We leave you with the interview that Alimarket did with Edgar Sarabia, director of the expansion of La Piemontesa, a chain that in 2017 starts an important development plan.
Edgar Sarabia (La Piemontesa): "When the new factory is ready we will open eight to ten restaurants per year"
'La Piemontesa' is an Italian themed restaurant concept launched by the known industry businessman Juan Manuel Chacón Domínguez, who was already involved in the origin of known trademarks such as 'La Tagliatella', among others. While the brand has been granting franchises since 2012, it will be as of this year when its expansion plan takes a strong momentum, supported by the new main workshop that will open in the coming weeks. The growth of 'La Piemontesa' will be led by Edgar Sarabia González, director of the chain's expansion, who tells us some of the keys to this process.
Alimarket: How would you define the concept of 'La Piemontesa' and what differential value do you believe it brings to the Italian restaurant business segment?
Edgar Sarabia: Our concept is based on, and this is something that comes to us from our founder, quality. The three pillars that Americans say "location, location, location" for us are "quality, quality and quality." That sets us apart from other competitors; it is the foundation of our business. That quality comes from our main workshop, where we guarantee all the processes, all maintenance, raw materials, along with some very developed analysis, purchasing and quality departments. That is, in the end, what makes the customer go to your centre, the main pillar. Logically, we also look for the location and customer relations. We have a very structured service, everything is regulated for the customer to enjoy a peak experience.
A.: And how are you going to transfer this pursuit of product quality to the chain's expansion plan?
E.S.: The expansion process is based on and lies mainly in the new factory. In March we will open a new central workshop with more than 7,000 m2 to process everything that is served at the table. Everything arrives at the restaurants from the centre, with the best procedures and the best facilities, to preserve quality. From receiving raw materials to storage, handling and exit of the processed element. Our franchisees make a bi-weekly order of what they need and our logistics department is responsible for sending it to the restaurant, maintaining the cold chain and traceability of all products. Everything arrives very well prepared, so that in the restaurant you just need to provide a good, fast customer service. What we require from our franchisees is to execute the processes as they have been established and thus continue to pamper the product. We take care of producing the best quality and you, the franchisee, must maintain it.
Our expansion phase truly began a year ago when Luis Burgaz and I were incorporated, who worked in the development department. Once the new factory is open, in February-March, we will begin a process in which we will open eight to ten restaurants per year. That is the goal, even if there are six it is absolutely fine. There is not an investment fund behind ours that requires us to have a certain number of openings. We always want to open oriented to the franchisee. When an opportunity arises and we not have a franchisee, we will open ourselves to strengthen the brand and give it visibility. But we always give priority to the franchisee.
A.: How many restaurants make up the chain now? Do they all operate under the name 'La Piemontesa'?
E.S.: At this time we have 19 restaurants including 'La Piemontesa', 'La Sangiovesa' and 'Lungo Mare'. When this new stage began for our founder, we did not know which business name would have the most impact on the customer, the most sales strength. At that time we tested 'La Sangiovesa', 'La Piemontesa' and 'Lungo Mare'. With the passage of time, 'La Piemontesa' has gained the most strength, but we think that you cannot change the name of the other restaurants overnight. What we do is gradually introduce 'La Piemontesa' in these restaurants, until it reaches a point where they will eventually assume the brand. We do not want to do so drastically so as not to confuse the customer. But they operate with the same menu, are within our network and operate exactly the same. Right now, four of them are ours and the rest are franchised. The owner directly opened these premises, to nurture the company, but later they passed into the hands of franchisees. Remaining are the restaurants in Lleida, Pamplona, Barcelona and East Madrid [Capitan Haya Street] as our own. Apart from these, there are the two 'Pani & Pasta' restaurants, which were recently transformed to 'La Carbonara', which is outside of the main line.
"We maintain the restaurants in Lleida, Pamplona, Barcelona and East Madrid as our own"
A. What are the requirements for starting up a 'La Piemontesa' restaurant? Will you continue to incorporate iconic locations into the chain, such as the ones you already have in Reus or Seville?
E.S.: We need locations with a minimum of 300 m2, because we have a kitchen area that occupies a lot of space. Since everything is very structured, we need very large kitchens, favouring quick service. Our system is based on rotation, therefore we need good materials and spacious kitchens, so that the dish will arrive in the shortest time possible. We always talk about a minimum of 300 m2 with smoke vents of course. Prime sites I would say yes. We want to be in the best sites, although sometimes we will not look for a very high volume of billing but very tight cost, because this can result in higher returns. We look for good sites and profitability for our franchisees. Our development department is responsible for finding locations, while our technical department tells you how everything must go. We adapt to the street area without any problem and we are delighted to be in shopping centres as well. As for emblematic locations, we are interested in them as their own premises, because they need a very high investment. Honestly, our emblematic locations have the highest turnover, but the level of investment is very high. We recommend a more restrained investment to the franchisee.
A.: How much is the average investment figure for a 'La Piemontesa' restaurant and what staff is needed for its proper operation?
E.S.: We are working around € 600,000, although the technical department now has a project to try to reduce the investment to € 500,000 to 550,000. But as long as the customer does not perceive differences. We are not going to implement any reduction in investment that will affect the quality or service. Because we are convinced that good food must go along with good service. And that requires investment. To open the restaurant we need a responsible manager, with very good training in one of our centres, who can respond to the customer under any circumstances. The base staff will be between seven and ten people, with a series of reinforcements. In restaurants like this, the weekend is the busiest period, so we can offer contracts of about 20 hours. We have cases of university students who attend classes on weekdays and can make some money during the weekend. Overall, in a good month of billing, you need a staff of approximately 15-16 people.
A. As for the geographical distribution of the chain do you have any preferential development area?
E.S.: We do not have any problems with that as long as we are presented with an interested franchisee and our development team validates the location. We have no objection to any point in Spain with a minimum population and that can have significant profits. We're not going to deny to any area. Galicia, the Basque Country, Cantabria, Extremadura... anywhere in Spain is a good site and is accessible to us. Logically, the majority of interested parties are in Madrid, Barcelona and Andalusia, where there is more brand awareness. We want to expand with guarantees and publicize the brand. What is our drawback right now? We are not known. This is very difficult. There is a lot of competition that does it very well and does everything well. But we want to do it and we are going to do it. We are well aware that we must make ourselves known, it is our great lack. So the beginning of our expansion is being carried out with our own restaurants. Good locations, in the end, get you visibility.
A. With what franchisee profile is the brand most comfortable?
E.S.: What we are seeing today are two types of franchisees. One with a strong financial arm, with great economic capacity, and the other self-employed. We will not deny anyone. But our restaurants have to be managed. Being on top of the business, treating customers well, managing personnel and following the processes. If a major investor comes, with much economic strength, and believes that it is just opening the door and that's it, we're going to say no. We always recommend looking for a trusted manager, responsible for the centre, who knows a little bit about the world of franchising. We do not want mere investors who believe that this only consists of giving money, opening the door and getting a return. We are also interested in the self-employed profile. The drawback is that this franchisee may only open one restaurant, but runs it well and is involved in the daily operation. This kind of franchisee interests us. We are also interested in investors who know what it means to manage a business. We do not want to open just to open, we want the growth to be sustainable. With good franchisees, people who care about the brand.
A. What does the chain contribute to the franchisee?
E.S.: We provide know-how that is very easy to apply. We give a lot of support so that all of the processes go well, because the better they go for our franchisees the more product they will buy from us and the higher the royalty that they will pay us. The orientation of this expansion is to work hand in hand with the franchisee, always working as a team. We do not want to see the franchisor on one side and the franchisee on the other as enemies. I also will tell you that when we receive proposals from our franchisees they are always well received. Many times the needs of a franchisee at one point can be adapted and extended to the others.
Our high added value is that we do not need a great chef, which is the problem today in the restaurant business. All products arrive in single portions and you just need to put it together in the kitchen. With our manuals you could make the same dish than a chef who spent seven years with us. We just need cooks who know how to manage time, who can communicate with the pizza area, so that all of the dishes go out together. Everything is portioned and weighed. In fact, some of our restaurants have zero wastage thanks to our system. We insist very much that the customer who eats in Madrid eats exactly the same amount, the same quality and the same dish in Valencia, Seville or Tarragona. That is our goal.
"It is a menu with pasta, pizza, risotto, au gratins and now an array of meats and fish"
A. Is it a typical Italian restaurant menu?
E.S.: It is a traditional menu, with pasta, pizza, risotto and au gratins. In addition, we now have an array of meats and some fish. Because our range of clients ranges from four years of age and up the father of the family or grandparent who brings their grandchildren to eat sometimes finds themselves having to eat pizza or pasta and perhaps this is not what they like. That is why we have introduced a series of products, such as meat and fish, so that these people have the incentive to come to 'La Piemontesa' and get a dish according to their tastes. The child is happy and dad or grandpa too. We have special children's dishes, but we have introduced a very important development compared to the competition, which is we give the possibility of half rations. With us you can eat the same dish of pasta with the same sauce, but half the quantity. Therefore, this allows everyone to try different things, choosing the dish to our liking and not leaving with a feeling of heaviness. In addition, we also have big dishes to share.
A. The decoration is another hallmark of 'La Piemontesa'. How would you define it?
E.S.: In 'La Piemontesa' restaurants, the client expects it to be a warm, welcoming, beautiful place that makes you feel good. This restaurant [Madrid-Capitan Haya, in the image] was a test to implement something slightly more modern, more current. But we have noticed that the restaurant that works is decorated with stone and wood, very cosy. Italian from Tuscany. It's what people like. The tablecloth, even if you don't think so, does a lot. It makes people, without realizing it, feel encouraged, feel comfortable, feel warm. Our restaurants are expected to be welcoming, offering a product of very good quality with good service, and the best, an average bill of € 18-19. If you manage to combine all that, no one will refuse to go to 'La Piemontesa'.
A.: How does the chain work in social networks? Do the restaurants offer Wi-Fi?
E.S.: The policy of our founder has always been, and he told us this very clearly that there is nothing that has more strength than word of mouth. There is nothing better than a friend telling you that they had a great meal at 'La Piemontesa'. It is our best marketing policy. But we are in a situation where we cannot neglect social networks or the digital transformation. That is why we have introduced a marketing department that helps to promote us. We work in social networks and help our franchisees in local marketing aspects. We have global marketing for the entire chain, but we help our franchisees in specific times and places. Regarding Wi-Fi, we have it but we do not advertise it. If a customer comes and asks us, we offer it. 'La Piemontesa' has to be a place to disconnect. We prefer that our customers come to interact socially, enjoy family and friends, and that it is a relaxed experience. To disconnect a little from the digital world.
You can read the full interview in our news clipping: