Sunny Street Café
1851 Franchise spoke with Scott Moffitt, Sunny Street Café’s president, to learn more about the history of the concept, its growth plans and how it works to support franchisees.
1851: Tell us about the history of Sunny Street Café.
Scott Moffitt: Our story begins in 2005, when our principal stakeholder and chairman, Michael Stasko Sr., owned a restaurant equipment company in Columbus, Ohio. At the time, he traveled around the country and called on independent restaurants to help supply their equipment. He was also looking for an opportunity to develop a business that his family could get involved with. During his travels, he found a company called Peaches Rise & Dine based in Bradenton, Florida. He liked the product so much that he bought into the concept.
Mike started out as a franchisee of Peaches Rise & Dine, but then he and his partners bought the entire concept and moved it from Florida to Columbus. During that time, they researched a name change, and dropped Rise & Dine, and we became Sunny Street Café.
1851: What void does Sunny Street Café fill?
We’re open from 6:30 to 2:30. That particular segment, even though it's super popular now, has always been underrepresented in the category. Since Sunny Street Café became a franchise, we’ve found success in the segment.
1851: What are you doing well right now? What are your brand differentiators?
We are familiar food made unique, so we hand-make everything from scratch using all fresh ingredients. We are a community gathering place and very much involved in the communities where we operate. We offer a place for people to go for a relaxed time to enjoy good food, be amongst neighbors and families, and have a quality product that is unique and different, yet familiar. They recognize the food for being delicious and familiar, but they appreciate the twist.
1851: Why is Sunny Street Café a strong franchise opportunity?
All of our franchisees are turning profits and more than a handful of them are looking to expand. The margins for breakfast and lunch are also probably the best that you can have in the industry. On top of that, our hours of operation are 6:30 am to 2:30 pm, so it makes for a good lifestyle. A lot of people that we talk to want to have the opportunity to get into business and build wealth for their family, but also balance that with their life outside of work. When you look at the restaurant landscape, you start narrowing down the opportunity based on both the investment that you want to make and what kind of family life the work itself allows. We like to tell our folks that even on a bad day, you’re bouncing out of the restaurant by 3:30 pm. You can be involved with your family, involved in your community and still have a thriving business.
1851: Do you have any specific markets you’re interested in?
We have locations in Columbus, Ohio; St. Louis, Missouri; and Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas. Additionally, we have units in Carbondale and soon we’ll be in Marion, Illinois and Huntsville, Alabama. I would like to continue to build out our existing markets. For example, we have seven restaurants in Dallas-Fort Worth, and we can probably put 100 restaurants in that market. We have five restaurants across Missouri and Illinois, but that market can easily handle double digits. In Ohio, we have nine and can still add a few more.
First, we will fill out our existing markets. Step number two would be to expand into contiguous markets, where we have an opportunity, brand recognition and our distribution and support systems already exist. Outside of those strategies, we’re also interested in expanding across the Southeast -- Georgia, Florida and the eastern seaboard. North and South Carolina make a lot of sense for us. We would also love to further expand in Texas, and not just in Dallas-Fort Worth, but in San Antonio, Austin and Houston. After building up a strong footprint in those growth cities, we will then expand west.
1851: Why is now a good time to franchise?
For us, we are a growing concept with 22 restaurants, so you get to join that momentum. We've been around long enough for there to be well-established systems and support processes in place, but we’re young enough for there to be direct face time with stakeholders and a lot of one-on-one attention.
1851: What were some learning opportunities that Sunny Street Café leveraged to get where it is now?
In 2006, not only were we a young franchise system, but most of our franchisees were new to the business, as well. Those were difficult times and it was a real trial by fire. Through those times, we came together as a group and became super focused on delivering a great product and maintaining cost, product quality and differentiation. We became very good operators through that.
When the pandemic came, like a lot of folks out there, we didn’t know what to expect. Our concept at that time was squarely positioned as an in-person dining concept. We did a little bit of carry-out and a little bit of to-go, but remember, we're the community gathering place. We’re the place where people went, but when the pandemic came along, people weren’t going anywhere. We had a bunch of restaurants and dark dining rooms, and we needed to pivot very quickly into carry-out, to-go and third-party delivery services. And we did really spectacularly. We went from that piece of the business being from 2-3% to 30% of our business. We had every expectation that was going to lessen as the pandemic restrictions loosened, but we maintained a good portion of that off-premise business, so it actually became additive to our top line.
We learned that aspect of business for our concept in a very short period of time and did it well enough to weave it into the fabric of our restaurants going forward. The other piece of that is our well-defined catering program. It has become a very successful opportunity to grow the top line and still maintain that 6:30 am to 2:30 pm schedule. Through the difficult times, we really honed our operating skills and learned how to morph the business and make it adapt to whatever the environment was demanding. I’m very proud of how our company and all our franchisees came through it with some significant top-line revenue increases.
1851: What are some of Sunny Street Café’s most important milestones over the past five years?
One of the most significant things for me is when we had long-time franchisees begin expanding in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. When you have existing franchisees that want to reinvest in the concept, that tells me you're doing something right. I look at the success stories of each of our franchisees as a milestone. In almost each and every instance, these aren't people that came to us with a restaurant background per se. These were folks that were entrepreneurial and wanted to be in business for themselves and we were able to teach and guide them to become very successful. Even though we’re a small system, our franchisees are very successful. Having done this for almost 40 years, I'm pretty proud of that. And I think that's a milestone for the company.
1851: What does your ideal franchisee look like?
I've been doing this for a long time and I've worked with franchisees from every walk of life. I can tell you that there’s no blueprint for a successful franchisee. However, what has been successful for us is true owner-operator involvement in the day-to-day. Our folks are risk-takers and they’re very entrepreneurial. We have a pharmacist, an analytics guy, a coffee salesman and a restaurateur. No matter what prior experience they bring, they're consistently in their restaurants developing a stable presence. They're very involved in their community. They're very committed to their staff. They're passionate about the brand and they have strong eyes for quality. You can see our franchisees in the restaurants working the tables, shaking hands and kissing babies.
They work hard. Those are the types of characteristics and qualities that I would look for and would say make for the best and most successful franchisees.
1851: How does Sunny Street Café support franchisees?
We take them from soup to nuts in this process. We are with them from site selection, securing financing and funding, restaurant design and build-out to pre-opening support, post-opening support, marketing and menu innovation. We have a dedicated team here that works as a primary point of contact for marketing operations and training.
We're in the restaurants on a frequent basis and because we're smaller, we're accessible 24/7. Literally accessible 24/7. We’ve even helped staff a franchisee’s restaurant in times of need to help them deliver. We offer a pretty full-service deal when you sign on with us.
The total initial investment necessary to begin the operation of a Sunny Street Café is $598,000 to $956,000, including a $35,000 franchise fee. For more information, visit: https://www.sunnystreetcafe.com/franchise/