6 Massive Lessons From the CEO of a Hyper-Growth Restaurant Franchise

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, it is quite easy to see that a “plant-based lifestyle” is rapidly expanding globally. Whether it is for health, environmental or moral reasons, there are more people reducing the amount of meat and dairy in their diet than ever before.

This has been followed by a massive explosion of plant-based restaurants, supplements, programs and every other industry that is riding the wave of growth and propelling this movement forward.  

I never like to label myself as a Vegan, but I have been eating a primarily plant-based diet for several years now. When I was visiting my hometown of Barrie, Ontario in Canada, I stumbled upon a Vegan restaurant that was absolutely out of this world tasty, and little did I know it at the time, but it was one of Canada’s fastest growing franchise restaurants with multiple locations now opening in the US and Europe.

Many of my friends who own restaurants and locally focused businesses are interested in franchising, and I personally wanted to see what the overlap of wisdom here would be within my world of e-commerce. I reached out to the restaurant’s CEO, Rio Infantino, to see if I could shake out some of his top lessons learned in creating a concept and systems that are so rapidly expanding around the world. What I learned is applicable to just about any business venture.

Rio honed his skills for the industry over 30 years, 20 of which were spent owning as many as 15 Subway franchise locations. This gave him a formidable understanding of how to create systems and procedures that can be duplicated and scaled. This lifestyle, however, left his health in quite a dire condition, weighing over 300 pounds and completely burned out. He knew he needed a MAJOR change of scenery and lifestyle.

“Copper Branch took several years to fully develop before opening the first location. In the beginning, I would work tirelessly, establishing my contacts, working out my marketing and concept plan, and, of course, working with many different chefs to establish a 100% plant-based menu that was not only delicious, but that had the capability of expanding to many locations and be served fast,” said Rio on the genesis of the idea.

After years of meticulous planning and experimentation, the first location was opened in Montreal in 2014. With 25 current locations and 40 more already in development, Copper Branch’s trajectory is nothing short of extraordinary.

Here are the top 6 lessons Rio had to share from this journey:

1. Be Passionate

“When starting a new business, every day can pose a new challenge. If you are not truly passionate about what it is you are working toward, the journey will be too difficult. Passion is what allows you to overcome and seek success, even when times get tough. “

2. Surround Yourself With the Right People

“I wish I could do everything, but that is usually never the case! Surrounding yourself with successful and knowledgeable people that can help you through your challenges and take your business to the next level is key. I have been fortunate to work with many incredible people, and my job was to find these people and make them work toward a common goal. “

3. Focus on the Big Picture, but Don’t Forget the Details

“A CEO must always focus on the big picture, the values of the company and where the company is headed in the future. However, focusing on the day-to-day details is also crucial, making sure people are working to the best of their abilities and that each action is working toward the mission of your corporation and your vision. “

4.  Have a Clear Plan and Mission

“It is imperative that a clear plan of action be established. It all starts with the mission of the company, where you want to go and what you want to be. At Copper Branch, my original mission was to create a chain of health-focused, 100% plant-based restaurants that inspired and nourished the nation. To do this, I developed a clear plan and many things along the way including a delicious and easy to execute menu, a strong brand and marketing strategy, a clear real estate plan, financing, a franchising plan, and much more. However, starting with the main goal allowed me to establish exactly what other parameters needed to be worked on and continue to be worked on.”

5.  Establish a Strong Corporate Culture

“The job of a CEO is to create and inspire a corporate culture within the business. First, it starts by establishing clear corporate values. What do you stand for? What do you want to be known for? These clear values must then be instilled in everyone on the team and must continue to show through all actions. Establishing this corporate value is the difference between a company that simply offers products or a service, compared to a company making a difference. “

6. Create Effective Systems and Procedures

“Systems are what drive a company to expansions. It is crucial that every procedure is systemized so that whatever is done for one location can be duplicated. Even starting off with just one location, I knew the importance of creating systems. Something as simple as shipping a product to a restaurant low on a certain ingredient needed to be systemized. I couldn’t simply hop in my car and deliver the product; I needed to create a distribution system that would allow this problem to be solved fast and efficiently for one location or thousands. It was imperative that our entire team work on simplifying their jobs by systemizing their work and creating procedures that would allow them to do the same work over and over again.”

After speaking with Rio, it was clear that these lessons are very largely applicable to any business and any entrepreneur that is looking to build something big and impactful. I have personally learned a lot of the lessons above the hard way with my companies, as many of us entrepreneurs tend to do. Here’s hoping these lessons can save you some mistakes of your own, or be a solid reminder of the wisdom you’ve already gained through your experience!

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