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    Q&A: Corner Bakery's President Vinz on Brand Building and Delivering Consistency


    Q&A: Corner Bakery's President Vinz on Brand Building - Kandessa Media

    From a small corner bakery in downtown Chicago, to a coveted brand that has caught the attention of the media, restaurant analysts and chain executives alike, Corner Bakery Cafe has built its reputation in the fast casual segment on brand consistency, innovation, and a menu strategy embedded with healthy options for guests.  Roark Capital purchased Il Fornaio Corporation, Corner Bakery Cafe's parent, this June from Bruckmann, Rosser and Sherrill, & Co. LLC (BRS).

    Roark's acquisition will help double the presence of the brand in less than five years, and then more than triple it.

    In this Quick Serve Leader segment, Corner Bakery's President and Chief Operating Officer, Jim Vinz, talks about building a brand, franchise growth and the importance of remaining consistent.

    Credited with the brand's growth, high marks in catering, and the company's focus on leadership development, five-year President Vinz has been with the Corner Bakery concept for over 15 years. Joining the now 119-unit chain in 1995 as its first multi-unit director, he became vice president of operations in 1998, was appointed chief operating officer (COO) in 2006.

    What has been the biggest goal in maintaining consistency in the brand and the message you communicate in leading Corner Bakery Cafe from five stores to more than 100?

    Vinz: It starts with the food. The brand started with origins that were very culinary driven from an early stage as that little bakery on a corner in downtown Chicago. Initially, that's why people came to us. We still believe, and research shows us, that it's why they come back. There is a comfort quality to our food. We innovate and try new things to build categories and our customers appreciate that. One mantra that we've used internally for a number of years is ‘better food wins every time.’

    We know about our guests' desires to control their time and control their experience.  So they love the form. They love the innovation. They love the comfort. They also need it on their time frame and the speed they want. But It all goes [back] to great food. It has to be served quickly and timely.

    And there has to be a balance with development. It's important that our people have a career path. In fact, our VP of Operations started out as a manager. Throughout the organization we have this in a lot of different areas because we keep the culture alive that evolved with food and people growing internally.

    Both those things have helped us evolve into what we are today—the balance of great food served quickly and people development that we’ve tried to maintain.

    What are your two biggest lessons from operations, and how has that served you well in expanding the Corner Bakery Cafe Brand?

    Vinz: A big part of that is consistent execution over time. We've developed, maintained, and improved upon replicatable, duplicatable systems and processes. Whether it's the build for all our recipes, the number of steps involved in recipes, in our catering builds, to the way we track catering ─ the way we do our pars, or kitchen prep.

    “It's these consistent systems that have been improved over time that helps us be primed and consistent from bakery to bakery, across the city, across the state and across the country. That, and the continuity of training systems, is key.

    Franchising has become a double edged sword for certain quick serve brands. How do you see Corner Bakery growing with, and being supported by the franchise model, particularly with the support of Roark Capital?

    Vinz: Great question. You should know that we just started franchising in 2007. Right now, we've got about 19 franchise cafes open, but we've got 15 area development agreements signed to build another 200 cafes over the next several years. We expect to sign another five to six partners this year. So it's 15 percent of the brand today, and then it will quickly be 50 percent of the brand, and then 65 percent over the next five years.

    Roark [brings] that ability to expand our presence rapidly across the country. They have that experience and can help us identify quality partners more quickly to be able to ramp up our growth a little more quickly. This will help us have that penetration presence we want across the country.

    Its management has the ability with franchisees to not only ramp up at a faster pace and grow their systems, but they do it in a way that is consistent. And I think that they (Roark's managers) do it with a high degree of integrity.

    What resources or attributes do you look forward to in this new relationship with Roark Capital?

    Vinz: We look forward to Roark's management's expertise in franchising. They bring in the scalability and pace of growth. Along the way, they are able to identify areas of process and systems that can be improved and they bring that to bear as well.

    We are excited about the insight they have into what makes brands grow more quickly and effectively as franchisors.

    But remember, we own a large base of company restaurants, as well, and we are continuing to grow our company restaurants in our core markets. I have at least another eight to ten years of growth in those company markets. We'll continue to grow the company presence, as well as rapidly grow the franchise footprint at the same time.

    With the three day parts that we have, and then layer catering, we have four revenue centers that are opportunities. That is more than other brands that have franchises.

    What are the biggest things you can share about building a brand?

    Vinz: It's balanced with making sure you deliver on your brand promise. Every brand implicitly and explicitly makes a brand promise. You have to know who you are and what you want to be to your consumer.

    As we developed the brand from a café to a bakery, we knew the experience we had to deliver. We listened to our guest, and we knew that it was about the food, and how we had to define that food as a bakery café .

    We had this terrific bread, pastries and baked goods. That was critical and central to how we began, and it was about the baking and the bread. Then it was the terrific Panini’s and sandwiches made on that bread. Then it was the soups and salads.

    We just had this framework of what made sense and we could execute consistently, and people expected [that] from the brand.

    People know that we have great food and that it's served quickly, and that it's consistent, from café to café, county to county, state to state across the country. And our guests know it has great value. I know if I have that consistency across the brand, it is also scalable.

    As we now kick off franchise growth, it's important that our franchisees learn and grow with the brand culture, and execute and duplicate those systems. They ask questions and challenge us. That combination will consistently make us better over time.

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    Copyright: Kandessa Media. All rights reserved.

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    Jim Vinz's full bio narrative is found here in our Mover & Shaker section.

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    For Web editing purposes, the extended Q&A script is only available to QSL.Insider members. It will be part of the next monthly issue of Insider by Quick Serve Leader. Not a member? Register here.

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    This story appears in:  Fast Casual | Chain News