to the guests’ liking that at the same time, provide value and are reasonably priced.
Ideal franchisees should be outgoing, hands-on, and motivated, and should be able to manage and retain staff. “They should be someone who can see themselves owning and operating this concept,” says Karamountzos.
It’s preferable if franchisees have a business and restaurant background, says Karamountzos, but it’s not necessary. Training involves working in every section of the restaurant, from dishwashing to the fryer station, ordering inventory, working at the bar, serving, and hosting. This training program lasts for about six weeks.
And the key to franchising success? “It’s important to buy into a system you have passion for, and a concept you believe in,” says Karamountzos.
Shoeless Joe’s Founder Fred Lopreiato remembers the day back in the 1990s when the Blue Jays were in the playoffs, and the crowd at Shoeless Joe’s was hopping. Along the way, Lopreiato encountered many obstacles and experienced many memorable moments, but “back then, failure wasn’t an option.”
Lopreiato purchased his first location in 1985, what he calls a greasy spoon restaurant that served pizza and hamburgers. When he learned the restaurant was named after baseball legend “Shoeless Joe” Jackson, he purchased 30 small TVs and one giant screen, and turned the restaurant into a sports bar. “Instantly, I had lineups at the door every time the Toronto Blue Jays or the Toronto Maple Leafs played.”
Lopreiato started franchising in the 1990s, and says the benefits of running a Shoeless Joe’s franchise are the great menu and great social atmosphere that it provides. “If you’re a people person, this is the ultimate place for you. We also pride ourselves on providing our partners with all the tools they need to be successful.”
Right now, Shoeless Joe’s has 39 locations, most of which are in Ontario, with one in Saskatchewan and one in Edmonton, Alberta. The company has set its sights on expansion, looking to add more locations in Western Canada.
The biggest challenge in operating the franchise is staffing, says Lopreiato. “You need people who like to work and know how to deal with guests.”
Training involves nine to sixteen weeks of pre-opening training, followed by four weeks of store set-up training, and then four weeks of post-opening support.
The best franchisees are those with a great attitude, says Lopreiato, and don’t need to have too much experience. “You need to be a dynamic individual. You need to work the dining room, and be social. The system works if you follow it. You need to be on the premises to make sure you understand your guests and deliver to their expectations.”
‘He shoots, he scores!’ both on and off the ice. That’s how life goes for the iconic former Toronto Maple Leaf now turned sports bar owner. Wendel Clark opened his first location in Vaughan, Ontario in 2008.
“Wendel’s as a concept is a restaurant with a sports-bar twist. It’s owned by a Leaf legend, and provides superb, affordable food in a sports environment. We make sure there’s not a bad seat in the house. We’ve tried to emulate Wendel’s characteristics. He’s a down-to-earth man who is not going to let you down – that’s what the restaurant tries to emulate, as well,” explains Sam D’Uva, President of Dynamic Hospitality and Entertainment Group, which owns Wendel Clark’s Classic Grill and Bar.
Right now, there are locations in Brampton, Burlington, Hamilton, and Vaughan, with plans to open three new locations a year. “We want to grow, but we want to grow modestly at first,” says D’Uva.
There are many benefits to running a Wendel Clark’s franchise, says D’Uva. “We’ve probably got the lowest start-up costs, and lowest royalty fees moving forward. Hopefully, you also have satisfaction in what you’re doing, and are very profitable.”
Franchisees should be passionate about both sports and people. “You have to take pride in delivering the best possible experience for guests. Knowledge and experience in the industry is an asset, but we put franchisees through an in-depth training program. A love of sports and people are traits we look for. The guest is first and foremost,” says D’Uva.
Training is an intense six-to-eight week program, wherein franchisees are taken through every aspect of operating the restaurant. D’Uva says franchisees should feel comfortable leaning on the franchisor to get through the rough periods, especially in the beginning.
It’s a competitive field, so you need to stick to the game plan, advises D’Uva. “If you stick with what is tried and proven, you’ll succeed.”
By Georgie Binks