Vik Patel is a man driven by two different business passions: the fast breakfast fare of Dunkin’ Donuts and the upscale bar atmosphere of craft-beer emporium The Brass Tap Bar & Grill. Through his Purple Square Management company, Patel oversees 22 Dunkin’ units and, now, his first Brass Tap unit in Oldsmar, Florida. The multi-brand franchisee already has expansion plans for both brands: A 23rd Dunkin’ unit is under construction, along with two Brass Tap units in development for potential year-end openings, plans for others in Florida, and an exclusive deal to develop Brass Tap in North and South Carolina.
Prior to growing his quick-serve empire in Florida, British native Patel started as a portfolio manager at a trust bank in New Jersey, then entered the mortgage industry. He shares how he transitioned from quick-serve franchising into the full-service business—and the balancing act involved.
1. Consult existing franchisees before taking the plunge
I was very fortunate that Jeff Martin, founder of The Brass Tap, and a few other franchisees were very open. They would share profit-and-loss statements with me. They told me the good and the bad. Sometimes franchisors are going to say what they need to say.
My No. 1 piece of advice would be definitely do your due diligence. Go to discovery day, speak to a franchisor, and do as much research as you can. But if at all possible, take advice from their FDD and call as many of those numbers as you can. A lot of the good franchisees will take 10 or 15 minutes—even if they don’t share those numbers with you, it can certainly be beneficial for you to speak to them.
2. Be adept at shifting gears
At Dunkin’ Donuts, our objective is to get guests out as quickly as possible and on their way to work, whereas at The Brass Tap, people are typically spending an hour or two or an evening, and they’re coming with their families and sitting down. That’s been a part of the business that we’ve had to learn, but, for me, it ultimately comes down to quality of the products and the people that we have serving them. I think with the two brands that we have, Dunkin’ is an industry leader in the breakfast category, and we feel that The Brass Tap is going to be the same way in the craft-beer industry.
3. Understand how different systems work and affect business
If an employee is having a rough day in Dunkin’, he can keep to himself, get the coffee out in the drive thru, and we can hide that person and make sure they get through the day because we’re just cranking out car after car and customer after customer. But if you’re having a rough day in the bar or any full-service business, it’s really tough to hide that employee, because that has a negative impact on their income, and obviously on mine.
We weren’t familiar with tipped wages. Now we’re dealing with declaring tips and having wait staff. I spent some time in the bar and just sat there and observed what’s going on. It’s ironic, because I’ve spent so much time in pubs over my lifetime but never leading with this perspective and looking at and noticing different things.
The differences between the two types of businesses have been the most challenging. Ultimately, for us, if you control your food and your labor, have the right people in place, and invest time in them, you can be successful, and I think that’s why we’re now looking to expand.
4. Consider both pros and cons to sharing employees across brands
Only having one Brass Tap unit open so far, we did take one Dunkin’ employee who is very ambitious and wanted to move up. He would’ve looked for a Dunkin’ management opportunity, but we didn’t have one at the time.
I got the operator we wanted for The Brass Tap, but we needed to send a second person. We didn’t want to hire somebody off the street that we didn’t know, and we talked to him about the opportunity. He loves craft beer. What we found is you have to engage people. It’s not a place where you get asked for a pint of beer, bring it back, and that’s it. That ordering can take 5–10 minutes if you’re really walking them through what’s at the bar. You might not take that long, but the point I’m trying to make is that there’s a little more to it. We have 300 beers on our menu, so you have to have some knowledge.
Not many people are really into craft beer that work at Dunkin’, or if they are, we don’t know. It’s pretty tough to get into that industry and not be passionate about beer, unless you’re going to be in the kitchen. When employees start at The Brass Tap, they go through four days of beer school and have to memorize all the beers, styles, and taste and uniqueness.
This kid took the opportunity, and now he is on the way to being a manager for The Brass Tap. So far we haven’t seen a correlation that if they’re good at Dunkin’ they could probably be good over at The Brass Tap. We don’t want to raid the talent pool, although we did with him.