Shawnon Bellah, Nestlé Toll House Café by Chip’s VP of Domestic and International Operations, has served in her current position since November 2009. Shawnon started at Crest Foods in January 2008 as Director of Training. From 2001 to 2008, she worked for Metromedia Restaurant Group in Plano, TX as Manager of Operations, Service, and Training, providing operational and training direction for all company and franchisee-owned Bennigan’s restaurants.
Franchise Chatter (FC): Can you share with us the story behind the creation of Nestlé Toll House Café by Chip?
Shawnon Bellah (SB): It all started with a bag of Nestlé Toll House chocolate chip morsels. After two years of discussion with Nestlé, we were able to get approval to open our first Nestlé Toll House Café in 2000 in Frisco, TX. The first café was positioned as a cookie store and then grew into a cookie and coffee café. Now, we have over 100 cafés that offer indulgent baked goods, coffee, and ice cream.
FC: For those unfamiliar, please tell us about your menu? What is a typical café’s sales mix like? In what product categories do you see the most opportunity for growth?
SB: We have over 20 bakery items in our bakery display case on a daily basis. These change out as we introduce new items and bake fresh items as needed. All of our menu items are made with Nestlé products, whether it is morsels, La Lachera sweetened condensed milk, or Nestlé candy brands, like Crunch, Butterfinger, etc.
We make customized cookie cakes for all occasions and with all varieties of decoration. We also offer Nescafé as our premium coffee partner — serving lattes, cappucinos, mochas, and frozen mocha beverages. Our ice cream partners are Dreyer’s and Haagen-Dazs brands and we feature amazing sundaes, shakes, and our signature homemade ice cream sandwiches.
We are focused on growing our Core 4 – dozen cookies, mini cookies, cookie cakes, and our beverage category.
FC: What are some of the main day-to-day tasks of a Nestlé Toll House Café by Chip franchisee who is an owner-operator?
SB: Every morning, our operators wake to bake – it takes two hours to bake everything fresh and be ready for the first Nestlé customer of the day. The franchisee is ready to take cookie cake orders, serve baked fresh desserts, and handle all customer situations and employee situations that may arise. They are also focused on marketing their café on a local level on a daily basis.
FC: How much of the food preparation and baking are done in the stores? Is a baking background (or a love for baking) a critical factor for success?
SB: All of the food preparation and baking are done on site. When we look for franchisees, we first look for those that understand the power of the Nestlé brand and understand that serving others is our number 1 priority. This business is a service business, and the baking comes second. We want to always ensure that our success starts with service and then being the brand ambassador for Nestlé Toll House.
FC: Can you describe the ideal franchisee for a Nestlé Toll House Café by Chip?
SB: We look for a franchisee that is ready to be a part of a large brand that has certain expectations. We want franchisees that are ready to serve the customer and their team members. The ideal franchisee will have passion for the business, a strong business background, and a willingness to give of himself or herself to the business.
FC: What is the ideal neighborhood and territory for a Nestlé Toll House Café by Chip? In what regions of the country do you see the strongest demand for your cafés?
SB: We traditionally target high traffic malls with a large concentration of families. We have a strong demand for our concept in Houston, Dallas, and on the East Coast. We have just begun to see a lot of demand for our product in the Middle East, as we have begun expansion internationally.
FC: What are some of the things you are doing to help your franchisees become profitable?
SB: Training, Training, Training – we ensure that all of our franchisees go through a strenuous 10-day training course in Dallas, TX. There are hours of training in the café, at the support office, and over 15 hours of homework during this time.
We support our franchisees on a daily basis with operational tools, training tools, and development. We offer regional training meetings and an annual training conference. We also negotiate pricing for products on a national level and support them with all national and local store marketing.
FC: What are your goals for Nestlé Toll House Café by Chip in the next few years and how do you plan to grow your business?
SB: We will grow the business from 100 cafés to 450 cafés over the next 5 years. This will happen through current franchisees building additional cafés, new awards, and entering into non-traditional locations. We will also focus on the bakery and beverage side of our business. We want everyone to think of Nestlé Café whether they are looking for a dessert or maybe just a quick snack.
FC: What advice can you give prospective franchisees on how to evaluate the overwhelming number of franchise opportunities available to them?
SB: First, you must believe in the product that the franchisor offers. Next, you want a franchise system that assists in real estate and location review. You also have to determine the earning capabilities of the concept, and what the business can bring to you and your future. Finally, investigate whether the franchisor has the proper support center to help you grow your new franchise venture.
FC: Is there anything else you wish to share about Nestlé Toll House Café by Chip?