Ever dream of owning your own restaurant franchise? Meet Brianna Keefe, the founder of Toastique. At 23 years old, she started her own franchise in Washington, DC. Learn all about who she is, the formation & management style of Toastique, and her best advice to entrepreneurs in my interview with her below.
Sam: What is the story of Toastique and the background behind the idea?
Brianna Keefe: From a young age, I have always been passionate about food, nutrition and fitness in all its forms, which overtime transitioned into a passion and love for clean living. My first job was a host at a restaurant. In high school I made smoothies & juice every day, this sparking the dream of owning my own health cafe. In college, being a D1 athlete, I quickly learned how important it was to have wholesome meals throughout the day to keep my energy up while on the go. Day in day out, I expanded my original avocado toast, to various toast creations to accommodate my busy schedule anytime of the day. Toastique is essentially how I fueled myself throughout my life thus far.
Sam: What type of market research and analysis did you perform to open Toastique in the DC (The Wharf) location?
Brianna Keefe: We looked at the demographics but quickly realized the Wharf is such an unknown. Looking at the demographic on a 1-mile radius, half of it is water so we really had to trust that this new development was going to attract as many locals and tourists as it planned on. Other than trusting the development, the only other research we performed was comparing the concept to similar concepts or healthy fast casual restaurants nearby which there was none.
Sam: At 23 years old, how difficult was the professional & personal aspect of starting a waterfront restaurant in DC? What kind of adversity did you face from financing to developers, and how did you overcome those challenges?
Brianna Keefe: Finding financing was by far the biggest challenge at such a young age. Just because you have the passion and determination doesn’t mean the bank is going to give you a loan. The developer’s broker wouldn’t even take a meeting with me until he saw a business plan. At this point, what is now Toastique, has always been a dream and I never wrote any of it on paper. So, I sat down for 48 hours and typed up a 25 page long business plan just to see the space. After Toastique got the broker and developer’s approval, they then had to convince THEIR lender that Toastique was a good fit for the new development.
Sam: In less than a year from opening at The Wharf, you’ve opened a second location in Alexandria. What do you attribute to the accelerated growth of Toastique?
Brianna Keefe: The continued enthusiasm from our customers really validated the concept and that it just wasn’t succeeding due to it’s location in the hottest new development in DC. Customers continually have asked where we are opening next and if we can open a Toastique closer to them.
Sam: Lately, traditional restaurants have been in decline and newer restaurants show thin profit margins during the initial years. What makes Toastique different?
Brianna Keefe: Toastique is different for many reasons. A big reason is that Toastique is a fast-casual restaurant which is the new movement how Americans are eating. Not only is it fast casual, it’s also healthy and we source ingredients responsibly, which is not extremely common in the DC area. Toastique is dedicated to speed, customization and quality ingredients without breaking the bank to accommodate the busy American lifestyle. Secondly, a main reason why restaurants fail is because they don’t have tight book keeping with every cost, expense etc. categorized and being monitored daily. Whereas, my partner’s favorite hobby is making spreadsheets so we are always on top of all numbers. Lastly, I truly believe customer service is just as important as how delicious the food is. At Toastique, we create a culture within our team that translates to our guests, so that everyone who enters the door feels welcomed and leaves with having the most enjoyable experience possible. We are here to make people feel good inside and out.
Sam: As you continue to grow, what are key traits that you look for in employees?
Brianna Keefe: Genuine, loyal, willing. Toastique is planning to grow so we have a lot to offer to our employees, therefore, we strive for longevity with our employees. I look for people who will stay loyal to Toastique and are genuinely great, hardworking people who will go far with us. Most importantly, employees who are willing to have an open mind and take risks with us. As a small business, we are still figuring things out and having a few solid employees who are willing to put in a few extra hours to test out a new product or eager to challenge us with a new idea - those are the type of people who will be valued on the team.
Sam: What is the best use for the cash on Toastique’s balance sheet? How does Toastique plan to raise capital in order to fund future growth?
Brianna Keefe: The cash on Toastique’s balance sheet goes directly to the bank to fund future buildouts without needing any type of loans. We plan on growing Toastique organically without raising any funding or bringing on any investors. As you stated a few questions earlier, the restaurant industry can be tricky, so I never want to find ourselves leveraged if there is ever a recession or market trend shift. We would rather be on the other side of the coin if a recession hits and be able to pick up some prime real estate from people who were overleveraged.
Sam: Do you foresee the company ever going public?
Brianna Keefe: No, never. The goal is to sell the company in 15+ years after it has grown to multiple locations.
Sam: What are some of the popular menu items at Toastique? Do you have a favorite?
Brianna Keefe: Our Avocado Smash is the most popular item on the menu by a landslide. It’s a classic but I’ve been told by customers, too many times to count that we have “the best avocado toast” they’ve ever had. One of my favorite items, which is also another one of our popular items is our PB+B bowl. It’s an acai bowl made with banana, blueberries and our homemade peanut butter and it is absolutely to die for.
Sam: What was the best piece of advice you ever received and what would you tell recent graduates & entrepreneurs starting out?
Brianna Keefe: Take risks and do it as soon as you possibly can. If it’s something you are absolutely, positively passionate about, just do it. The older you get, the more excuses you will make not to do it.
Sam: Where can people go to follow Toastique’s journey and stay in touch?
Brianna Keefe: Our Instagram page is where you will find most frequent updates (and beautiful visions as well!) @toastique
Our Facebook handle is also @toastique