It's always a pleasure to interview a talented entrepreneur, so we were delighted to get some time from Tony Walker, one of the founders of Spicy Pickle.
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Based in Denver, Colorado, Spicy Pickle has built up a great reputation, not only as a great place to eat but also as a great franchise opportunity.
Tony, thanks for joining us. Tell me about your current business. What are you doing exactly?
We consider ourselves to be a high-end sandwich shop that sells uniquely different panini sandwiches, salads, subs and Pizzetti (thin-crust Neapolitan style pizzas) to our customers.
We provide our guests high quality ingredients and unique flavor profiles you can't get from our competitors. For example, we use the highest quality meats and cheeses with no chemicals, fillers or MSG. We also bake our breads from scratch each and every day to provide the best quality experience we can for our guests.
When did you start the business and what were you doing before this?
We started the company in August, 1999.
I owned a computer company before getting into food service.
At the time we started Spicy Pickle I was the Executive Chef of Barolo Grill. (an upscale Italian eatery). I wanted to open my own restaurant so I had the fortunate opportunity to work at one of the best.
Where did you get the startup money?
We started the company with personal money.
Who would you say are your main competitors? How do you compete against them?
Panera and other start-ups like Heidi's and Smiling Moose would be direct competition for us in the Denver market, but we also see other fast-casual concepts such as Chipotle, Noodles and Qdoba as competitors.
The only thing we have control over is service and executing on our promise to our guest. If we make the sandwiches the way they are supposed to be made, offer great service and deliver it as fast as possible then we have done everything we can.
How has your experience in running the business been different from what you expected?
Franchising is a different animal. You need a lot more start up cash and you need a different mind set. You're in partnership with your franchisees, which means that you have to really work with them to accomplish common goals. Even more importantly, you need to include them in the decision-making process that will ultimately impact their stores.
Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
Raised more capital from the start. It's very hard getting a brand new concept off the ground and positioning yourself for growth with limited capital.
What have you done that has been very effective in helping to grow the business?
Remembering what got us here to begin has been critical to our success.
That's great food and great service. The food is always the star and we try not to lose sight of that. Yes, we could skimp on ingredients or use lesser quality products, but we feel the integrity of the food is what helps us be successful so we do not want to compromise it.
That seems like a smart strategy. So, what advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?
Understand your model completely and understand the model both from a franchisor and franchisee perspective.
Just because you have a good concept doesn't mean it will translate to a good thing under a franchisee model.
That's great advice. So many business owners contact us for advice on how to franchise a business. It's not necessarily as easy as it sounds, but seems like you are doing everything right with your Spicy Pickle Franchises. Thanks again for joining us for one of our entrepreneur interviews, Tony, and good luck with the business.