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In the zone

Judith Harlan

The Zone Cafe, 6775 Sierra Center Parkway in south Reno, began with the Zone Diet recipes, concept, the whole works but it is on a fast track toward much bigger things.

The cafe is a prototype for a nationwide franchise, says Tom Morell, president and chief operating officer.

It’s also a training facility, a testing ground, and a place for the franchiser to develop best practices.

The best-selling diet itself is the foundation of the restaurant its branding niche.Morell wasn’t seeking a restaurant franchise when he bumped into the Zone Diet.

But there it was: a fresh, franchisable, concept.

Irresistible to a franchise veteran executive.

Creation of a franchise, says Morell, requires a fresh idea, something unique or individual, and he saw that something in the popular Zone Diet.

The diet is a moderate-carbohydrate,moderate- protein, and moderate-fat dietary program marketed as a wellness, as well as a weight-control, regimen.

The Zone Cafe is a fast-casual establishment fast food, delivered by runners, in a cafe setting.

Morrell partnered up with two physicians who were also interested in the zone approach, along with the originator of the diet,Dr.

Barry Sears, back in December 2003, and set up shop as the Nevada-based Zone Cafe LLC.

In addition to franchising, the group will be entering into partnerships with restaurateurs.A list of 15 possible locations is listed on its Web site,www.zonecafe.com.

But it’s not the diet Morrell is franchising, though being endorsed by Dr.

Sears is an incalculable boost.

A diet, he says, is not going to keep the customers coming back to the cafe.

Taste needs to do that job.

The diet simply creates the branding niche.

So, though the diet came first, step two on the road to franchise was the food the recipes and taste testing.

The group took the recipes out of the Zone Diet books.

“Then we made them idiot-proof,” says Morrell,”so that no matter what you order, you’ll be in the zone.”

Also, the recipes are idiot-proof in that they can be repeated over and over by future franchisers.

Not only do the recipes have to be replicable, but the food preparers must understand the balance of carbohydrate to fat to protein that underlies every plate that leaves the kitchen.

That’s a training issue, and that issue comes up down the franchise road.

For now, just to initiate the franchise, the company needs an owner’s book that walks the new proprietor through the entire restaurant process from ordering the lettuce, to cooking the food, to busing the tables.

Every step of the way, says Morrell, needs to be tested, proved, and documented.

In its prototype cafe on Sierra Center Parkway, the group has discovered 46 things it will do differently next time, he says.

They’re all in the revised book.

The franchise owners decided to franchise, as opposed to licensing, in December after the November opening of the cafe.And the switch? “More control,” says Morrell.

The firm is writing its Uniform Franchise Offering Circular, a full-disclosure document that must be filed with the secretaries of state in all states in which the firm wants to do business.

That’s all 50 for the Zone group.Morrell is targeting March 15 for filing the UFOC.

Then the lunch rush begins.”It all could happen fast,” says Morrell, as he sits in the calm before the hoped-for storm.

His staff of six will be ramping up at the end of this month and in March, says Morrell, because once the UFOC is filed and the marketing begins, and the franchisers are in the fold, then the firm has to be ready to support it.

Operations, training, marketing, development all need to build at the same rate as the franchise sales flow, he adds.And there’s a challenge that raises one of Morrell’s few concerns about the franchise: that the company will grow too quickly.

He’d like to see 10 franchises open within the year, then 24-25 the next year.And after that lots.

He’s seeking potential franchisers and corporate partners willing to open multiple locations, too, which would allow the Zone staff to develop its business in clusters.

Meanwhile,Morrell is planning to open a Santa Rosa, Calif., Zone Cafe in April or May of this year.

The Reno facility is an express store, but the Santa Rosa one will be a full restaurant with wine and beer.And, yes,wine is allowed in the Zone Diet, as long as it’s accompanied by cheese.And it will be in the Zone

Cafe.


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