(Ambrosio’s note: There are so many frozen yogurt franchises trying to make a name for themselves in this increasingly crowded category. But a lot of the smaller players can’t seem to distinguish themselves and their offerings from the major brands. What I like most about Starfruit Cafe is that their point of differentiation is very clear — they don’t serve frozen yogurt, they offer something that’s healthier (Kefir). The brand is probably unfamiliar to most people, given that they only have 4 stores, all of which are in the Chicago area. But there’s a lot of demand for treats that are “better for you” — whether it be yogurt or something completely different. I think Starfruit Cafe can carve out their own little niche in the frozen treats category and I expect we’ll hear a lot more from them in the months to come.)
Todd West worked at Starbucks Coffee Company for over 7 years, first as a District Manager directing the operations of 10 flagship stores in the high profile shopping district of downtown Chicago, and then as a Regional Manager responsible for 8 District Managers within the Chicago region, 180 stores, and over 20 national licensee relationships.
In February 2009, Todd joined Starfruit Cafe as its VP of Operations and Franchise Sales and is presently responsible for all aspects of Starfruit Cafe’s operations, brand awareness, financial and franchise development.
1. What made you decide to join Starfruit Cafe?
I was looking for a new opportunity where I could utilize my skills that I acquired at a large company like Starbucks and apply them to a smaller, new, hip, growing company like Starfruit Cafe. I was really attracted to the Lifeway brand, its company history, the leaders of the organization, the culture and entrepreneurial spirit, coupled with the growth opportunities.
2. Why should someone interested in owning his or her own business consider a frozen treats franchise?
Starfruit Cafe is part of the Lifeway Food Corp. which is the largest manufacturer and distributor of Kefir in the US. Starfruit Cafe is a simple operation that provides a new, healthy, probiotic breakfast and dessert alternative. It requires a small store footprint, relatively low initial investment, and is part of a rapidly growing product category that creates a very powerful business opportunity and marketable franchise.
We are not just your typical fro-yo concept. We offer frozen kefir, which is like a healthier version of yogurt and contains 10 active cultures. More and more people are learning about the health benefits that Lifeway Kefir has to offer. Starfruit is a perfect way to bring a soft serve treat or smoothie to our consumers without feeling guilty.
4. What qualities do you look for in a prospective franchisee?
We are looking for potential franchisees who have a strong passion towards supporting a concept that is in the health conscious segment. One who has the ability to recognize that we are in our early stages of growth and that it will require a strong drive and passion to support our objectives.
Our ideal store location would be in high traffic areas during the am and evening parts. We are strategically located in areas that support an active and healthy lifestyle. Warm climate is definitely a plus.
6. Based on your observations, what concrete steps do your most successful franchisees take in order to build and grow their businesses?
We currently do not have a franchisee on board at this time. We have two concepts that are being operated by Levy Corp. For these concepts, customer service is the key to their success. How well they know how to describe kefir and its benefits is crucial. We are building our brand and it is very important to us to make sure our customers realize that we are not another yogurt concept.
We provide ongoing product development, quarterly marketing plans, push for innovation, and strong training around brand and product awareness. Ongoing support is provided to reduce cost controls and increase sales initiatives.
8. What would you tell a prospective franchisee who wants to know about the profit potential of a Starfruit Cafe franchise?
At this time, we are not releasing any of our financial information. We have been experiencing 15-20% comps year over year for the past 3 years.
I enjoy the fast paced, ever changing, entrepreneurial culture that we have at Lifeway and Starfruit. I love seeing the smiles on our customers’ faces when they try Starfruit frozen kefir for the first time — especially when they find out how few calories it has and all the benefits that come with probiotics. It’s an exciting time for Starfruit Cafe and everyday brings a new challenge and a great opportunity for us to connect with customers.