In this Franchise Chatter Q&A, we get to learn more about Costa Vida from one of its franchisees, Denny Wagstaff (Boise, Meridian and Nampa, Idaho).
Franchise Chatter (FC): Tell us about your professional background. What drove you to franchise entrepreneurship?
Denny Wagstaff (DW): I’ve been a part of the franchise industry for almost my entire career, climbing every step of the ladder and basically being groomed to eventually take on franchise ownership. About 35 years ago, I started working for a franchisee as a manager, and eventually became a training director, working in human resources and finally a district manager.
I was given an opportunity to buy two existing Kentucky Fried Chicken locations from a franchisee seeking retirement, which launched my career as a franchisee.
FC: Why did you decide to become a Costa Vida franchisee?
DW: Throughout my 17 years as a KFC franchisee, I grew my empire to 80 locations; however after running into disagreements and legal issues with the brand, it was time for me to exit as a KFC franchisee and seek a new franchise opportunity. My experience with KFC opened my eyes and helped me realize that I wanted a fresh start with a concept that would go the distance and stay relevant to the consumer.
When I found Costa Vida, sampled the food and learned about the brand, it was clear that it was exactly what I sought. Costa Vida provides healthy cuisine catering to consumers’ dietary needs, but is also quick, convenient and most importantly, delicious.
FC: What key criteria do you look for when evaluating potential business opportunities?
DW: A lot goes into evaluating potential business opportunities and there are many steps to take when doing so, but there are two standout factors I seek. First, the concept needs to be relevant and meet the criteria of the customer. Secondly, I take dollars invested compared to dollars the brand generates into strong consideration.
In addition to being relevant to the consumer, Costa Vida is approximately a $500,000 investment, yet the store per unit sales are over a million.
FC: What sets your Costa Vida apart from other Mexican concepts in the fast-casual segment?
DW: Costa Vida Fresh Mexican Grill is a very unique brand devoted to promoting healthy lifestyles through our Mexican cuisine. We understand that many of our guests have various dietary restrictions (gluten-free, allergies, vegetarian, etc.), so we created a customizable menu to successfully accommodate guests.
Further, we only use fresh, high-quality and whole ingredients and all menu items are made from scratch every day.
FC: Tell us about the level of training and support your franchisor provides.
DW: Costa Vida provides great training and support for franchisees. Corporate provides manager certification and head training for five weeks in Salt Lake City, Utah. Upon opening, a team of trainers will remain in-store for the first two to six weeks to ensure everything is operating smoothly and efficiently. From there, corporate follows up regularly to make sure everything remains that way.
For new franchisees entering the system, corporate also provides a training program—taking you through the brand from top to bottom and sharing extensive insight about the brand and the restaurant industry in general.
I’ve been beyond pleased with the program Costa Vida has provided. It’s oriented towards the franchisee, so it’s strong enough to get the franchisee, team and operating partner ready; however it’s not overwhelming and still allows you to manage and run your business.
FC: What advice can you share for individuals who want to own their own franchise?
DW: For those looking to own their own franchise, I strongly suggest finding an industry that aligns with your own talents and interests. From there, find a franchise brand in that industry with a leadership team possessing integrity, work ethic and knowledge of the business—not just investors.
FC: What is your favorite part about being a Costa Vida franchisee?
DW: My favorite part about being a Costa Vida franchisee is the reactions I’ve seen and heard from my customers. When I interact with guests, I often hear one of two things: The first being that it is their first time visiting the establishment; or that Costa Vida is their favorite restaurant, which reflects not only the tasty food, but the team and service we provide.
It’s so rewarding owning a restaurant in which people love the food, rave about it, bring their friends, etc. and really fun to see people come in and look around for people they know, as if Costa Vida is a community hang out spot.
FC: How do you plan to further grow your business?
DW: I have three Costa Vida locations right now with plans to build two more over the next few years. I would also like to introduce the brand to Minnesota over the next 5-6 years.