Sometimes the problem isn’t finding a passion in life; it’s finding the courage to pursue it. For Ken Preville, who grew up working in restaurants in his native St. Lucia, the food business was always his first love. But it took a layoff from his job working in renewable energy in September 2016 for him to take the plunge and pursue his true passion. Last February, he signed on as the franchisee of the Pumpernickel’s location in Etobicoke, Ontario, and he hasn’t looked back since. “One of the greatest joys I’ve had in my life is that I found this job,” he says.
That job involves managing a team of seven employees and making sure his fast casual restaurant and catering business delivers what Pumpernickel’s has promised Torontonians for more than three decades: deli-style foods, breakfasts, salads, and soups made from scratch, using only the freshest ingredients. There are 13 Pumpernickel’s franchises right now, all in the Greater Toronto Area, all typically 500-square-foot food court locations or 2,500-square-foot sit-down restaurants.
Preville’s franchise is in an office building near the corner of Bloor and Islington, and though he’s only been there for just under a year, both the restaurant and catering sides of the business have steadily increased since he took over, he says.
As for why he chose Pumpernickel’s in the first place, Preville’s reasons were threefold: a proven business model, sane business hours, and the quality of the product. “The concept is mainly in office buildings, so you don’t have to rely on clientele walking in off the street, even if you would like that,” he says. “It also allowed me to have a life, because hours of operation are Monday to Friday, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. But what attracted me the most was the quality of the product. I really like the product. When I came to this store, I tried a lot of the product and I was really impressed, even though I had never been a customer before.”
Training and support
What also impressed Preville was Pumpernickel’s initial six-week training program, which is included in the franchise fee ($35,000), and mainly takes place at the company’s corporate store. Consisting of modules on brand values, food preparation, catering services, menu development, customer service, and daily operations, it prepares franchisees for almost anything they’ll face when they finally open the doors.
“The training process was really good,” says Preville. “It was a lot of hands on training, because Pumpernickel’s encourages the owner to be hands on, to know their product, so that they never find themselves handcuffed or struggling because an employee didn’t show up for work. By the end, they can basically do anything in that restaurant.”
And as with most franchises, the support doesn’t end there. Pumpernickel’s Area Manager has been crucial to his success throughout this first year. Sure, Preville had restaurant and management experience, but not in this particular restaurant. The Area Manager has been there through the ups and downs, says Preville, helping him better understand the business, particularly the catering side, and making sure the bottom line is strong.
The benefit of all of that training and support is that he can truly enjoy his time as a first-time business owner. “My greatest joy here is taking care of customers,” Preville says. “It’s not like I’m making a bunch of money yet, but meeting a lot of people, and helping them, has been so rewarding. I often see the same people, so I try to memorize everyone’s name, and now I think I know the names of 30 per cent of my customers. And they know my name.”
Not surprisingly, that personalized service is paying off in the form of more business and happier customers. When Preville took over the Etobicoke location, he knew that customer service would have to be number one if his franchise was going to be successful. “I knew it was something we could improve on,” he says, “and now we are engaging with customers, talking to them, finding out how they’re doing, what they’re doing, what company they work for, etcetera. And now that we’re doing that a whole lot more, we’re seeing that people are very receptive to it.”
It wasn’t easy convincing his staff to take such a specific interest in their customers, however. But what helped, he says, was “walking the talk.” You see, Preville doesn’t just preach good customer service. He does it every day. If you ever visit his franchise, you’ll likely find him behind the register or at a food station, cracking jokes with a regular or asking a new customer how her day is going. That tends to rub off on employees, and it’s clear that it does here.
Another big challenge Preville has faced in his first year: finding — and retaining — employees who consistently show up for work. To address this challenge, he has improved his hiring practices since opening.
Perhaps surprisingly, the catering side of the business hasn’t really been a challenge for Preville, and as he looks to the future, he believes his catering revenues will continue to increase. One major reason for that success is Pumpernickel’s main catering office, which acts as a first point of customer contact and also assists franchisees with coordinating orders.
Preville’s future with Pumpernickel’s in general may include another franchise, and not necessarily in Etobicoke. “The one thing about me is that I’m not afraid of a challenge. I’m not afraid to move, I don’t tie myself to one spot, and I keep myself flexible,” he says.
For now, though, he’s staying put in Etobicoke, trying to remember all those names, fill all those catering orders, and fulfill a lifelong passion.
And as for those with a similar passion to his, Preville’s advice for first-year franchisees is simple: stay focused on the people who will help make you successful, not just on how much goes in your pocket. “Always be at your store, focus on your customers, and focus on your employees,” he says. “Go in with an open mind, and you’re going to be successful.”
By Jordan Whitehouse