Interview with Vice President of Franchise Development for Opa! Souvlaki


Apr 25, 2011

Jeff Young is the Vice President Development for OPA! Souvlaki Franchise Group Inc. and is responsible for the franchise development of the OPA! brand throughout Canada. Since joining the company, OPA! has become Canada’s largest and fastest growing Greek food franchise. With more than 2 decades of franchising experience, Jeff has championed the franchise development of some of Canada’s most recognized franchise brands within the quick service /fast casual restaurant and retail sectors.

Jeff is an active supporter of the Canadian Franchise Association and served as the Chair of the 2006 CFA Annual Convention. He was a speaker at the CFA’s Annual Convention and was a member of the CFA’s Membership Committee. He is a regular participant at the CFA Franchise Show “Ask the Experts.”

BeTheBoss - Tell us about the OPA! concept.

Jeff Young - In 1998, Niko Tiginagas opened the first OPA! in Market Mall, Calgary with a passion of serving flavourful food with legendary customer service. Within the first year in business, OPA! became the number one operator with in the food court. To this day, the first OPA! in Market Mall remains a top performer and since its inception, OPA! has grown to become Canada’s largest and fastest growing Greek food franchise with over 75 units from British Columbia to Ontario. OPA! has recently entered into a partnership with Access Quebec to bring OPA! into the province of Quebec.

OPA! is the market leader in the high growth Mediterranean food category and has become famous for its delicious tasting and healthy Greek food. The OPA! menu features savoury souvlaki; fresh salads; warm & seasoned pita; roasted potato; steamed rice; calamari & fries and is extremely popular with healthy eating consumers.

The OPA! franchise concept is available in two formats including a 400-500 square foot quick service food court unit and a 1,200-1,400 square foot fast-casual restaurant. The two models are quite different from one another. Our quick service food court model capitalizes on business generated from employees and shoppers within enclosed shopping mall. Our fast casual storefront model capitalizes on business generated from more revenue streams including shoppers to the shopping centre, catering and delivery business.

It is a great concept!

BTB - How and when did you become involved with OPA?

JY - In April of 2008, Pat Gibbons became President & CEO of OPA! Souvlaki Franchise Group . Pat and I experienced success while working together at Country Style Food Services. When he asked me to join the organization I researched the OPA! business and discovered that OPA! was a very successful franchise concept within a growing category. I learned that the business model was very strong and there were many multi-unit franchisees. For me, this is one of the best validations to a franchise concept, as it demonstrates that existing franchisees are happy, successful and re-investing in the brand. I also saw a huge potential for growth in many markets throughout Canada, particularly in Ontario. As a result of my research and due diligence, I joined OPA! in May of 2008.

BTB - What was your background prior to joining OPA!

JY - I have enjoyed a rewarding career in the franchise industry in a development capacity and I have been fortunate to spend most of my career in the franchise industry working with some of Canada’s most recognized franchise brands including Quizno's and County Style.

BTB - What are some of the advantages in being an OPA! franchisee?

JY - Some of the advantages of being an OPA! franchisee include a proven and comprehensive franchise program, including a “turnkey” set up of the restaurant. What I mean by that is that we design, construct and fixture the restaurant for our franchisee.

One of the fist things we do is research the market to determine the best sites for our restaurants. We choose the location and conduct the lease negotiations with the landlord. OPA! is on the head lease and subleases to our Franchisees, so this process gives the Franchisee and the bank the comfort that OPA! believes in and is committed to the site.

When a franchisee is approved for a particular site, we assist OPA! franchisees with applying for bank financing under the Canadian Small Business Financing Act (CSBFA) which is available through all the chartered banks in Canada.

After the bank financing is approved, our construction team takes care of the restaurant design and construction. Once we have the blueprints, we go to the market seeking multiple tenders for each new restaurant. This ensures that we are getting the best possible workmanship at the best possible prices.

While the restaurant is under construction, our operations team sets up initial training for two weeks in a designated OPA! restaurant, located in key markets throughout Canada. This provides the franchisee with real-life training in a fully operational restaurant. Following the initial training and the completion of the construction of the restaurant, we provide our franchisees with on-site pre and post opening support. This allows hands-on support in the early days of the business.

Once the restaurant is open for business, we provide on-going support in the areas of operations, marketing, supply chain and new product development.

BTB - Who is your ideal franchisee?

JY - While OPA! franchisees come from a varied backgrounds, successful franchisees have similar character traits. The ideal OPA! franchisee is a hard working individual who is entrepreneurial in nature and can work within a franchise system. To run a successful OPA! franchise operators must be passionate about the restaurant business; devoted to providing legendary customer service; highly committed to delivering a quality product; and unwavering in maintaining a clean environment. The ideal OPA! franchisee gets involved in the market by becoming the “mayor” of the community. By supporting the local community, the local community reciprocates by supporting them back.

BTB - Tell us a little about the Quick Service Restaurant Market?

JY - Years ago, the Quick Service Restaurant market was dominated by restaurant giants that served not so healthy “fast food” which was laden with calories, trans fat and sodium. Over time, consumer demands have changed and today, more and more consumers are seeking a healthy alternative to greasy fast food. OPA! meets this shift in the marketplace by providing fresh and healthy food…fast, with its food court quick service unit, as well as its fast-casual storefront restaurants.

BTB - What are some of the greatest lessons you’ve learned in growing this franchise?

JY - What I have learned from growing OPA! and other franchise brands is the fundamental importance of franchisee profitability. The foundation of building a franchise system is having happy and successful franchisees, combined a successful franchisor. This is the blueprint to build a sustainable franchise brand.

Growing a franchise is having the right franchise concept; with the right franchise partner; in the right location; at the right time. Controlled and healthy system growth builds critical mass, brand awareness, marketing funds and buying power, which benefits the entire franchise system.

In addition to unit expansion, top line sales growth is another key element to developing a strong franchise system.

BTB - Do you have a mentor and is there someone you use for inspiration?

JY - I have learned a lot from many people at each company that I have worked for. Our founder Niko Tiginagas is a great source of inspiration. He is extremely passionate about OPA! and is a terrific restaurateur. When he started OPA!, he was as a single parent and pretty much down in the dumps. Today, he is the Chairman of a very successful franchise.

In the end, I follow a guiding principle of trying to do the right thing. What inspires me most in my profession is to see happy and successful franchisees.

BTB - What advice do you have for someone looking to acquire a Franchise?

JY - The most important thing to consider when deciding to become part of a franchise system is an honest self evaluation of your own skill sets. Make sure that your skills and personality align with the type of business that you are interested in. For example, if you are not comfortable dealing with the public, then I would not suggest a quick service restaurant or retail type of business. I also believe that a business takes on the personality of the franchisee. Therefore, a franchisee must be passionate and engaged about the business that they are in.

To help determine the compatibility, I suggest that potential franchisees contact and visit as many OPA! locations as possible. This is an ideal source of information about the OPA! franchise and will help in determining if they see themselves working in the business. Becoming a franchisee takes a financial, physical and emotional investment and you want to make sure that you will enjoy working in your business day in and day out.

BTB - In your opinion, why do you think that OPA! would be a great opportunity for someone?

JY - In my opinion, OPA! is a great franchise opportunity because it has an outstanding track record. One of the key reasons for its success is that it is based on serving a delicious product. Greek food is ideally positioned to capitalize on the healthy and growing Mediterranean category. While many other categories are over-crowded with competition, OPA! is the category leader in an underserviced Greek food quick service/fast casual restaurant segment. Greek food appeals to a wide demographic ranging from nine to ninety and is evenly skewed male to female consumers, which has “stood the test of time” and will do so in the future.

Another reason for its success is that OPA! has a strong business model. Case in point is that many OPA! franchisees are multi-unit operators. We encourage multi-unit growth within the system, as we see this as a win-win opportunity for the Franchisee and the Franchisor. With our stage of growth, OPA! provides an opportunity to get involved in the business with one restaurant, with the potential to expand with more restaurants in the future.

Don’t miss out on this exciting franchise opportunity!