Open/Close: Broken Yolk ‘Zees Cope With Pandemic Pressures
Brandi and Jim Bailey are Broken Yolk Cafe franchisees with two restaurants in Bakersfield, California.
“There was a time when we were calling the health department every week,” recalls Jim Bailey, a Broken Yolk Café franchisee with two restaurants in Bakersfield, California. Now, in the middle of a second halt of indoor dining and, like the first time around, without an end date to restrictions in sight, Bailey checks the pertinent government websites daily for updates but is focused on the one patio he has open.
“Overall, I’ve never wavered in my support of this brand, and I still don’t. The brand is solid, our products are solid,” says Bailey, drawing a breath. “It’s the outside variables” piled upon business owners as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, he continues, listing not just the dining room closures but capacity limits, the need for personal protective equipment and, of course, the safety concerns.
“It’s all those external factors. The biggest problem is we can’t plan. We can’t plan ahead at all.”
Bailey and his wife, Brandi, have been Broken Yolk franchisees since 2015. Their “westside” restaurant, as Bailey calls it, has a large patio with seating for about 100 people and which they’re operating at reduced capacity to allow for social distancing. While a far cry from the 300-plus seats he has throughout the restaurant under normal circumstances, his weekday business is “probably within 10 percent of where it was last year.”
“But weekends are still off 40 to 50 percent,” says Bailey. “We just can’t turn tables fast enough. The demand is there, but there’s only so many you can get to.”
His other restaurant has a much smaller patio and remains closed. Bailey says they tried delivery and takeout at each store, and though it brought in some revenue, “it just can’t replace the main part of the business” for a concept focused on breakfast and brunch.
“It’s trying to turn a full-service restaurant into a fast food joint—it just doesn’t work,” says Bailey, which is why he’s also appreciative of his franchisor’s willingness to step up in a variety of ways, from creating family meal packs and even selling produce boxes to its handling of royalties.
“They’ve been great with relief on royalties and marketing fees,” says Bailey, including full forgiveness of royalty payments for a period of time and now a sliding scale based on sales.
Operators with sales of zero to 62.4 percent versus the same month a year ago pay a royalty of 2 percent, with that number increasing by a half percent for each of the next four tiers, up to 4 percent. Broken Yolk has 34 restaurants, mainly in California, along with Arizona, Nevada, Texas, Illinois and Florida.
“Given the cards we were dealt, they’ve been doing the best they can,” he says.
Bailey also operates a Homewood Suites hotel, a Hilton brand. While “still substantially off from where we’d be normally,” because his is an extended-stay property, Bailey says he’s getting business from people who are in between homes or are in the process of relocating.
Optimism in Arizona
“I was just working the line,” says Jay Marble (below) when reached this week at his Broken Yolk restaurant in Chandler, Arizona, just outside Phoenix, illustrating his later point that leadership has never been more important and he wants his employees to see his commitment to the business.
“In my opinion, if we weren’t going through the pandemic, we’d be topping where we were last year,” says Marble, who opened his location in April 2019 and has the rights to two more. He previously spent six years supervising 12 of his uncle’s Five Guys restaurants in Portland, Oregon, before getting into Broken Yolk. Like other restaurant operators, however, Marble saw his business upended in March, with plans for a second location now completely on hold.
“In all honestly, it’s not even a thought in our head—it’s survival mode over here,” says Marble take a pause. “Still, I’m really optimistic about the future. Last Sunday, we had a wait outside.”
Marble closed his restaurant completely in March, moving to 50 percent capacity in mid-May and also launching delivery, a sales channel still in its infancy but one that’s growing.
“Since we had just opened in April last year, we hadn’t built up any type of delivery business,” he explains. “But we started working with Uber Eats ... we got pretty aggressive with discounting and free delivery.” Now, even with the dining room and patio open, Marble says delivery sales are higher than from in-house orders and he sees opportunity to grow that part of the business.
To keep workers employed and handle off-premises orders, Marble shifted some front-of-house staff to expediter positions and trained them on processing transactions for takeout and delivery. He and his employees, he points out, began wearing face masks from the outset of reopening, before it was mandated by the county, and he’s going “above and beyond” when it comes to recommended safety and sanitation procedures.
“Customers, they’re watching. They’re watching us all the time. Their perspective is very important and you’ve gotta go above and beyond,” says Marble. “And I want my employees to feel safe.”
He also examined every expense and has been able to work with some vendors and his landlord on deferring payments. “My perspective on it is, you just have to run it like a low volume store,” he says.
Read other stories in Open/Close, a new franchisetimes.com series reporting how franchisees are navigating as business starts and stops amid the COVID-19 pandemic.