Franchise peddles sweet dreams

As with any franchise, long-term success will depend largely on the quality of franchise operators it attracts, he adds. “With any of these things, if you get the right franchisee, it’s fabulous. And if you get the wrong people it’s a disaster.”

The Globe and Mail
February 11, 2000

Franchise peddles sweet dreams
With an appetite for expansion, Death by Chocolate dessert shops are going fork-to-fork with both mom-and-pop pastry shops and specifically coffee chains.
Wendy Stueck

DeathbyChocolateShakilAdam.jpg

'The dessert trade is not an impulse item,' Death by Chocolate president Shakil Adam says. 'People will schedule a visit to our store. It's something special to them.' Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Rough winds may shake Toronto streets in winter, but when it comes to ice cream enthusiasm, it’s eternal summer.

“One big regional difference we’ve noticed is that there’s a far greater bias toward ice cream [in Toronto], despite the cold weather,” says Shakil Adam, 35, president of Vancouver-based Death by Chocolate Franchise Ltd.

Launched in Vancouver in 1996, Death by Chocolate opened its first outlet in Toronto – in Bloor West Village –about six weeks ago, and has since added some new ice-cream-based treats to the store’s menu.

The sundaes, along with showy dishes with names including Latin Lover, Height of Passion and Crumble In My Arms, are the sweet heart of a franchise concept that Mr. Adam and two partners launched and plan to expand.

The company has eight shops in Vancouver, the one in Toronto, and says more locations, in Edmonton, Kelowna, B.C. and Victoria, are to come.

With its focus on sweet treats and specialty coffee, Death by Chocolate is going fork-to-fork with mom-and-pop pastry shops and chains such as Toronto-based Second Cup Ltd. and Starbucks Corp. of Seattle.

“The concept probably makes sense,” says Roger Dent, an analyst who follows Second Cup for Yorkton Securities Inc. “The specialty coffee category is very vibrant-it’s also very competitive.”

As with any franchise, long-term success will depend largely on the quality of franchise operators it attracts, he adds.

“With any of these things, if you get the right franchisee, it’s fabulous. And if you get the wrong people it’s a disaster.”

The Toronto outlet for Death by Chocolate is a corporate-owned location, says Mr. Adam, which gives him a better opportunity to tweak the concept as he goes along. Of the nine locations, seven are franchises.

Franchisees typically invest between $250,000 and $350,000 to get a store up and running. Mr. Adam says store sales average $550,000 a year.

Before the first Death by Chocolate outlet opened, Milloy Reid and Wong Co. Ltd., a New Zealand investment firm, owned rights to the concept and was looking for a Canadian franchisee.

Mr. Adam, along with his partners, a Vancouver optometrist and a Toronto radiologist, had been looking for a hospitality business. They pitched the New Zealand company on operating the franchise, and obtained the licence for British Columbia, and then Canada.

“When we say Death by Chocolate, it looked unique,” Mr. Adam says. “We didn’t want to look at just a coffee bar, or a bagel or a muffin place.”

The concept includes an “album” with glossy pictures of feature desserts, and a presentation area where customers can, presumably, drool as their chosen indulgence is prepared

The three partners are hoping to see up to 100 Death by Chocolate outlets in Canada, Mr. Adam says, but are conscious of overstuffing the market.

“The dessert trade is not an impulse item,” he says. “People will schedule a visit to our store, it’s something special to do after a movie or the theatre.”

The concept must also, in retail-speak, stay “fresh.” That means special seasonal desserts and regular overhauls to the menu.

“As much as we don’t get people coming every day, we do get people coming once a week, or twice a week,” he says. “That’s one of the reasons we have to change the menu.”

One thing Mr. Adam can’t control – completely – is the Death by Chocolate name. The company has trademarked the phrase as a restaurant name, but that restriction does not cover cookbooks, recipes or dishes in other restaurants.

In Vancouver, caterer and chef Lesley Stowe of Lesley Stowe Fine Foods Ltd. created her Death By Chocolate dish in 1986, and still considers it her signature item.

But when it comes to chocolate, perhaps there can never be too much to go around.

With her husband Erich, Therese Nause has been running Petit Paris Cake and Coffee Shop Inc. for several decades in the same location in Bloor West Village.

She says she isn’t worried about the new competition.

“We’ve been here for 37 years, and all that time, I’ve had customers who have come in every day.”


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