The economic power of the deep-fried potato

An advisory council of franchise representatives is appointed and meets twice a year at head office with senior management to discuss opportunities and issues. Weekly, senior management gather informally to review franchisee communications.

National Post
December 13, 2000

The economic power of the deep-fried potato

When Jay Gould saw the hordes of people lining up for fresh french fries at a fair-weather chip cart in Manhattan 20 years ago, he knew it was a golden opportunity.

The Brantford, Ont.,-born entrepreneur and his brother, Hal, immediately bought the rights from the chip cart owner and set out in 1984 to offer the "best french fries in the world" in Canadian fast-food courts.

People told him he was nuts. No way could he transform the common potato into a specialty brand. He heard much the same about frozen yogurt and salads when he and his brother launched the fast-food restaurant Cultures in 1977 in London, Ont. They eventually sold the booming 58-store chain.

"In the beginning, they all thought we were out of minds. In the case of New York Fries, it was the same, in that we were again offering a unique, specialty product."

It was Mr. Gould's unmatched commitment to the deep-fried potato and to his franchise operators that resulted in the successful creation of another fast-food category in the highly competitive market. The company has grown to 166 locations —151 of which are franchise-owned — in Canada, South Korea and Australia. Further international expansion is underway.

In the early years before the brand was strong, struggling franchise operators desperately appealed to Mr. Gould to expand the menu. "We didn't even sell gravy, which is pretty popular in Canada," he admits. During the first three years of New York Fries, the menu consisted strictly of fries and pop.

While head office offered what support it could to the operators, Mr. Gould would not stray from the specialty fries, convinced the margin item from which other fast-food giants made their buck would sell on its own. He felt the only way to build the brand was to protect it and keep it focused.

"If you look at traditional fast-food restaurants, no one is the best at something. They are all trying to be everything to everybody. Now, with a name like ours, if we tried to offer a roast beef sandwich, who would expect us to be good at it?" The menu has since expanded, but only after careful market research has shown additions serve to drive the purchase of french fries.

To maintain quality of the brand, Mr. Gould knew he needed to rely on the franchisees. The us-them philosophy could not exist. He has nurtured a shared-value, shared-risk culture, resulting in multiple franchisee ownership. "So if there's a store out in Pick-a-town, Ontario, that needs our help, we'll help. And it's not just out of magnanimity. We realize if they lose, it costs us, too."

An advisory council of franchise representatives is appointed and meets twice a year at head office with senior management to discuss opportunities and issues. Weekly, senior management gather informally to review franchisee communications. New franchise owners receive extensive training before and after their franchise opens.

Ultimately, New York Fries tries not to take itself too seriously. After all, we are talking about french fries, says Mr. Gould. Fun is integrated into the brand positioning and marketing.

From the black-and-white checkered packaging to the cheap shots it takes at itself in its ads, there is a light-hearted attitude behind the brand — and it extends to the unique corporate-franchisee culture assuring stability in a rapidly growing chain.


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