The first thing Fernando Santos noticed about Togo’s was the crowds. Every day at lunchtime, dozens of customers chatting happily over sandwiches. Santos wasn’t just passing by. The Los Angeles County employee was looking for a new business opportunity, and a friend of his had recommended Togo’s.
“A friend convinced me to take a look at Togo’s, and I kept seeing all these customers,” Santos said. “So I started looking at the numbers, and those made sense, then I started talking with someone at corporate, and they were so accessible and so honest with me. That really sealed the deal. Working with corporate was a great experience.”
So in 2000 Santos purchased his first Togo’s restaurant. Later that same year, he purchased his second. 17 years later, Santos no longer works for LA County, but he still owns both Togo’s locations, one in downtown LA and one on Wilshire Boulevard.
These days, Santos spends most of his time at the downtown Togo’s, which is the busier of the two locations.
“I usually get to the downtown store around noon, and I’ll stay there helping out until about five p.m.,” said Santos. “That store is in a food court, so it’s very busy. There’s always a lot of foot-traffic. Right now I have 16 people working lunch shifts to keep up.”
The Wilshire location has also been consistently successful over the past 17 years, but Santos said it requires less oversight.
“I try to check in at the Wilshire location about twice a week,” Santos said. “They have a really strong staff, including three or four people that I hired back when we first opened in 2000. My manager, Maria, has been there since we first opened. Everyone knows her and loves her.”
Santos attributes his longevity with the brand to his continued passion for the product, which he believes stands up to any other sandwich in the segment.
“When I first came on board with Togo’s, I was sold on the concept,” Santos explained. “I tell everyone, ‘if you are going to get involved with any business, you have to have complete faith in the concept.’ And I’m still with Togo’s because I still believe in the concept.”
That concept, according to Santos, revolves around an equal emphasis on quality and quantity.
“Not only are the ingredients the best, they are piled high on every sandwich,” Santos said. “I’m a man who likes a lot of meat on my sandwich, and Togo’s is so much more generous than any other sandwich restaurant. It’s the only place I can get a sandwich that really satisfies me.”
After so many years with the brand, Santos operates mostly independently. He’s even offered his downtown location as a test store for new menu innovations, the most successful of which are adopted by other stores across the system.
“I don’t work with corporate very often these days,” Santos said. “I know the brand, and I know my customers. And now I’ve got a test store, so I can really try to improve the experience for customers, where possible.”
Though Santos works mostly without the aid of Togo’s corporate team these days, he recommends new franchisees take full advantage of their availability.
“New owners should work closely with corporate to learn the system,” Santos said. “They are there to help you get it right. The process is there and it works, you just have to apply it correctly and you’ll be successful.”
Now, 17 years after opening his first Togo’s stores as a side-job while he worked for the county, Santos has no plans to slow down. He’s even working with a realtor to find two new locations in downtown LA for brand new Togo’s stores.
“I love working with Togo’s,” Santos said. “We’ve done great business, and I’m excited to keep growing with them."