After nine years with the sandwich brand, the five-store owner says the key to growth is always looking forward.
When Rose Le partnered with her brother-in-law to own her first Togo’s restaurant, she planned to be an absentee owner, committing her money to the business but leaving the day-to-day operations to her partner. Nine years later, Le is not only working full-time on the business, she oversees five Togo’s stores, making a point of personally visiting each, every week.
Le said it didn’t take long for her to reevaluate her involvement with the brand. After seeing her first store in action, Le wanted to get involved.
“I had never worked in the restaurant business, so I didn’t think running a Togo’s would make any sense for me,” Le said. “When I saw how the business was run and what the work looked like, I started to realize it was something that I was suited for.”
Before investing in Togo’s, Le had worked in public relations, an industry that made good use of her enthusiasm for working closely with other people. To her surprise, Le found that Togo’s offered a business model that similarly complemented her people skills.
“I’ve always been a people-person,” Le said “I like helping and working with people. When I started to look at how Togo’s was run, I realized it was a great opportunity for me to work with people in all sorts of different ways, from customer service to training and managing employees to working with the corporate team. The more I learned about the business, the more I wanted to get involved.”
Still, Le was concerned that her lack of experience in the industry would hinder her success as a store operator. Those fears were quickly resolved as Le began the process of opening her store.
“As soon as you start the process of opening a Togo’s, the corporate team sets you up with all sorts of training and support,” Le said. “Even after we opened, we had a field manager helping in our store for two full weeks. Day in and day out, he was there to help with every aspect of the operations until we felt we were totally on our feet. Even now, nine years later, any help we need is just a phone call away.”
Since opening that first store, Le has gone on to open four additional Togo’s restaurants, and she doesn’t have plans to slow down anytime soon. Le said the key to her growth has been a practice of setting goals and moving forward.
“We wouldn’t have reached five stores if we weren’t in the habit of setting goals and working hard to achieve them,” Le said. “We are always thinking about the next step, whether that’s another store or an improvement we want to make with one of our existing stores or anything else.”
Right now, Le has two goals for her business. The first is to hire two new high-level staff positions, and the second is to adopt Togo’s new pay-first operational model in two of her restaurants.
“At the top of our list is hiring a district manager and a marketing coordinator,” Le said. “Those positions will help us oversee some of the daily operations that affect all five of our stores. The other thing we’re excited about is implementing the pay-first model. We see a lot of advantages with that design, and we’re hoping to update two of our stores soon.”
The speed line model is an operational adjustment that Togo’s has been rolling out to select restaurants over the past year. Previously, all Togo’s restaurants used a pay-last model, where customers place an order at one station, watch as their meal is prepared at the next station, and finally pay at the third station when their meal is ready. The speed line model combines the first and third stations, allowing customers to pay as they order, saving time and reducing communication errors.
According to Togo’s President Glenn Lunde, Le might not have to wait long to implement the pay-first model at her stores.
“Speed line is the cornerstone of our future design concept,” said Lunde. “In everything we do, we are measuring the impact on labor, speed of service, and operational simplicity. The execution at our corporate location has been great, and we’re excited to roll out the changes to franchisees. We surveyed franchisees about the new model, and they overwhelmingly support the improvements we have made.”
The speed line is just one of a number of recent upgrades Togo’s has rolled out to their franchisees. Le said that the franchise’s recent partnership with mobile-ordering platform Olo has been a particularly successful improvement.
“We do a lot of catering, so having a good system to manage that is essential,” Le said. “Olo has been a great tool for us. I can keep track of all the catering orders between my five stores each day, and if we have a really big order we need to prepare for at one store, we can shift our resources and staff accordingly.”
Managing resources is a big part of the job for Le, who runs her five stores as a single operation.
“I look at the business as a whole,” Le said. “Every day, I start by looking at what’s going on at each store and make sure each has everything it needs. We have a floater position who I will send out to whichever store could use the extra help. Once I have a sense of where each store is at for the day, I’ll go out and visit a couple of them to put some face-time in and make sure everything is running properly. I’ll work on customer service, operations, whatever’s needed.”
In hindsight, Le said the absentee model she had originally envisioned for herself would not have worked for the operation, even if she hadn’t discovered a personal passion for the business.
“There is a lot of competition out there, and the personal touch really makes all the difference,” Le said. “If you dedicate yourself to your stores and are there in person to make sure things are running perfectly, you are going to have a significant advantage in this business. If you’ve got the passion and work ethic to dedicate yourself to the business, you will be rewarded. I’ve found a lot of success with Togo’s, but I’ve also found a business that I love to run.”