Opa Souvlaki Franchise Opportunity – President & CEO, Simon Lileikis

Date: SEP 29th, 2014

Topic: Interview with a CEO

Mr. Lileikis started his foodservice career in Vancouver in 1990, joining a small American coffee company with about 55 locations at the time called Starbucks Coffee. Starting as a Store Manager Mr. Lileikis quickly maneuvered himself through various roles within the organization during his 10 year tenure, ending up as an International Operations Consultant for the company’s entry into the Middle East market.

Mr. Lileikis then joined Edo Japan, a fast casual restaurant concept based in Calgary. Working his way through various positions over 12 years, Mr. Lileikis ended up as the organizations Chief Operating Officer in 2010.

In 2012, Simon joined Opa Souvlaki Franchise Group as President & CEO and in 2013 became Chairman of the Board of Directors.

Mr. Lileikis has personally and intimately been involved with opening over 300 restaurants since 1990, in Canada and abroad. “I understand what it takes to be successful in this business and I understand the sacrifice operators make to achieve that success.”

Mr. Lileikis resides in Calgary, AB and has 2 sons & 1 daughter.

BeTheBoss.ca: Tell us about the Opa! of Greece franchise concept.

Simon Lileikis: Opa! of Greece is Canada’s favorite and fastest growing Greek restaurant chain with over 90 locations from Toronto to Victoria. In 1998, the founder of Opa! opened the first location in Market Mall in Calgary. With a passion for serving fresh and healthy Greek food with flair, Opa! quickly became a top performer in Market Mall, a position it retains today.

Approximately 55% of our locations are currently located in enclosed shopping center food courts, while the remaining are located primarily in regional power and strip centers with seating for 30-50.

BTB: How and when did you become involved with Opa! of Greece?

SL: I started with Opa! in September of 2012. Although I was very happy with my then current circumstances at Edo Japan, when Opa! called I agreed to take a look - I was actually an Opa! customer for quite some time before this and was familiar with the brand.

The more I looked and talked to people about Opa! the more I started to hear a common thread – people loved Opa! And not just in Calgary….I remember taking a look at the Opa! in Polo Park in Winnipeg. Here was this brand with 1 location in Winnipeg that was so vastly outperforming the competitors in this very competitive food court; I was enamored.

BTB: What are some of the advantages in being an Opa! of Greece franchisee?

SL: Opa! of Greece offers a turnkey Franchising opportunity, meaning we find it, design it, build it and market it. We have extremely strong brand recognition, both inside and outside of food courts. Customers love Opa! and it only takes getting the food into someone’s mouth to create that connection.

BTB: Who is your ideal franchisee?

SL: We have successful Franchisee’s in our system from all ethnicities and walks of life. If you have a passion for life and people, we can train you on the technical side of the restaurant industry and business in general.

BTB: Tell us a little about the Quick Serve Market?

SL: The quick service market has and continues to dramatically evolve. Gone are the days of the only successful quick serve concepts being those selling greasy “fast food”. Today more than ever customers are looking for and demanding healthy alternatives – but not just healthy, the flavor needs to be there and the food needs to taste great. In fact, although there is much focus on the healthy component, when it comes right down to it, most consumers are just looking for a great meal that doesn’t come with any guilt – Opa! fits this niche nicely!

Today customers are looking for a “casual” dining experience without the inconvenience of having to commit an hour+ dining experience. This “fast casual” format has been all the rage in the U.S. for 10 years and is only now starting to gain momentum in the Canadian marketplace.

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

SL: A focus on Franchisee profitability needs to be at the core of all you are attempting to accomplish. Not a penny wise pound foolish strategy but a genuine strategy and concern that we are all in this together, coupled with a desire to grow the system with your Franchisee’s, not on the back of them.

Profitable Franchisees are happy Franchisee’s – so much more can be achieved as a system when your Franchisee’s aren’t questioning your motives or worrying about how they are going to pay the bills this month.

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

SL: I really enjoy watching and reading about Richard Branson. He has such a unique and simple outlook on business. He coined the phrase “train your people well enough so they can leave, but treat them well enough so they don’t want to”. I have always believed in this philosophy.

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

SL: Do your homework, research and understand what it means to be a Franchisee v. an independent business owner and for Pete’s sake, talk to as many existing Franchisee’s as you can to learn their lifestyle and their relationship with the Franchisor – there is no greater source of information than those that are already doing what you are contemplating.

When looking at business opportunities, people often initially think a Franchise will just be easier for them. And in many ways it will be, however understand that being a Franchisee does not necessarily mean being an entrepreneur, but rather an intrapreneur. You are free to be creative inside of system, however that system is often very tight to protect the brand and all of those associated with it. If you’re looking at a restaurant Franchise, understand the Franchisor is not looking for somebody to spend their time developing new recipes and restaurant designs, the primary focus of a Franchisee needs to be executing the system. You need to be honest with yourself if you can fit inside of those parameters.

BTB: In your opinion, why do you think that Opa! of Greece would be a great opportunity for someone?

SL: Opa! of Greece is operating in a growing market segment and has a proven track record for the past 16 years. Our Management team is comprised of seasoned restaurant professionals with a passion for growing the business organically through positive comparative store sales. The #1 metric we use to measure our success is year over year growth in existing restaurants, and that will not change.

Although new location growth is an integral part of our strategic focus, we believe this needs to remain at a moderate pace to ensure our focus remains on improving existing restaurant economics and to support our existing Franchisee’s and restaurants.

Finally, go out and eat our food. In a food court environment try our food v. the competition – our great taste and unique flavor profile speaks for itself.