At YamChops, customers can walk up to the butcher counter and choose from prepared portions of proteins, such as pulled chicken, meatballs, and Szechuan beef – or so it would seem at first glance. In reality, the “chicken” is “chick*n” made of chickpeas, the “meatballs” are made of a bevy of plant-based ingredients including black beans, and the “beef” is non-GMO soy and pea protein. However, just like in a regular butcher shop, customers can browse from a selection of foods and purchase quantities by weight.
Co-owners and husband-and-wife team Toni and Michael Abramson launched the YamChops concept in June 2014 to much media fanfare. Now, with a thriving unit in Toronto, plus two more slated to open in Vancouver this summer, they are well on their way to a burgeoning franchise system. “No one else is doing are what we are doing. We’re the first North American plant-based butcher shop,” says Toni.
Prior to venturing into franchising, the couple owned an advertising agency, which serviced many clients in the food industry and franchise sector. As they were contemplating the change in direction, they considered what kind of concept they could create that would be both unique and meet a need in the market.
“There are a lot of great vegan and vegetarian restaurants now in a city like Toronto, and we didn’t have the ability nor the energy now that we are in our 60s to enter into a restaurant business,” explains Toni. The concept grew out of Michael’s 40 years of plant-based living and passion for cooking. “A plant-based franchise was a natural fit.”
Bountiful benefits for franchisees
Since the system is still new and emerging, there are certain benefits that come with joining the business at this stage, like attention from Toni and Michael. “The opportunity is to work one-on-one with the founders,” says Toni. “They have our full attention and support. Every detail and nuance will be looked at with tremendous scrutiny at this point.”
Another advantage of joining this new system is the opportunity to make a mark on the YamChops concept itself: “This is the opportunity to just get it right from the onset and be part of the creation, as well, because we are still in the creative phase as we develop as a brand,” explains Toni. Franchisees are encouraged to provide feedback as the system grows and fills new markets.
Toni also cites the media coverage the brand has received as an excellent reason to join the YamChops family. “The amount of attention that this brand continues to get will serve franchisees really well, because no matter where they open, they will be bombarded with media opportunities. It just continues to happen,” says Toni.
At this point in the system’s growth, the biggest challenge YamChops faces is finding the right people. “For us as franchisors now, the challenge is always finding great like-minded people — people who want a lifestyle brand, who are interested in serving great plant-based food,” explains Toni. “They don’t necessarily have to be plant-based eaters themselves, but should see the future that plant-based options are leading us towards and want to be a part of that.”
Setting new partners up for success
As for the ideal YamChops franchisee, any food service or business background would be valuable. However, the most essential quality of a YamChops franchisee is the interest in and ability to excel at customer service. “Really, what serves people best is service acumen; a willingness and a desire to interact with people. We are a really interactive brand,” notes Toni.
To hone those service skills, there is a comprehensive training system, starting with an initial six-week process, which is focused on customer service. “YamChops worked very diligently to create a service model which creates a welcoming environment, so we engage with people and ask them what their diets are like, we share samples with them, and we ask if we can share more information with them about the products in our store. There’s a lot of role-playing service acumen that’s taught.”
Franchisees learn everything from personal interaction to phone and email interaction. “We have a system in place so everyone is empowered to deal with every situation that comes up. Any franchisee and their employees can handle an issue on the spot,” says Toni. Training also includes the practical aspects of the business, like how to assemble the food and display it properly, as well as how to make the wraps and the bowls.
But training doesn’t just stop after the six weeks are up: it’s always ongoing. “We come to their location and we work with the franchisees on-site,” says Toni. To support the franchisees, they return every month for the first few months, and then as necessary on an ongoing basis after that.
“We have a system in place that I think is one of the best in the industry – and I get to say that because I worked for a lot of franchisees and franchisors,” explains Toni. “Certainly when we worked on the agency side, we saw things from both points of view. We represented the franchisor, but we also represented the franchisees in most of the systems we did the marketing for.” This knowledge and experience informed the creation of the YamChops marketing plans and systems.
Looking toward a bright franchising future
Looking forward for the brand, expansion plans include 50-60 units in the next 10 years, starting with four or five units in 2017 for both the Vancouver and Greater Toronto Area markets. “We’ve had a lot of inquiries for both of those markets,” says Toni. “Those are our focal points for 2017. Of course, we are not turning down any inquiries, but we want to be able to service the markets really well, and we believe that having multiple stores in any one area is to the advantage of a franchisee from a marketing and support perspective.”
There’s also talk of taking the brand abroad. “There’s already been discussion for the Los Angeles and New York markets, and for Dubai. I don’t know when we would be able to approach those markets effectively, but we are looking at those options,” muses Toni.
As for the rewards of working with the YamChops concept, “There isn’t a day that goes by without somebody coming in to tell me a story about how eating plant-based has changed their life,” Toni beams. “Also, people come into the store and thank us for existing. What other retail environment has people who thank you for opening your doors and creating food for them?”
By Karen Stevens