Americans love options. From TV shows to automobiles, we prefer to select from a wide range of choices—and Americans really love to choose where to eat. We are a nation of restaurant-goers, of intrepid and ambitious eaters, and we have high expectations when it comes to dining out. For many, the question, “Where would you like to eat?” is a pathway to chronic indecision. With so many possibilities, the decision can’t be made lightly. But how do you get delicious food and great service without breaking the bank?
Enter franchises—those well-known, well-loved brands whose individual restaurants are run by independent owners. Franchising is the best way for a company to keep its prices low and its quality high: A restaurant like Papa John’s can expand its stores across the country (and the globe) while trusting entrepreneurial owners to guarantee the brand’s excellence. No company can maintain direct oversight of hundreds of stores at once, but with the right managers, any company can branch out and still maintain a core guarantee of quality.
That’s the goal behind Vibe Restaurants, which runs three franchises: Little Caesar’s Pizza, Pinkberry, and Which Wich. Founded three years ago, Vibe rejects the notion that franchising invariably leads to conformity.
“Our inspiration was to open, operate, and develop unique brands,” says Irfaan Lalani, a co-founder. “We wanted to open stores that had something special about them, stores that offered a comprehensive customer experience.”
The first brand Vibe developed was Little Caesar’s Pizza, which offers delectable pizza at incredible rates. A standard Little Caesar’s Pizza costs just $5, and a customer get a pizza in 30 seconds—a great deal in a minimal amount of time. Little Caesar’s also caters specifically to foodies; its cheese is real, fresh, and never frozen, making it a favorite among picky eaters with tight budgets.
Vibe’s next brand, Which Wich Superior Sandwiches, continued that dedication to quality and affordability. Which Wich offers highly customizable sandwiches—so customizable, in fact, that a typical store contains 56 trillion possible combinations for a single sandwich. But Which Wich’s brand only starts with food: The restaurant also gives its customers bags upon which they can draw anything they like, then it displays the best bags on the wall. What’s more, the exterior of the stores was designed by Ferrari, which lends a sleek sophistication to even the most casual dining experience.
“Which Wich is a great place for creative people,” says Lalani. “We wanted to help people have fun and connect while they get their food. It’s not just a great place to eat. It’s also a fun place to hang out.”
Vibe selected its third and final brand, Pinkberry, with a similar goal in mind. A frozen yogurt store, Pinkberry offers customers much more than just tasty desserts.
“Pinkberry is such an appealing place to go,” Lalani says. “It has that soothing, relaxed environment and beautiful interior. It’s a place you want to go to hang out.”
Initially, Vibe was hesitant to enter the frozen-yogurt market—“Is it just a fad?” Lalani wondered—but the company was quickly won over by Pinkberry’s amazing yogurt and laid-back ambiance. Today, Pinkberry is one of the most successful frozen-yogurt businesses in the United States, proving to the country that fro-yo is no fleeting fad.
While Vibe manages a relatively diverse trio of distinct restaurants, some franchise owners focus on making one business as good as it can be. For Bajco Global Management, that business is Papa John’s, the famed international pizza chain. Bajco operates 105 Papa John’s stores throughout the United States and Canada. In a company of that size, quality could easily take a backseat to profit—but not with Bajco at the helm.
“We refuse ever to compromise on quality,” says Faisal Bajwa, who co-founded the company with his two brothers. “Even during the recession, we were able to make a great product and remain competitive, even in a highly competitive market.”
Rather than reducing pizza quality, Bajco found innovative ways to increase its profits, like setting up an online ordering system that encourages people to augment their order.
“When you order a pizza over the phone,” says Bajwa, “you just order a pizza. But when you order online, you see things you want to add: a beverage, some wings.” By subtly encouraging customers to upsize, Bajco helped bring in more money to each of its stores, even during the downturn.
That kind of creative problem-solving perfectly illustrates the inventiveness of franchise owners. A huge company like Papa John’s can’t micro-manage every pizza store, so it trusts companies like Bajco to step in and keep tight control over quality. Franchises ensure that all Americans have access to an array of delicious food at a low cost, food we know we like at restaurants we trust. Tons of options and great quality—there’s nothing more American than that.