“From a National perspective, la Madeleine is one of the restaurant industry’s best kept secrets,” says Chris Cheek, vice president, franchise development at la Madeleine, a country-French, fast-casual concept ready to sell its first franchises. “The company has been in business for 30 years. It started in Dallas and now has 60 company-owned units. We offer food, drink, and snack offerings that you would expect to find in a home in the French countryside.”
The market opportunities are broad. “There is a lot of territory available,” Cheek says. “We will grow where we find great franchisees. It is much harder to find great franchisees than it is to find great cities to build your brand in. We are looking for multiunit operators with the capacity to do this.
“With French food, the sauces, marinades, and dressings are the keys to the flavor and enjoyment of the food. Historically, all those were made from scratch in each la Madeleine kitchen. While that was great for flavor and quality, it was not scalable for franchising,” Cheek says. “So we moved our proprietary recipes to a third-party manufacturer to make our soups, sauces, marinades, and dressings, and they ship those to our units.
“That allowed us to shrink the size of our kitchens and offer better quality control and less complexity for franchise owners at the café level. We did the same with our breads and pastries.”
Owning a la Madeleine will not be an inexpensive franchise option. The company is looking for candidates with liquid assets of more than $2 million and a net worth greater than $5 million, but Cheek says there’s good reason for those benchmarks. “In addition to evaluating our franchise candidates for their operational abilities and passion for food, we have to make sure our franchisees are financially qualified to go into their markets of choice and grow at a strategic pace. If they can’t do that, it is not fair to the brand or to them,” he says.
Challenges to the brand include overcoming a “best kept secret” status. “We know the brand is unique. There is no one else doing country French in a fast-casual environment,” Cheek says, but because the company has not franchised yet, there are consumers not yet familiar with la Madeleine.
Real estate remains challenging, as well. “It’s always important to make sure you find the best locations. And while there’s a lot of talk about good deals in real estate, the good sites are still competitive. We have to be diligent about pursuing those sites. We want to be the first choice tenant, and we want to make sure we don’t overpay,” Cheek says.
Best sites for la Madeleine are multi-tenant pad sites, and the company prefers end caps. “A lot of the corporate stores are freestanding, but we’ve reduced the kitchen footprint,” Cheek says, so the company can go into smaller spaces.
Growth will be controlled. “We have to find the best franchise candidates and help them identify the best real estate available in their markets. Because we’ve been in business for so long and operate 60 cafés ourselves, we can support our franchisees from a position of credibility,” Cheek says.
“Our approach to food, training, and interacting with our guests begins with our belief that we are in the hospitality business. You approach guests—not customers—as if they are dining in your home,” Cheek says.
“La Madeleine is about the lifestyle of the French countryside. We want our franchisees to make a connection with our guests, a connection built around that lifestyle.”
For more information about franchising opportunities with la Madeleine, visit www.lamadeleine.com.