Vegetarian fast food business Lord of the Fries has had its eye on the Indian market for some time, but as the brand unveils plans for a 100-store network across India, the founders say they could not have predicted the way the expansion would end up happening.
“We’ve always known India would be a great destination for us, knowing that much of the culture there is vegetarian,” co-founder Sam Koronczyk tells SmartCompany.
The Lord of the Fries team had traveled to the region to research opportunities to expand, but it would be a staff member from within Australia that would hold the key to the 100-store expansion plan the company has announced this week, after signing a deal for a master franchisee arrangement with local operator Zesty Bites, part of the property business Sakariya Group.
“How all this came about with this group is that we had a guy who was on a study visa at the time working for us in stores a few years back,” Koronczyk explains.
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“He left Australia, went back to India, and always had that thought that he could bring the brand over to India. He started working for a group who was looking for overseas brands, he suggested Lord of the Fries, and the conversations began.”
If all goes to plan, the deal will see Lord of the Fries open 100 franchised stores in India over the next 10 years, with the first set for Ahmedabad in early 2019.
Koroncyzk says the experience speaks to a larger part of the company’s philosophy: “You never know where things might lead”.
“We’ve had a philosophy here where we’re prepared to speak to pretty much everybody, we’re always open to the conversation,” he says of potential business opportunities.
This also extends to being willing to speak with other entrepreneurs who are working in, or looking to launch products in, the vegetarian food space. He says just yesterday the team met with other entrepreneurs outside the group who were looking for advice on launching a new concept, and while they may be playing in the same space as Lord of the Fries, the co-founders were still interested in having that conversation.
“They are starting up another vegan offer, but meeting them, well, they may be working with someone that later on we work with … something could potentially come out of that situation. It’s all about making your own luck,” says Koroncyzk.
The Indian franchise operators have just completed training in Australia and over the next few months will select sites for the expansion of the store network.
It’s not just overseas that the brand sees growth potential, either: closer to home, the team is still looking to expand the number of local stores.
Lord of the Fries launched in 2005 and in the years since, the vegan and vegetarian burger and hot dog chain has expanded to 18 stores across Australia and New Zealand. Koronczyk says the business has seen “quite a bit of growth” in the past year, and there are plans to expand the local store network to 25 sites by the end of this year.
The store network is currently generating around $25 million in revenue each year, Koronczyk says, highlighting that the business has grown slowly over the past decade with virtually no advertising of franchising opportunities.
Of the 18 stores currently in operation in Australia, 17 are franchised, with head office retaining ownership of the flagship outlet at Flinders Street Station in Melbourne.
Reflecting on the recent raft of bad news stories about the world of franchising, Koronczyk says Lord of the Fries is watching “fortunately from a distance”, saying the company’s franchisees are not facing the same issues.
“I honestly don’t think we need to change anything — we are interested in long-term relationships with people,” he says.
“But I would imagine that it [these stories of franchise challenges] would make people think twice not about investing in franchising, but about getting advice on it.
“Too many people jump into a franchise thinking that it’s some kind of golden ticket. I don’t think that exists, in franchising or in starting your own business.”