Big Apple Bagels is an American franchise chain of bakery-cafes based in Deerfield, Illinois. Over their 20-year history, Big Apple Bagels has grown into a nationwide franchisor of a restaurant concept with complementary products, a reasonable investment level and an inherent competitive advantage as a low-cost producer in their industry.
Big Apple Bagels opened in 1992 after CEO Michael Evans felt it was time to produce something on a larger scale in the bagel business, particularly outside of New York. He opened the first franchise in 1993. In 1996, he bought the New Jersey-based company My Favorite Muffin. This purchase allowed them to add additional products to their brand, and it also gave them the opportunity to continue to franchise the My Favorite Muffin brand in select markets.
In the same year, the company also bought the Brewster’s Coffee brand, and proceeded to incorporate it into their existing brands. “We have Big Apple Bagels and My Favorite Muffin that we franchise and both feature our Brewster’s Coffee,” says Director of Development Anthony Cervini.
Cervini joined the company in October 1993, having previously known Evans from other companies. He was looking for a concept he felt had good growth potential and was fun and exciting to work with, something he could help “build from scratch,” he says. Big Apple Bagels was all that and more.
Made from scratch
Big Apple Bagels stands apart in the market due to their freshly-made bagels, which are made from scratch at their locations – something few of their competitors do. “We have the freshest bagel that’s out there,” Cervini says. They also offer a low cost for franchisees to produce the bagel, who can pass on those savings to customers.
With their muffins, it’s the taste that sets them apart. The styles and types they offer have incredible flavours, with over 300 varieties to choose from – ranging from specialty flavours such as cinnamon cheesecake to apple pie and more traditional kinds such as blueberry and chocolate chip.
While people can go to a grocery store and buy muffins and bagels, they are not only paying more, they are also missing out on the freshness and taste that only Big Apple Bagels provides. “When you want to treat yourself to quality at a reasonable price, you come to Big Apple Bagels,” Cervini says. “Why not get something that is baked fresh at the location?”
Grocery stores also fail to offer customers the level of service available at Big Apple Bagels, where customer service is paramount – and where their franchisees understand that better than anybody else. In every store, Big Apple Bagels aims to create an atmosphere where customers will feel welcome as soon as they open the door. “It’s about creating an environment that is fun and enjoyable to step into,” says Cervini. “We’re selling bagels and muffins; it’s supposed to be a fun business.”
At the same, Big Apple Bagels can also provide a relaxing and quiet environment for those who want it – “comfortable, yet casual,” as Cervini describes it.
Big Apple Bagels employs 15 people at the corporate level and operate 100 franchises.
They keep an open level of communication with their staff and franchisees and encourage them to bring forth ideas and suggestions, which develops positive professional relationships. The best indicator of a well-developed corporate culture is longevity of staff – and at Big Apple Bagels, many of their team have been there more than a decade.
“We can pick up the phone and talk to the franchises or they can pick up the phone and talk to us. We try to minimize the use of voicemail,” Cervini says. “We firmly believe talking to people one-on-one makes a big difference.”
Franchisees are attracted by that openness, as well as by the fact that the company involves themselves in every aspect of their operation. “We work with the franchisees closely to help them in any area they need help in – from controlling costs to improving sales to helping re-negotiate leases with landlords,” Cervini says. “It’s got to work for them and for us. We understand and practice that.”
When Big Apple Bagels evaluates a potential franchisee, they look for – beyond the obvious financial requirements – someone with an experienced background in retail, operations or food operations. Above all else, however, it’s the personality that reels them in. “They’ve got to be a person that can adapt to changing situations because the beauty of this business is no two days are ever the same,” Cervini says. “It’s a matter of setting it up so you can have your store be that warm, welcoming place to come in.”
The franchisee training program at Big Apple Bagels is comprised of hands-on learning in store as well as a classroom setting. They offer support in a number of areas including day-to-day restaurant operations, hiring, training and retaining good employees, maintaining financial controls and a marketing-focused orientation that will develop their local advertising.
Additional training on-site is provided for the opening two weeks of day-to-day operations. “A good franchisor will help in every aspect, not just building sales,” Cervini says. “We look at it as an opportunity to deal with people who are spending a good chunk of their savings to get into this business.”
Big Apple Bagels is looking to grow in 2013, and have about half a dozen stores set to open next year. They are also preparing to release a new brand – SweetDuet Frozen Yogurt & Gourmet Muffins™, which is a fusion concept pairing self-serve frozen yogurt with their exclusive line of My Favorite Muffin gourmet muffins. This will broaden the shop’s offering to differentiate themselves from the numerous frozen yogurt outlets in the marketplace. “We just finished registering in a number of states and have a couple of people we’re talking to in the early stages for some development opportunities,” says Cervini.
Looking ahead longer term, Big Apple Bagels will continue to expand with the “right people,” which is key for the company, Cervini says. They’re also selective with their locations, carefully making sure that each one is comfortable and casual, but also allows for future revisions without too much expense. “We will continue to grow, but we will grow right as opposed to growing fast.”