How a Falafel Shop Became a Franchise Phenomenon

Within a year, Amsterdam Falafelshop was profitable, stunning their investors. The shop also earned accolades from critics and love from D.C. residents. (The restaurant is one of the highest rated Yelp brands in the city). Arianne describes their restaurant success secret as “a blend of ‘gourmet-ness’ with an upbeat Western European vibe.” She says, “We don’t have uniforms, the workers have to be locals, and everything has to be fresh. We don’t dumb down flavors for Americans. If we says it’s garlicky, it’s garlicky! There are many moving parts to make the magic.”
It’s important to the Bennetts that the falafel shops be part of the community. Their employees engage with customers. “They have sass,” says Arianne. “They’ll ask you ‘Do you really want to use a credit card and pay for that sandwich in two weeks?’” (The falafels run $5.95). They’ll also patiently explain to children (or their parents) what a falafel is and what each of the toppings tastes like.

The reward for the Bennetts is seeing regulars come in and bring their family from out of town. “We’re part of your life. We have a connection to our customers,” says Arianne. “We even had a marriage proposal at the cash register. That’s the payoff for us.”

Soon, people began asking for more Falafelshops, and the Bennetts considered what to do. “The options to grow as a restaurateur are limited to really two paths,” says Arianne. “One: You are the ‘owner’ of a bunch of restaurants. You are responsible for them daily and anything that comes up in them ...You can do this well for a geographic region, but as you grow larger, it becomes hard to maintain.

“Two: You franchise, and each owner pays attention to his region, giving it his all, because he owns it. He is deeply connected to it. And most importantly, our role is that of teacher, mentor and helper. We are the support system for the franchisee. We take great pleasure in making this possible in someone else’s life.”

How would they find people to carry on their very specific vision? Arianne says their interview process helps them get comfortable with candidates. “We are alert to key phrases, attitudes and perspectives on following a system’s plan, wanting to be a part of a larger organization that offers guidance, caring about our food product and total sensory experience in the shop, and yet not being afraid to be unique.” In addition to in-person meetings, Amsterdam Falafelshop’s franchise agreement ensures that franchisees respect their business model.

Two entrepreneurs signed on and opened shops in Boston and Annapolis, Md. Four more Washington-area shops and four more Boston-area shops are scheduled to open this year. In addition, the Bennetts just signed deals to open franchises in the Dallas/Fort Worth area and in Salt Lake City. With an investment between $385,000 and $495,000 — the amount it takes to open a new Falafelshop — the owner keeps the profits, and the Bennetts take a 5 percent royalty, which they, so far, have invested back into their business. 
Arianne and Scott are now focused on finding more of the right people who can open Falafelshops across the country. What comes after that? Amsterdam Falafelshop may go global. In March, the Bennetts are flying to Saudi Arabia to talk about opening a shop there. Arianne is also eyeing Schiphol, Amsterdam’s bustling International Airport as a possible franchise location. “We’d love to have a place there,” she says.

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