Bruges Waffles & Frites

Interview with Bruges Waffles & Frites Director of Franchising, Gerry Carpenter

How was your franchise/opportunity originally conceived and started?

When Belgian natives Pierre Vandamme and Philippe Wyffels first met and became friends in Salt Lake City, they shared memories of growing up in Belgium, especially the aromas and flavors of the delicious foods they had enjoyed. They commiserated about how difficult it had become to find such authentic Belgian flavors in this industrialized era—even in Belgium—where mass-produced, pre-packaged versions too often replace the authentic originals. So they set out to see if they could recreate the Liège waffle of their youth. Starting with family recipes and their memories from childhood, they worked diligently in the kitchen for more than a month. Then—success! With their new Liège waffle recipe, Pierre and Philippe opened a street cart in Salt Lake City in 2004, where they became one of the most sought after food vendors in downtown and at the local farmers market. They quickly expanded operations to include genuine Belgian frites and other Belgian specialties, opening their first brick and mortar location in 2009.

What was your original vision for your company? How has that changed over time?

Right from the humble beginnings with the street cart, co-founder Philippe Wyffels always envisioned offering the Bruges concept as a franchise opportunity. Wyffels had spent 16 years of his career in the franchise industry in Brazil and the United States as a franchisor, franchisee, and franchise consultant, so right from the start he saw the potential in the concept. In 2013, Wyffels and co-founder Vandamme, seriously began exploring franchising, and in 2015 launched the franchise operation. So although the concept has grown and evolved, the original vision has stayed much the same. We still have the same goal to share our wonderful Belgian food with our community; we are just sharing to a bigger community!

What do you believe is the single most important factor when choosing a franchise?

The most important questions every person considering a franchise opportunity should ask him or herself are, “Will this franchise help me achieve my goals?” and “Will I be happy doing it?” If you enjoy what you are doing and feel like you are accomplishing your goals, you are much more likely to be successful as a franchise owner than if you are dissatisfied. In the case of a restaurant owner-operator, when you are happy and motivated, your employees and customers will be happy too, and all of that contributes to a the overall success of the business.

Why should someone choose your franchise over other similar franchises?

Bruges Waffles & Frites offers a unique, delicious menu that you won’t find anywhere else. Our proprietary recipes and authentic Belgian experience have resulted in a loyal fan base of raving customers that can’t stop talking about us (just search Yelp! and you can see for yourself). Why choose a hamburger, sandwich, or pizza franchise, when you could be the first to bring a completely original concept to your community? In today’s competitive restaurant market, it’s more important than ever to offer something fresh and exciting that will get customers talking about you. 

Bruges also approaches franchising the same way we approach running a restaurant—we are all about community!  We strongly value every member of the franchise family, and we believe that by sharing our successes, we can all improve and become better.  We don’t believe in a top-down approach to franchising; we believe that a franchise system is stronger when everyone is working together, and our role as franchisor is to facilitate and champion rather than give orders. Joining a system is fine, but joining a family is better!

What makes your industry attractive?

Fast-casual is one of the hottest segments of the growing restaurant industry. More Americans are looking for an alternative to the traditional QSR which offers the processed “fast food” and are placing more value on authentic, fresh, local and artisanal food. A 2014 study reported in Forbes magazine found that the traffic growth in the fast-casual segment surpassed that of every other segment for the five consecutive years. Fast casual is a great way to offer your customers a superior dining experience with a smaller price per ticket and quicker service than they would experience in a typical casual dining restaurant.

What types of qualities do you look for in potential franchisees?

Bruges is looking for owner-operators who are energetic and comfortable in a fast-paced environment, active in their local community, and have natural communications and leadership skills. The ideal Bruges franchisee will be able to create the Bruges experience for our customers – fun, friendly, and cultured (but never pretentious!). In other words: committed to uncompromising quality and authenticity in a warm and welcoming environment.

What do your franchise fees and royalties cover?

Our franchise fees and royalties allow us to provide our franchisees with everything they need to successfully open and operate a Bruges Waffles & Frites restaurant. Right from the initial signing, franchisees will receives personalized, one-on-one support that includes a comprehensive online and in-person onboarding program, hands-on operations training, on-site support for Grand Opening, and ongoing training and support from a friendly and knowledgeable team. We also offer a resource-rich franchise intranet, which includes customizable local marketing and PR plans.

But even more important than all of the support, our franchisees will become part of a community of partners who have common goals and a common vision for success. It’s a chance to become part of something bigger and to help it grow.

How do territories work for your franchisees?

The first franchisee in each area naturally gets to pick their preferred territory, with a protected area of a one-mile radius around the franchise location. There may be some exceptions in very densely populated areas that could support more than one Bruges location within a one-mile radius. Although we are initially seeking owner-operators for single locations, we hope that successful franchisees will have a desire to add additional locations and expand their territory.

Why has your franchise model been successful?

The secret to Bruges’ success is that people love our food and love the experience they have when they come into one of our stores. More importantly, they love to talk about that experience with their family and friends. It has also helped that the local and national media love to talk about Bruges as well. 

Where do you see your franchise in 5 years and 10 years?

Although we are starting out modestly—only offering franchises in the states that neighbor our home state of Utah—we expect to expand to the entire United States and even internationally in the future. We have had franchise inquiries from people who live around the world, so we believe there will continue to be a strong market for our authentic Belgian specialties.

What is your favorite advice for new franchisees to help them succeed?

Location and hard work! Those are the two factors that make the biggest difference. We have a great site selection process that is designed to help our franchisees make the right decision about location. It’s very important to get exactly the right mix of visibility, traffic, and affordability. The other point to remember is that you often get out of a business exactly how much you put into it. Running your own business means hard work, long hours, and dedication. You have to be willing and happy to commit to that lifestyle if you want your business to succeed. But the rewards can be tremendous if you put your heart and soul into it.

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