After three decades, the multi-unit operator is still excited to grow with the franchise.
Chris Martin invested in his first Togo’s restaurant in Corvallis, Oregon in 1986. 32 years later, Martin is still a Togo’s owner, three-times over with two locations in Corvallis and one in Bend, run by his 32-year-old son, Tyler.
Born and raised in Seattle, Martin discovered the California-based sandwich brand when he moved to the Bay Area for a job as a mechanical engineer after college. Martin became a fan of Togo’s as a consumer but didn't immediately consider investing in the franchise when he decided to leave the corporate world.
“I was looking to make a change, and I knew I wanted to do something on my own,” Martin said. “As I was researching different ideas, I saw that the success rates in franchising were much higher than any business I could start from scratch, so I started looking into franchising. I looked at a bunch of different concepts, some in foodservice, some not. I knew I wanted to find something that I could stand behind. I loved Togo’s as a customer, so I started thinking that might be a good fit.”
While Martin was considering a career change, he was also planning a move back to the Pacific Northwest, where he wanted to start a family. At the time, Togo’s locations were mostly exclusive to California, but Martin reached out to Togo’s to see if they might be interested in opening a restaurant in Seattle. Though the development was not looking to develop the Seattle market at the time, they offered him an opportunity to buy an existing Togo’s restaurant in Corvallis whose owner was retiring. Martin didn't have any personal connection to Corvallis, but he was impressed by what he heard in that conversation, so he decided to research the opportunity.
“When I started talking to Togo’s, I was so impressed with the way they were looking for new owners,” Martin said. “They weren't just looking at work experience and capital, they were interested in finding the right type of people to work with, people who were passionate and wanted to get behind the counter and work with customers.”
Martin looked into Corvallis, too, and was equally impressed. “Corvallis is a small university town, and I saw right away that it had wonderful people and a great climate,” he said. “It seemed like a fantastic place to raise a family.”
So, Martin purchased the Corvallis location and moved to Oregon with his wife, but not before participating in an extensive hands-on training program at Togo’s busy Hayward, California location.
“I was a bit apprehensive about jumping in,” Martin said. “I'd never worked in the foodservice industry, so I didn't know what to expect, but the training was excellent. There is a lot to learn and a lot of work involved, but by the time I opened my store, I was comfortable with everything. I didn't have much customer service experience before Togo’s, but by the end of my first year I knew most of my customers by their first name.”
In addition to being a good environment to raise a family, Corvallis also proved to be a lucrative location for Martin’s Togo’s, which saw a number of benefits from the town’s large population of college students. So many benefits, in fact, that Martin eventually opened a second location on the Oregon State University campus.
“The college kids have always been great for us,” Martin said. “We serve delicious, comforting and affordable food, so it’s a big hit for students, and we’ve never had any trouble finding smart, reliable employees because there are always students looking for work.”
When Martin decided to open his third store, he did so a bit further away, in the neighboring city of Bend, about a two-and-half-hour drive from Corvallis. Martin, who has remained a hands-on owner throughout his multi-decade tenure with Togo’s, was comfortable overseeing his third restaurant from afar only because he had full confidence in the new store’s manager, Martin’s son Tyler, who was born the same year that Martin opened his first Togo’s.
“Tyler grew up with the business, so he knows everything about it,” Martin said. “I’ve had a hard time stepping back from the work, even after 30 years, but I know that I’ll have to start doing that sooner or later, so I’m thankful to have Tyler running a store now.”
Still, Martin isn't planning on stepping back from the business just yet. “I’m in my stores every day,” he said. “I work the lunch rush, I do catering deliveries, whatever needs to get done. I know that’ll change eventually, but I still love it.”
That kind of personal dedication to the work is exactly what Martin believes has made him a successful Togo’s franchisee.
“You’ve got to be there,” Martin said. “Be behind the counter. See what’s going on, talk with the customers, work closely with the employees. That’s the secret to success. Once you start expanding, you can hire managers and step back a bit, but you still need to know the business inside and out. Throughout my years with Togo’s I’ve seen a number of changes. The franchise is always getting better, improving the product and operations. If you stay involved and put the work in, you can do great things with Togo’s.”