'Of Course, I Can' Building Culture and Boosting Buy-In at 3 Brands
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'Of Course, I Can' Building Culture and Boosting Buy-In at 3 Brands

'Of Course, I Can' Building Culture and Boosting Buy-In at 3 Brands

Pathik Patel took more than five years to find the right fit with Dunkin’, launching his journey into franchise ownership with a three-unit operation in Charlottesville, Virginia. This type of tenacity is fitting for Patel, president of VAAP Management. It reflects the culture he is building as a multi-brand operator with a portfolio that has taken off.

“We have a culture-building statement in our company that our director of ops came up with, ‘Of Course, I Can,’” explains Patel. “This is basically for everyone in our company to find a way to say ‘Yes’ to a guest. There are many processes and procedures that have been modified or created by our team. All of which started by simply listening to their ideas and giving resources to make those ideas a reality.”

North Carolina-based VAAP Management is a family-owned business launched by Patel, his brother Viral, and cousins Amit and Alpesh Patel. Now seasoned owners of 16 Dunkin’ locations, they expanded into multi-brand operations with Buffalo Wild Wings GO, a concept focused on takeout and delivery. In 2023, the company made a multi-unit deal to develop five locations of Curry Up Now, the nation’s fastest-growing Indian fast-casual concept.

Patel's first job in high school was working for his father at a co-branded Dunkin’ and Baskin-Robbins restaurant. He never dreamed he would own franchises of the QSR brand. Instead, he grew up wanting to be an architect.

“Not the slightest thought,” Patel says. “I thought I would design a high-rise building one day, but I was way off.”

Every step of his path seemed designed to bring him back to Dunkin’. As a kid, Patel did his homework in the lobby of the New Jersey Dunkin’ where his parents worked after his family immigrated to the U.S. in 1996. While pursuing his architecture degree at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Patel first experienced the ins and outs of multi-unit franchising while working in the head office of his father’s partner, who operated 30 Dunkin’ restaurants.

Patel continued to follow his childhood dream, working at a small architecture firm that mainly designed Dunkin' stores. The job offered insight and interaction with franchisees, so he could learn more about the development side of the business. Seeking something more significant and meaningful, “I went back to what I knew,” says Patel, who then began his quest to buy or develop with Dunkin’.

He had already teamed up with his brother and cousins in college to launch VAAP online, a supplement business. The venture didn’t pan out, but the partnership showed promise. “It was at that point in time that I had a feeling the four of us could have a successful business together in the future,” Patel says.

Now firmly entrenched in franchising, Patel is busy constructing a long-term vision brimming with growth. VAAP continues beefing up its leadership team and projects to add another four brands to the fold over the next decade. “What we have is going to stay with us for a long time,” Patel says.

Name: Pathik Patel
Title: President
Company: VAAP Management
No. of units: 16 Dunkin’; 1 Buffalo Wild Wings GO; 1 Curry Up Now
Age: 36
Family: Wife; 1 son, 3; 1 newborn daughter 
Years in franchising: 7
Years in current position: 7

PERSONAL

First job: During high school, I worked for my dad at Dunkin’ and Baskin-Robbins.

Formative influences/events: Previous business partnerships and co-workers.

Key accomplishments: Starting a cricket team. The whole founding principle of building great leaders, my mission, vision, and purpose comes from my experience with cricket. 

Biggest current challenge: Work-life balance.

Next big goal: Become a leader in multi-brand management and learn to dance. I love Punjabi. It’s basically high-beat music.

First turning point in your career: Leaving architecture and starting a business.

Best business decision: Getting into business.

Hardest lesson learned: I can’t do it alone. 

Work week: Around the clock.

Exercise/workout: When time permits.

Best advice you ever got: Trust is where it all starts.

What’s your passion in business? Helping people become leaders.

How do you balance life and work? It’s an ongoing process, but my family is my top priority.

Guilty pleasure: Eating a cheesecake.

Favorite book: Books in general are my favorite, but I will never get tired of reading I Am Krishna by Deep Trivedi.

Favorite movie: “Saving Private Ryan.”

What do most people not know about you? I can’t spell without imagining typing the word.

Pet peeve: People who are not humble.

What did you want to be when you grew up? An architect.

Last vacation: The Bahamas.

Person you’d most like to have lunch with: From the past: King Leonidas, the legendary king of Sparta. From the present: MS Dhoni, renowned professional Indian cricketer.

MANAGEMENT

Business philosophy: Becomes easier with two or more. Anything can be achieved when you have a team.

Management method or style: Visionary.

Greatest challenge: Effective communication with evolving work culture.

How do others describe you? Determined. A visionary. Always shows up. Never stops.

One thing you’re looking to do better: Continue to build a better culture.

How you give your team room to innovate and experiment: Make sure the team knows it is okay to make mistakes and that they don’t have to stop there. Keep going to come to a solution. We can assess the “wells and betters” afterward, so we don’t repeat the same mistakes.

How close are you to operations? I keep a bird’s eye view over everything and read all communication but do not intervene. Make a note of all and discuss it on our weekly calls.

What are the two most important things you rely on from your franchisor? Market data to see how our competitors are doing and what is trending in products and services.

What you need from vendors: Reliable and cost-effective products and a courteous relationship.

Have you changed your marketing strategy in response to the economy? How? Yes, it is always changing. During Covid, we focused mainly on standardizing operations and very little on marketing. Now, it is shifting toward marketing and finding ways to bring in more guests. 

How is social media affecting your business? It is laying the foundation for the future of our business. It helped us acquire new, younger guests, who become loyal to the brand.

How do you hire and fire? A big part of our operation is digital, including onboarding. This helps us convey our message clearly through one channel. Our voluntary or involuntary termination is based on a statement of understanding. A statement is given to a team member stating their actions and the consequences of those actions. This helps them to reflect upon it and determine if they wish to improve or move on.

How do you train and retain? We have a new hire training schedule that store leaders must implement with new hires. With our growth, we’ve created a position in the company, the support and development leader, who oversees all of the training progress and provides group training sessions from time to time. This position is a direct line for our store leaders on the local level to call for any purpose. It could be finding an item number, coordinating their in-store training, picking up an item from another store, or simply calling to say hello. When the store leader is tied up and someone can’t get what they need, they can also call our support and development leader. Our mission, vision, and purpose drive our team. Our mission: Inspire an “Of Course, I Can” culture and empower teams to deliver a best-in-class experience to every guest. Our vision: Support and reward the “Of Course, I Can” leaders with unlimited development and growth opportunities. Our purpose: Help bring the great leader out from within!
How do you deal with problem employees? Have open communication as an option at any given time. This lets team members know they can be heard at any time. Most often, the cause of difficult situations is due to a lack of communication. We post a “whom to call” contact list at each location stating whom to call first, second, third, etc. The best practice during conversations with difficult team members is listening. Just listen to them completely and understand their point of view first. In response, restate the importance of our “Of Course, I Can” values.

Fastest way into your doghouse: Being dramatic.

BOTTOM LINE

Annual revenue: $18 million.

2024 goals: $24 million.

Growth meter: How do you measure your growth? We measure growth by the number of team members on our Above Restaurant Leader (ARL) team. In 2021, we had three team members on our ARL team. Today, we have 10.

Vision meter: Where do you want to be in five years? 10 years? In five years: 25 on our ARL team, five different brands, and a total of 50 units. In 10 years: 70 on our ARL team, seven different brands, 150 units.

Do you have brands in different segments? Why/why not? No. All our brands are in the food segment.

How is the economy in your region(s) affecting you, your employees, your customers? For the most part, the economy has affected our labor. Finding talent has been a challenge and still continues.

Are you experiencing economic growth in your market? Yes, housing prices have doubled in the past few years, big tech giants are opening their East Coast hubs, construction is happening on every road, the cost of doing business has increased tremendously in a short period, and there is a wait at every restaurant you go to for dinner.

How do changes in the economy affect the way you do business? We generally focus on the top-line growth. The conversations go well with the team when we talk about improving service and upselling versus telling them to be conservative on their food order or scheduling. Bottom-line savings is something businesses tend to focus more on, but if we keep our top numbers growing, most of the time, it takes care of many of the bottom-line expenses. Reducing waste means ordering to the “T,” and this means we can run out of produce early in the day, which can reduce sales potential. During Covid, the top lines were great, and we didn’t need to put much thought into the bottom lines. But post-Covid, we have to look at increasing sales through marketing just as much as keeping waste down and increasing labor productivity. And most importantly, keeping our team motivated. It is like juggling three bowling pins.

How do you forecast for your business? A positive transaction count is a giveaway for business growth, and it’s easy to plan in that phase. But when we are trending down in transactions, which probably everyone is experiencing these days, it gets tough. Transaction trends are what help us forecast our business along with product mix.

What are the best sources for capital expansion? A combination of cash flow and an effective management team. Cash is king, but the people are priceless. When your business is generating good cash flow, almost every lender wants to work with you, but they want to know about the key people in the organization who are making this possible. Bad cash flow operations can be turned around with great people, but great cash flow can be reduced drastically without the right people in place.

Experience with private equity, local banks, national banks, other institutions? Why/why not? We generally like to stick with conventional lending. Do not like private money as some of them tend to get involved in the operation. We feel this would affect the culture that we have built.

What are you doing to take care of your employees? Listening to their needs. Many want to learn and progress in their careers. We sign them up for webinars, buy books, coach them, set up training on how to use computers, etc. We build 30-, 60-, 90-, and 180-day development plans for setting expectations, achieving goals, pay raises, etc. We conduct group meetings for new product launches and train to build culture while having everyone share their “Of Course, I Can” stories. We have a monthly competition where the winner keeps a traveling trophy at their location for the month. We constantly remind our employees about the importance of our mission, vision, and purpose.

How are you handling rising employee costs (payroll, minimum wage, healthcare, etc.)? Raising prices while staying competitive is the short-term answer. But for the long-term solution, our best response has been shifting our team’s perception of labor cost. Their bonus calculation is not the percentage of the sales but rather labor productivity (i.e., how many hours it takes to take care of all the transactions, regardless of the sales). This takes the monetary thinking out of the equation and puts the focus on the math equation.

What laws and regulations are affecting your business, and how are you dealing with them? Lately, there are not as many regulations on business operations as there were during Covid. North Carolina does not have any minimum wage increase either, but we do have a pay raise trend across the nation that we stay with.

How do you reward/recognize top-performing employees? Acknowledgment at monthly meetings, bonuses, recognition with a trophy, announcements across the network, and promotions.

What kind of exit strategy do you have in place? Operating an existing franchise operation is far easier than running a private business. With that being said, making our restaurant team the best it can be so they perform well under any leadership will make our company even more efficient. 

Published: March 8th, 2024

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