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Extending the grape(s) vine.

EXTENDING THE GRAPE(S) VINE

WITH FOUR OF WINNIPEG'S MOST SUCCESSFUL RESTAURANTS, THRAINN KRISTJANSSON AND DALE WALLIS ARE PLUNGING INTO THE WORLD OF FRANCHISING -- MEANING THERE WILL BE A NEW BUNCH OF GRAPES IN CITIES ACROSS CANADA.

Thrainn Kristjansson, president and Chief Executive Officer of Peridot Corporation, has a unique talent. He can take a failing restaurant and bring it back to life with an unpretentious grace of manner that belies his determination and dedication.

In 1973, the native Icelander opened up the Round Table restaurant on Pembina Highway with American partners. In time, he bought out the U.S. interests and turned the Round Table into a Winnipeg dining institution. Eight years later, Kristjansson was brought in to reorganize a failing concern, the Cornucopia restaurant, located at the corner of Grant and Kenaston.

The concept of the Grapes Restaurant was born out of the revamping and, in 1980, Grapes number one opened its doors to its first customers. Replacing an uncaring attitude of intimidation with one of personal warmth and a commitment to the satisfaction of their guests, Kristjansson soon had another winner on his hands.

A second Grapes was opened on Main Street at York Avenue in 1985. This was a major step for the fledgling company, as it reinvested its profits in a larger, more sophisticated restaurant, incorporating both a "deli"-type establishment and a dance floor.

Recognizing the potential drain on customer traffic with new cabarets opening, the decision to add a dance floor was seen as an opportunity to attract the late evening crowd.

With two popular and financially successful restaurants, Kristjansson and then-director of development Dale Wallis began to fine tune and perfect the Grapes "prototype." An expandable concept that can be modified to assimilate into any area of the city or country, Grapes soon opened the wildly successful and popular Pier 7 in 1986 (it is one of the busiest restaurants in Canada), and followed it in 1988 with Grapes Garden City.

While each restaurant is decorated in its own unique style, there is a degree of similarity to all of them. That special touch belongs to Brian Busat, a Toronto-based designer who was brought in to blue-print each Grapes restaurant. The result is that each has its own individual appeal and charm.

All four restaurants have done exceedingly well due largely to the exhaustive amount of work and commitment Kristiansson and Wallis apply to even the smallest detail. Wallis, who began as an assistant manager in 1982, has recently been promoted to president of Grapes Corporate Restaurants, and is president and part-owner of Grapes Canada, the newly formed franchise vehicle for the restaurants.

Even though there is an 18-year difference in their ages, both Kristjansson and Wallis share each other's perspective on the restaurant business and have benefited from the other's input. One thing they are in complete agreement on is "how a guest should be treated."

Working long, hard hours, the two have paid strict attention to every detail of the business. "The volume of the music, the lighting, the room temperature, even the table setting must be perfect to properly welcome our guests," says Kristjansson.

Traveling throughout North America visiting restaurants, checking on what works and what doesn't, they have developed their own system of operating a restaurant that could work anywhere in Canada.

With $8 million in sales, the four Winnipeg restaurants serve 300,000 guests each year. The logical extension to this success story was to franchise the concept. With this in mind, Wallis and Kristjansson have developed a 10-year plan that calls for 15 new restaurants by 1994 and possibly as many as 60 to 80 by the year 2000. The first, a franchise pilot restaurant, will open later this year in the Polo Park area. The new establishment will feature a dance floor and sports bar atmosphere, along with something new to Grapes: banquet facilities.

With profits consistently above the national average, there has already been a high level of interest shown in the franchise opportunity. Wallis indicates that the first non-Winnipeg franchises will open in 1991, most likely in Calgary and Vancouver.

Kristjansson notes that "it will not be enough for a potential franchisee to have just the financial backing. He will need the commitment, skill and experience to be approved as a Grapes franchisee."

With intensive training for new franchisees, no one will be left to flounder on his own. "It is important to us that everyone succeeds. We will come in and assist with staff until things are running smoothly," continues Kristjansson. To ensure continuity with the corporate office and the Grapes family, district managers will be appointed to oversee four or five restaurants in a specific location. And, to ensure that the high level of customer satisfaction is maintained, monthly reports and inspections, based on a point system, will be conducted. "This will allow us to address any problem areas we may be having, as well as compliment the franchisee on the good things he is doing, too," says Wallis.

A franchisee fee of $50,000 up front and a five percent royalty fee provides the Grapes name, expertise, help in locating a viable site, menu, recipes and volume purchasing discounts from major suppliers.

Wallis explains, "It will cost about $1 million to start up a new restaurant, and a prospective franchisee should be able to raise $250,000 in cash."

An interesting aspect of these transactions is that Grapes Canada will assist in the selection of a location for a new restaurant. It has employed a Master in Business Administration executive specializing in real estate to provide advice and guidance to a new franchisee in making a site selection. But Grapes Canada will retain the final approval.

Many things will remain as signature items of the Grapes restaurants--the popular soup bars, where a customer can return as many times as he likes, and the decorative menus with over 80 items, offering both quality and quantity.

The new restaurants, including the prototype near Polo Park, will have state-of-the-art computerized point-of-sale equipment which will transmit a guest's order directly to the kitchen or bar, thereby speeding up the service process.

Perhaps more important, though, than computers and menus is the Grapes' philosophy: "Show your guests respect and they will return," says Thrainn Kristjansson. Dale Wallis puts it even more succinctly: "We do better as more competitors open."
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Title Annotation:Grapes Canada is franchising its restaurant
Author:Matwijiw, Colleen
Publication:Manitoba Business
Date:Apr 1, 1990
Words:1064
Previous Article:Executive of the year.
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