Wok Box fresh asian kitchen is a Canadian-founded food franchise specializing in fresh, healthy Asian dishes that are quick and delicious.
Wok Box was founded in 2004 as a single store in downtown Edmonton, Alberta. The idea came to the founders after extensive travelling and observing similarly-styled restaurants in one-off places. The founders thought a store in Edmonton would do well, and Wok Box fresh asian kitchen came to fruition.
“They were all involved in the food service industry before they started the first one,” recalls CFO Lawrence Eade. “Customers ran through the door right from when they opened. It just had a really good energy in the business, as well as a good food product at a good price.”
Eade’s partner, President & CEO Scott Bender, saw the potential in Wok Box fresh asian kitchen and was brought in by the founders to grow the business. The growth really started near the end of 2006 and through early 2007 when franchising efforts were focused on. It was at this time Eade partnered with Bender and joined the company. Eade previously worked at Big Four Accounting firm KPMG and is also a Chartered Accountant in Canada.
He joined Wok Box because he felt it was time to “take a leap of faith,” he says. “I have always had the bug for the restaurant food industry. It just so worked out that Scott and I met and we were able to do something together.”
Cooked to order
Wok Box fresh asian kitchen is one of the only franchises in the food industry that embodies the Quick Service Restaurants motto using a wide-variety of flavours. They incorporate different cultural flavours in their dishes and don’t typecast themselves as one background, Eade says. “These new flavours we brought in, such as butter chicken or Singapore cashew, will always hit the top because the flavour profile on these dishes is tremendous.”
Another factor that sets them apart is the freshly-cooked product – whereas with most of their competitors, the food sits at a steam table for a period of time. “We’re not that,” Eade explains. “We have high quality proteins, we use a nice marinated tri-tip steak, we have chicken breast only and we use peppers and broccoli – lots of fresh vegetables.”
“Everything is cooked to order,” he adds. “It’s cooked right in front of you.”
Across the Wok Box fresh asian kitchen system approximately 1,200 people are employed across North America in 56 franchises.
They enjoy a strong and positive relationship with staff and franchisees. It’s not just a one-way street at Wok Box, Eade says. “Scott’s door is open to any franchisee that wants to talk to him, so is mine. We deal with people all the time.”
The company makes well-researched decisions for the brand, they’re open to suggestions and input from franchisees, which their staff enjoys. “We’ve tried to bring that corporate culture– that it’s a young energetic brand and we value their input,” Eade says.
There are a number of things that makes Wok Box fresh asian kitchen a good investment. One of them is the fact that they’re an energetic and unique brand with quick service that offers good value for franchisees.
A closer look at the finances brings another reason to buy into the Wok Box brand. While their average initial investment cost is in the $300,000 to $350,000 range, Wok Box has a majority of franchisees generating multiples of that initial cost, Eade says. “The brand is awesome, but when you look at the unit level economics, it makes a lot of sense too.”
When looking for a new franchisee, Wok Box seeks people who are outgoing, friendly and will put customer service first. “We can teach you the menu items, we can teach you how to run a business – but what we can’t teach is that charismatic attitude,” Eade says.
After meeting the financial and personality requirements, it’s also a matter of having the right fit. “As much as franchisees choose our brand, we choose our franchisees.”
Franchisees begin their training by visiting one of their corporate stores for two or three weeks with their managers and employees. They go through everything with owners – from cutting vegetables to inventory counts and calculating their weekly profit-loss statements. Once the store is ready, they conduct three more weeks of on-site training with them – half before it opens and the rest after it opens. They make sure orders come in, ensure staff training is correct, and oversee media preparation. “Once that is done, it’s basically ongoing support,” Eade says.
Wok Box also conducts quarterly in-store audits to ensure franchisees are meeting the company standards. On a day-to-day basis, they have a purchaser and a corporate chef who helps them with any problems that may arise. “We’re the support network for their business operation,” he says. “A one-off business owner doesn’t have the head office that a franchisee does.”
Wok Box fresh asian kitchen’s five-year plan is to solidify growth in North America.. In Canada they are targeting the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), and other key Ontario markets for expansion in the next 12 months – with two stores scheduled to open in early 2013 in the GTA. They’re hoping to add additional 20 or 30 locations in Canada in the next three years. “Ontario is our big Canadian nugget,” Eade says.
The United States is a key focus for Wok Box. They’ve recently opened a new store in Portland, while two stores will be opening in Phoenix in the first quarter of 2013. The greater Dallas market will see a new store opening around the same time. They’re looking to add 30 new franchises nationally in 2013, and another 50 every year after that. “We’ve got tons of inquiries from all over the States, but for us we really want to focus on getting that foundation going in certain key markets,” Eade says.
Looking ahead to their long-term future, Wok Box hopes to see the major markets in Canada reach 100-plus franchises. In the U.S., he wants to see between 500 and 1,000 stores, whenthey get the right partnerships and the right people. They are also looking to expand internationally, where there will be plenty more opportunities for Wok Box to make a name for themselves. Wok Box has started this expansion in the Middle East, where a location in Beirut, Lebannon has been present for the past two years and locations in Qatar are in negotiations to open in 2013.
“Our goal is to be the leader in quick-service Asian food. I think in North America, we can definitely accomplish that,” Eade concludes. “We’re a really exciting young brand on the cusp.”