After the Soviet Republic was overthrown in war-torn Azerbaijan, Orhan Veli and his family were forced to flee and moved to Moscow and then Minsk. At age 11, he immigrated to the U.S. and lived in Jacksonville for two years before finding a home in Huntingdon Valley near Philadelphia. Veli then went on to Penn State and upon graduation, started working in corporate finance at Morgan Stanley, but quickly grew tired of the monotony of the 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. work life.
Only in his early twenties, Veli decided to make the leap into business ownership. With the help of his father, George, who took out a second mortgage on their family home to finance the operation, the two opened a Charleys Philly Steaks together. In 2012, wanting to diversify his business portfolio and seeing an untapped opportunity within the healthy fast-casual restaurant sector, Veli opened his first Saladworks in the Philadelphia market – a fast casual, fresh-tossed salad concept with nearly 100 locations nationwide and globally.
In a span of just four years, he's opened four Saladworks locations in Feasterville, Galloway, Bensalem and Broomall and has plans to further expand the brand’s presence in the region. 1851 spoke with Veli to get greater insight on what prospective franchisees should know before investing and the components that lead to success when it comes to growing your business.
1851: What was the biggest challenge you faced as you transitioned into franchising?
Veli: You have to learn to be humble. Especially in the restaurant industry, there are days when you’re washing dishes, cleaning a drain or cooking a cheesesteak. A lot of prospective franchisees don’t fully grasp how involved you’ll be in the operations of your first location; you have to be ready to roll up your sleeves and do the grunt work sometimes. If you put forth the effort, you’ll see the results.
1851: What appealed to you about Saladworks when searching for franchising opportunities?
Veli: For those looking to go into business ownership, find a concept that you’re passionate about and a fit that’s logical to your lifestyle. You have to fully envision yourself in the day-to-day running of the business and look long-term at the industry and where it’s trending. Saladworks offered a great opportunity for growth and I saw a need in the area for healthier concepts that offered a variety of ingredients and selections.
1851: What are some challenges you faced with your first Saladworks location?
Veli: Your first location is the most difficult because you really have to master several different aspects of running and managing a business. I was lucky that my first Saladworks was a low volume location; when you’re in a lower volume area, you’re forced to approach inventory management and labor management in a methodical manner. You really have to squeeze out your margins while focusing on exceptional customer service, quality and consistency. The key to success is understanding how to manage your variable costs. It becomes irrelevant how much you’re doing in sales if you’re spending way too much on ingredients, labor, etc. It’s all a fine balance.
1851: What’s your advice to franchisees who are looking to buy a franchise and grow their business?
Veli: Don’t rush into opening a second location until you have the right crew – a manager, asst. manager, etc. – who you trust and utilize that analytical approach which is key to success. I’ve learned that if you trust in people and give them opportunities, most times they’ll surprise you. You have to learn to relinquish control in order to focus on the broader picture. When you have several locations, it requires different roles – a district manager, a bookkeeper, multiple reliable managers, etc. It all goes back to building fundamentals and mastering those operational processes in your first few locations.