After expanding her downtown café to the eastside a little more than two years ago, Cecily Maniaci is now looking to bring the Toasted Owl Café to the rest of Arizona.
Offering to “put the Owl in a box and let someone buy it,” Maniaci is hoping to franchise the restaurant somewhere within the state. By limiting the potential expansion to just Arizona, Maniaci said she would be able to reach any new location in order to help with relative ease.
The other condition? Any prospective franchisee must plan to be working in the cafe themselves.
“This particular restaurant is made for someone who wants to work at the restaurant,” Maniaci said. “If someone came and said ‘I want to buy five of them and I am just going to have people run them,’ I don't think that would be as successful. You have to kind of love the Owl.”
Maniaci started the Toasted Owl in 2013 with just a few tables on East Birch Avenue before moving to its current larger location on Mikes Pike in late 2015. Two years later, Maniaci opened her second location, at East Cortland Boulevard on the eastside of Flagstaff.
Maniaci said the rapid growth in the past few years allowed her to learn a few different lessons as she embarks on the next step for her business.
“Every day we have just been dealing with how to grapple with what's going on. That was super fast growth for one tiny old lady,” said Maniaci, who runs the two Owls with the help of her son and daughter.
Maniaci said she first considered Phoenix when looking into a second location a few years ago, but decided she was done with the need to constantly commute between cities. Electing for a location just 5.5 miles across the city, Maniaci said she found the concept successful with a different demographic.
“It was interesting to develop a concept that's the same, but not the same people,” Maniaci said. “That has been a really big lesson for me too. The biggest lesson and hardest lesson I’ve learned is consistency.”
Maniaci admitted consistency may be the biggest challenge as she looks to franchise. Priding her product on its quality, Maniaci said the Toasted Owl has never sacrificed to make a bigger profit.
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“I think that’s why everything is so successful, I don’t go less on my product,” Maniaci said. “A lot of people have come in and said you could make a lot more money if you did this, you could make so much more money if you did that. But then it changes who I am and what the Owl is.”
The ingredients used for Toasted Owl’s menu are not the only characteristic crucial to keeping Maniaci's vision of consistency between locations. The vintage furniture and customary owl imagery also must be taken into consideration, as each Toasted Owl will have its own personality in contrast to the typical franchise style in which national chains closely resemble one another no matter where you go.
“It has got so many moving parts to it because of the vintage and the peculiar, quirky way -- it's not going to be manufactured,” said Maniaci, as much of the current locations offer differing types of tables, chairs and even plates. “I know it looks chaotic, but there's a method to my madness.”
Over the past few years, Maniaci said she has built her knowledge of vintage furniture, including what does and doesn’t work for the daily grind of a restaurant in modern day. And with everything for sale inside each Toasted Owl, the need to quickly send more tables, chairs or owls to an out-of-town location is also on Maniaci’s mind.
“Some chairs look really cool from the '60s, but they will fall apart if people sit on them,” Maniaci said. “I think if someone buys the franchise, we will provide everything and they will have to ask me for more owls if they sell an owl, ask me for a table if they sell a table.”
The ability to control most aspects of a franchisee location is what interested Maniaci in this type of expansion. Maniaci shied away from the prospect of taking on a partner investing money, fearing the feeling of being locked into a close relationship with them or being beholden to someone because money was owed to them.
Working closely with a franchisee to replicate the Owl in a new city also allows Maniaci to experience the same feelings she did when first opening the café a few years ago.
“Their success is my success... It is my goal to make sure that if I do grow, I grow the same and everybody has a good experience,” Maniaci said.
Details on how to franchise with the Toasted Owl are available online, with the cost ranging between $244,330 to $512,700.