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‘Get your numbers on’ is advice from Rita’s operator


"Once you stagnate, your business will stagnate," says Misty Young, who is working a Rita's development deal and franchising Squeeze In.

The worst day at Misty Young’s restaurant, the Squeeze In, was Father’s Day in 2007. But it turned out to be the turning point—for the better—for her operation, too.

She planned to breeze into her California restaurant that day, just to greet the guests and glad-hand the staff. “Instead what happened, one of the cooks said something really snarky to me and I was snarky right back. And he very deliberately looked me in the eye, gave me a single-finger salute and walked out the back door,” she recalls. “It’s freaking Father’s Day, the second busiest day of the year. What am I going to do?”

The answer: She cooked omelets, endlessly, all day long. “I literally got out of the restaurant that day and curled up on my bed in a fetal position and sucked my thumb,” she says. She also decided to change her ways.

“I realized right then and there how critical our people were. In that moment, I realized I had to have a very different approach with people,” she says.

Biggest in history

Today, Young plays two main roles. She is an operating partner with four others to execute a massive area development deal for Rita’s Italian Ice in 38 counties in California and Nevada.

“We need to open 115 stores over 10 years,” she says, about an agreement that began last year. “Of course, none of us wants to stretch it out over a decade.”

Six units are open, with 73 licenses signed and of those a couple dozen in lease negotiation and site selection, she says.

“When we signed our agreement it was the largest in the history of the company,” she says, referring to the franchisor, Trevose, Pennsylvania-based Rita’s Italian Ice, which has more than 600 stores. Reminded that many such large deals don’t get completed, she shoots back: “That won’t be true in our case.”

To market the Rita’s franchises, her company, called Ice Empire, developed its own lead-generation and capture system she calls the Three Ms: “a modern marketing mix approach.” A key component is four nested videos, featuring her experience because of her credibility as a restaurant operator, with each video leading the prospect to the next, and extracting more information each time. If a prospect gets all the way to No. 4, an email is sent to Young’s inbox and she picks up the phone to call.

“Three Ms” is just one of many acronym-laced programs she rattles off in an interview—Young is clearly a believer in developing detailed systems around every aspect of restaurant operations. Chief among them is the “five irrefutable laws of restaurant success,” which assigns a “law” to each of five points on a star.

“Leadership is at the top of the list. You have to always, as the owner, be in a personal mode of growth and development. That’s the only way your business will move forward,” she says. “Once you stagnate, your business will stagnate.”

No la-la looks

Separate from the Rita’s deal, Young is also set to begin franchising her Squeeze In concept, and has the paperwork in place to do so in California. She bought the original Squeeze In from the owner when it was struggling, and has built it into a four-unit chain. She plans to follow the same marketing approach to sell Squeeze In franchises as she will use with Rita’s.

In case that’s not enough, Young is also author of “Rags to Restaurants: The Secret Recipe,” and a popular speaker about the beauty of the restaurant business.

“I met with someone two weeks ago, and he asked me why I’m in business,” Young says. “And I said, ‘I’m here to make money.’ There’s so many people that get this la-la look on their face and they say, ‘Oh I’m going to have so much fun.’ That’s not what it’s about. Yes, you might have fun, but you’re here to make money.”

How can a prospective franchisee figure out if that will happen? Dig into the financials, pore over them with a certified public accountant, and analyze, analyze, analyze before signing.

“It absolutely is a blast to be in business for yourself. It’s really fun when you get to that point” of financial freedom, she says—but only if you get there. “So take your pie in the sky and put it in your backpack,” she says, and tap into your business sense. “The universal language is numbers, so get your numbers on.”

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