Executive Insights | April 2011 | By Daphne's California Greek

Making California Greek Chic

Daphne’s new CEO explains the motivations behind his detailed rebranding efforts.

Successful serial entrepreneur Bill Trefethen is the new CEO of Daphne’s Greek Café, a California fast-casual concept that he bought in bankruptcy last summer. Simply purchasing the company is not all Trefethen has in store for the 20-year-old Mediterranean concept, however. His rebranding efforts are extensive and aim to give the concept new life and a new genre.

Why rebrand Daphne’s now?

Because we didn’t own the company before. I would have done it sooner but I didn’t own the concept.

I’ve known the brand for about 10-12 years as a customer. And I’ve liked the food, and when the opportunity came up to buy this, it was a great fit. It was a brand that wasn’t franchised yet and was in a good place in the market, meaning it’s in an area that’s poised for growth.

What was wrong with the brand?

If you look at Daphne’s as a brand, it started 20 years ago and the stores pretty much look the same today. All they’ve done is grow the number of stores, but basically it’s the same concept. But the market now is a lot different than it was 20 years ago. You have Chipotle and other seriously competitive fast casuals, and this brand couldn’t survive. They were nice, clean corporate stores, but there’s no reason customers would want to go there from an experience perspective.

What’s the biggest change for the brand?

It’s probably the move to the “California Greek” concept. The problem with “Greek café” when we talked to focus groups was that there are a lot of people who are totally unfamiliar with Greek food. When you say Greek anything they won’t go. It’s mainly guys 25-35. Women are much more open to it, so we were looking for a way we could make Greek cool and acceptable to the masses. We were asking ourselves, can we just soften it down a bit?

What we came up with was “California Greek,” which really grounds us in our California market. Also, there’s the connotation of “California,” which is healthy living. What that does is it creates our own genre. So we can pretty much do anything. It’s California cuisine with Mediterranean influence.

What’s the first menu change you’re making at Daphne’s?

We’re coming out with a salmon dish and a California Greek Salad, and we have four new salads that are coming out over the next three months to build out our salad line.

Will customers still recognize the brand after all these changes?

Yes and no. We’re relaunching the brand before we remodel all the stores. With the existing stores, it’s going to be a new sign, new POP, and the menu is by and large the same except some of those new items I mentioned.

The culture and the attitude of the company are completely different from what they were before. The personality of the company is going to be different, and there will be some customers who are surprised that this isn’t the little Greek café they were used to. We may lose them, but overall the comments we’ve been hearing on the new store remodels have been about 50:1 positive.

I was very sensitive to that, and that’s why we didn’t change the menu dramatically.

You mentioned a new culture for the company. Describe that.

It’s fun and irreverent. I’m not sure that the company had a voice before. We’ve been working to change the internal voice and change the culture. That means finding people who fit the culture and ultimately weeding people out who don’t.

The culture is this active, work-hard-play-hard-type of culture; it’s very open-door. We’re still very results-oriented, though. And that’s probably worse than most places like that, because if you don’t perform, you’re going to be out.

Is that the hardest part of the rebranding?

Yes because it’s easy to hire an ad agency and change your branding, but if you can’t deliver at the store at the end of the day, it’s over. We’re going to come up with great plans from a product point of view and a facilities point of view, but we’re going to have to work hard on the culture.

Just making them drop the normal, slow, “Hello, welcome to Daphne’s” when you walk in the store has been a challenge.

With all these changes, can we assume that national expansion, or even franchising, is in Daphne’s future?

Yes. I want to make this a national brand in select markets. The franchising model is probably the best way to go for that. The keys are creating energy behind the brand, finding a unit economics model that works, and then you can franchise it. But you can’t franchise until you have it all nailed down.