After moving to Austin, the Sacramento-born franchisee came back home to open his first Togo's restaurant with his brother and father.
Chris Cornwell spent the first 27 years of his life in Sacramento, California. It wasn't until he was offered a job at Apple Inc. in Austin, Texas that Chris, a married man by then, decided to move away from the city he’d long called home. It was less than a decade later, when Chris and his wife had a child, that the couple decided to move back to Sacramento to be near their family. Before arriving back in California, Chris already had a new career plan in place, one that would take full advantage of his return home. Cornwell, along with his brother, John, and father, Terry, would open the family’s first restaurant franchise, a Togo’s, the sandwich brand that the Cornwell family had grown up with.
Once the family decided to break into franchising, Chris says landing on Togo’s was a no-brainer.
“We didn't really look at any other brands,” Chris said. “We knew we wanted a Togo’s. We’d always been fans of Togo’s growing up, and we wanted to get into something that felt familiar and that we knew we could stand behind.”
Chris worked as a project manager at Apple, and he had some experience in the food-service industry. Between those experiences and the support of Togo’s corporate team, Chris felt he was well equipped to run the day-to-day operations of a Togo’s restaurant.
“I’d done some research on what it looks like to run a franchise business, and we got in touch with Togo’s development team to learn more about their operations specifically,” Chris said. “It all seemed like something we could be successful with.”
After interviewing with the Togo’s corporate team and completing the discovery and training processes, the Cornwells took over their first Togo’s store, which they purchased from a previous owner who was retiring from the business. Chris says having a staff in place from the store’s previous ownership helped them to get up and running quickly and efficiently.
“We were on our feet almost immediately,” Chris said. “The employees and manager there already knew what they were doing, so we didn't waste any time.”
With an experienced staff handling the customer-facing operations, Chris says he, John, and Terry were able to focus on finding which of the high-level operations best suited each of their skillsets.
“My father does all of the back-office administrative stuff,” Chris said. “He deals with vendors, keeps track of our P&L sheet, talks to corporate, things like that. I’m more operations focused, and John works with the manager on day-to-day stuff.”
The Cornwells were soon able to open their second Togo’s store, and now, less than three years after they first reached out to Togo’s development team, the Cornwells are preparing to open their third. Chris says that some of that growth can be attributed to the new speed line operational model that Togo’s has been rolling out to stores this year.
Until recently, Togo’s restaurants used a pay-last model, where customers would place an order at one station, watch as their meal is prepared at the next station, and finally pay at the third station—the cashier—when their food is ready. The new speed line model combines the first and third stations, allowing customers to pay as they order at a single station, saving time and reducing communication errors. Chris says the speed line model, which was introduced to one of the Cornwells’ two stores, has made a marked improvement in the store’s operational efficiency.
“We knew the speed line model was being introduced to a few select stores at the end of last year, so we got in touch with corporate and asked them to consider our store,” Chris said. “The store is very busy, so the idea of getting customers in and out faster was very appealing, and it worked.”
As the Cornwells prepare to open their third Togo’s, Chris says there is no doubt that they will open the store with the speed line model right off the bat, and he’s eager to implement any other upgrades that the corporate team has on the docket.
“The leadership we have right now and the direction the company is moving in is really exciting,” Chris said. “I’m so happy we came on board when we did because you can see Togo’s is preparing to do really great things in the next couple of years.”
Operational innovations aside, Chris says the biggest Togo’s selling point is the same one that drew his family to the brand when he was a kid, the sandwiches.
“The difference between Togo’s and every other sandwich shop comes down to both quality and quantity,” Chris said. “The sandwiches are so fresh and so delicious, and they never skimp. That’s why we always loved to go to Togo’s growing up, and that’s why we’ve found so much success as owners. When we were looking to open a business, we wanted something that we could run as a family, and we wanted something that meant something to us as a family, and that’s what we got with Togo’s.”