Ritesh and Zeel Patel have been Kahala franchisees for nearly two years, operating a Blimpie unit in their hometown of Richmond, Va.
A year ago, the couple wanted to try something new and came up with a food court program with multiple brands for CJW Medical Center, a local hospital. When a McDonald's moved out of the building, the Patels pitched their idea to hospital executives and it was approved almost immediately.
The Patels took advantage of Kahala's extensive brand portfolio and opened four of the company's concepts in one 3,000-square-foot space. Now, Blimpie, Samurai Sam's, Cereality and NRgize Lifestyle Café operate in the hospital with a shared back kitchen.
"We got the idea to bring in four concepts when we first looked at the space. It is huge and we figured we could maximize it this way," Zeel said.
To jump start the new concept, the Patels received a large discount on initial franchise fees from Kahala.
Of Kahala's 13 total brands, the Patels chose these four because they focus on healthier elements. Ratesh's background is in nutrition, food and exercise, while Zeel's experience is in health administration and policy.
"The way things are going right now, especially with our children, we wanted to do something geared toward healthy, nutritional, valuable food," Zeel said. "We thought the hospital would be the perfect space for something like that and they agreed."
Kahala representatives consulted the Patels on which brands to choose, and supported them through the staff training process and initial operations.
A year of learning
The couple had already worked with Blimpie and was therefore familiar with the concept, so bringing that brand into the hospital was a no-brainer. However, they knew hospital employees would occasionally crave something other than a sub, so they went with Samurai Sam's as their second concept.
"Everything is steamed and grilled, so it goes along with our initial idea of offering healthier food, and it's fit for dinner and lunch," Zeel said. "Cereality was chosen for younger patients and visitors, as it provides them with "something familiar; comfort food," Zeel said.
And NRgize fills the snack space and offers smoothies and other offerings for employees and visitors who may be in a hurry.
"Basically, we made sure all the dayparts were covered," Zeel said.
Initially, the operation was a huge undertaking.
"You have four different brands, four different inventories, four different recipes, four different types of training," Zeel said. It took about a year, but the Patels now have an efficient system in place where employees are familiar with each brand and are staffed where needed depending on the time of day.
The busiest times are during lunch and dinner, when there are six to 10 employees on the clock. Blimpie attracts the most traffic of their hospital brands.
Zeel said the biggest challenge is sharing the back space. Besides oatmeal (Cereality sells oatmeal and NRgize recently launched an oatmeal smoothie), there is no cross inventory at the restaurants. The Patels developed a system that includes a checklist and inventory chart, and trained their managers and staff on each brand. Zeel said training takes about two days per employee per brand.
"We first trained ourselves and it was initially very daunting. We found that the best way to train our employees was to do it brand by brand and move our way through each restaurant. It is tedious, but important that everyone knows how to work in whatever capacity they're needed," she said.
The Patels have tweaked some of the brands' menus to better fit their unique location. The hospital's Blimpie, for example, includes a "heart healthy" lineup, with five items under 400 calories and 6 grams of fat. Samurai Sam's includes a reduced sodium teriyaki sauce.
There is a cafeteria located in CJW Medical Center, but cannibalization hasn't been a factor.
"The hospital is very patient care centered, and their primary focus is on the dietary needs of their patients and providing options. We did talk about how the cafeteria would be affected before we opened and it has been a non issue completely," Zeel said.
The past year of juggling four brands-in-one has been a "huge" success for the franchisees, and they plan on duplicating the multiple concept food court in other spaces if the opportunity presents itself.
"This is a non-traditional location with a captive audience, and we've grabbed a niche for that and really enjoy it," Zeel said. "It's challenging, but it's a good challenge. We can't get bored with this."
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