You’re always hearing stories about how you shouldn’t go into business with a friend. But if you’re looking for a success story, the founders (Teena Gupta, Ken Sim, Tim Hopkins and Parise Siegel) of Rosemary Rocksalt have defied that.
Teena and Ken are also the co-founders of Nurse Next Door, an award winning Canadian home healthcare service. But with taking a step back from the day-to-day operations at Nurse-Next-Door in 2012, Teena and Ken sought a new venture.
Now where does home health care services and Montreal style bagels unite? In the form of bagel expert Parise Seigel. They knew they wanted to work with a friend – Ken and Teena saw an opportunity, and they took it.
Dubbed the Director of Spreading Happiness, Parise’s expertise in Vancouver’s bagel scene came from her experience of her father’s legendary bagel joint. With their backgrounds in finance, Ken and Teena crunched and reviewed the numbers and paired with Tim and Parise’s expertise in bagels from Seigels, Rosemary Rocksalt came into existence.
With the emphasis of quality products, workplace happiness, and the subtle accents of the trio’s friendship, Rosemary Rocksalt is stealing the hearts of their bagel patrons.
Their social media feeds are littered with photos of their employees (who they call team members), real life photos of their bagels and express an all around quirky and playful vibe. Their brand is charming – from the tailored caricature murals for each of the 5 corporate locations, to their slogan of #realbagels. They’re honest, they’re fun, and they’re darn good.
Highlighting one of our favorite fast casual chains, we spoke to Teena on the success and growth of Rosemary Rocksalt.
Q - If you had to describe RRS in three words, what would they be?
A - Off the top of my head - real, fresh and chewy
Q - What’s your current favorite dish on the menu? What’s a must try at RRS?
A - My current favorite is the Strathcona on a rosemary rocksalt bagel because I like spicy foods and it has jalapenos! But I normally do it without the meat because I’m not a huge meat eater.And I think what’s a must try is the Mont Royal, a smoked meat sandwich. People just love it!
Q - Your background is in finance, and you’ve had experience in operating an extremely successful healthcare service (Nurse Next Door)...What pushed you to take the jump and open Rosemary Rocksalt? Was there anything that drew you into the restaurant industry?
A - It wasn’t the restaurant industry in particular. What happened was, stepping out of daily operations of Nurse Next Door, I wanted to do more. I didn’t know if it was going somewhere else being an employee or starting something.
What ended up happening, is that for one of my kids, (I have four boys), the second one was at Montessori with this kid that he really liked and I really liked the parents. She had a bagel company and was thinking of maybe expanding but didn’t know how. And knew that Ken and I had experience in expansion.
It was organic and we just started talking about it from there. Ken looked at the numbers and the financials because he's really good with evaluations like that. Then we thought, maybe let's do something together, you guys seem like cool people and it was really more of that than anything!
It was taking best practices [of Nurse Next Door] and applying it to another widget.
Q - Do you have any advice for those who are potentially looking to start a business with a friend? What kind of qualities are important in finding the appropriate business partner?
A - Number one is: you have to get along with the person. Just because you’re friends, doesn’t mean you’re necessarily going to do well in business together.
I think a lot of people think that’s gonna happen and it ends up breaking up their friendship. I think you need to know, before you even start, what each of you is willing to bring to the table. And its setting clear expectations before starting and enduring. I think its how committed each party is going to be and the passion is very important.
And sharing some of the same qualities and core values of that other person!
Q - In terms of running a successful business, do you have any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs? What are some key traits that they should have?
A - Key traits in running a successful business? I think you really have to believe in something and keep plugging away. I think, especially for entrepreneurs, don’t take no for an answer.
It takes so little effort to go from good to great and so few people do it. I think so many people stay in the good area but if you’re willing to put in a little sweat …
And resilience. Don’t take no for an answer, keep plugging away, keep plugging away, even if it means you fail at one, your first or second or third business, you generally should be learning from whatever you failed at. Look at those as opportunities and you just keep plugging away. Resilience is a big part of that.
Q - What do you consider one of the most difficult aspects in running a successful business?
A - The most difficult aspect? I think transitioning from an entrepreneur to owning an actual business.
It’s easy to be an entrepreneur, and say “Hey I’ve got this great idea” but then to put it into action [is different].
As a business owner, you have to take on all the duties and its important know and learn how to delegate those duties to people you can trust and rely on. so you can focus on the bigger picture, on the strategic picture. It’s about having someone help with the actual operations and transitioning from an entrepreneur to a business owner.
Q - Since 2012, you’ve opened 5 locations, with one on the way. How do you ensure that new and returning guests receive the same quality service and consistent food?
A - The key there is just maintaining really really high standards. If you maintain and your following procedures and they’re consistent in all stores, that’s how you’re gonna have consistent food.
And training, it has to be the same way for every store partner, and every artisan.
Q - And what do you call your employees?
A - We call our employees team members. Everyone is a team member. There’s no top to bottom, it’s all lateral. As the business owners, we call ourselves the support center. We are here to support our team members to grow those stores to really successful business.
Our GMs are our store business partners. We give them the autonomy to run the store within the policies and procedures of RRS. They have the autonomy to act like business owners and entrepreneurs. And they don’t have to come to us for every little decision. We want them to be self-led to make decisions on their own with coaching of course. If they need help, ask. For small things like a janitorial issue, we want to give them the opportunity to figure it out.
Q - What kind of factors do you look for when opening a new location?
A - For new locations, ideally we want high traffic areas. We have our locations here in Vancouver and we just opened up in Richmond in December. That’s our first real suburb location and its doing quite well.
So those are the kind of markets that we want to expand into. We want people who want grocery items. So not just to come in for sandwich but maybe you know what, I want to buy a dozen bagels and maybe grab a sandwich at the same time.
Q - In a span of 5 years after, there are now 5 locations open and growing. What kind of factors have contributed to your success?
A -Perseverance and again, not taking no for an answer. And really, above all, I think having a great team and key members of your organization, who really believe in what we’re doing. Who truly believe in what we’re doing.
Passion is core and I think it's being able to see the bigger picture. It’s easy to get lost in the daily sh*t storm, but to see the bigger picture is so so important.
Q - Is there anything you would do differently? Were there any lessons you’ve learned along the way?
A - One of the biggest lessons would be always stay true to your core values; in terms of team members.
When you know that you have someone who isn't the right fit, it's better to free up their future, sooner than later.
We are slow to hire and quick to free up people futures .. and that kinda got lost along the way a little bit. But we’ve learned from that.
And another thing, I think as a small business owner, is being more involved in daily ops in the short-term, and making sure you really trust your key people… and keeping them and yourself accountable.
Q - What’s next for RRS? It has almost been five years since the first location opened, and you’ve expanded quickly and successfully. Do you plan on opening locations outside of BC?
A - We do. Right now we’re corporately owned and not franchised; and we plan on staying corporately owned. Its very important for us to solidify our operations here in BC first and foremost before we even get out.
We do plan on opening outside of BC but we haven’t determined where just yet. Our next 10 locations, at least, will be in BC, probably in the lower mainland area including the suburbs. We need to solidify operations, and our training programs, before we go out.