America, as the adage goes, is truly the land of opportunity. How else to explain how two Colombian businessmen who were kidnapped and held captive in the Columbian jungle went on to come to the United States, devise a business plan and embark on a journey of creating a franchise of crepe restaurants?
It doesn’t get much more strange than that. But, in fact, the story of Luis Iragorri is really just a classic American business tale. Iragorri and his two partners (who signed on after the company was founded and his original partner departed) own BannaStrow's, a restaurant franchise that sells crepes filled with everything from bananas and strawberries (hence the name) to shrimp and salads.
How Iragorri came to develop the business idea is a tale in itself. BannaStrow’s CEO Mauricio Acevedo tells the story to BusinessNewsDaily.
BusinessNewsDaily: First, explain how the two founding partners ended up kidnapped on Columbia.
Mauricio Acevedo: The two founders were kidnapped in Colombia and held in jungle tied to a tree. They were kidnapped for money. Luis owned five burger restaurant franchises in Colombia, but he managed the franchise operation for the entire chain. The kidnappers thought he owned the company and thought he had a lot of money. When they were released, they left Colombia for security reasons and met again in Miami. That’s when they decided to start a restaurant chain.
BND: Why crepes?
M.A.: When they decided to franchise, they asked themselves what does a successful food concept need to have to be successful. They needed a product that can be eaten at any time of day that appeals to every member of family. The restaurant needed to be easy to manage, adaptable to every market and operated very easily. No complicated steps. Not too easily copied.
Crepes allowed there to be the most variations with fewest ingredients. And, because there’s no cooking (except putting the liquid crepe mix on the grill) they can be operated out of kiosks, trucks, anywhere.
BND: How many franchises do you have now?
M.A.: We have four standalone franchises now. Two are located in kiosks in malls. The other two are in rest stops on the Florida Turnpike. We also just came up with a truck concept and are in talks with a franchisee in New York City.
BND: How much does a franchise cost?
M.A.: The level of investment for our locations varies between $155,000 to $180,000 depending on the size of the location and whether it is a kiosk, in-line or retail store location. We also offer the possibility of purchasing a mobile truck franchise to serve as a stand-alone business unit and that runs between $80,000 to $150,000 depending on the size of the truck chosen for the project.
BND: How much do the crepes cost?
M.A.: Between $3.50 and $6.50.
BND: What's the biggest business mistake you've made?
M.A.: When the company first started, it only offered sweet crepes like our favorite Fruit Jumble (made of strawberries and banana). We then realized that one of our biggest strengths (other than the fact that we can be where no other food operator can be because of the nature of our operation), were the fact that the crepe's taste is completely neutral and therefore does not compete with the flavors inside. That opened the door for our savory line of crepes and more than doubled our product offerings and took the concept to a whole new level in sales.
BND: How do you find your customers? Do you use social media?
M.A.: Our stores are in highly populated areas which keeps our brand awareness always growing. We try to be where we have a "captive audience" in places like malls, airports, Universities, etc. We have begun our social media strategy to create a more personal relationship with our consumers. BannaStrow’s can be found on Facebook and Twitter.
BND: Who or what is your biggest competitor?
M.A.: There is no national leader in our market segment as of now, which makes us totally unique. BannaStrow’s is one of the first ones to bring crepes into the U.S. marketplace. However, there are many mom-and-pop type crepe restaurants around. Our biggest hurdle at this point is getting people to know what a crepe is and realize how healthy and flexible it can be.
BND: If you had it to do over again, what would you do differently?
M.A.: Hindsight is 20-20. I think we have always tried to make the best decisions with the information at hand. As you grow, that information starts changing. If I had to choose one thing, I would say not underestimating the amount of capital needed to embark in such a big project like growing nationally all at once. It takes a lot of support and effort. But we have enjoyed it immensely!