Gallic charm meets European tastes in this new food franchise.
As the Delisse takeaway brand gears up for expansion, founder Mathieu Thomas says franchising is the preferred option:
“We need people who will treat it as their own”.
Gallic-inspired Delisse is a takeaway chain offering breakfasts and lunches, and just a little ooh la la. The muse has been subtly translated into design – classic white bricks and baskets that echo the simplicity of a French freshfood market. That subtle hint of European style is at the forefront of the food offer. When Mathieu Thomas set up in business, his aim was to offer busy corporate workers a convenient, fast lunchtime service with a focus on quality and taste. The concept was based on his own experience of working as a management consultant, first in France then in Australia, where he spotted a gap for a takeaway lunch with a difference.
He opened the first store in Sydney’s Martin Place in 2013. He readily admits not to having had any food retail experience, but teamed up with a hospitality veteran of 35 years to help bring the project to life.
“I wanted to do something for myself, something where I could see the outcome. This was a concept where I could see results ‒ food and retail is quite obvious,” says Thomas. The business combines his customer experience, his French heritage and the need in the market for “a bit of diversity”.
“There was room for something with a bit more authenticity. I knew how Sydney was growing and could see the shopping centres were planning significant changes to bring food on board, so I thought it would be possible if we had the right concept … something not too different or extreme. If it’s too niche you can’t survive. People don’t have time to understand something too different.”
Delisse has taken what works in the Australian market and given it a twist, using mainly European ingredients such as Italian, French and Spanish hams and cheeses, and baguettes.
Breakfast is a strong part of the business, says Thomas. “Coffee is a given, but we also have pastries and french toast. We use a baguette, so the toast is slightly different.”
Thomas says the food needs to be interesting enough to pull people in. “It has to be a value proposition for your clients to push them to walk an extra 20 metres.” And it is achieved through an uncompromising approach to food quality.
However, elevating authentic European deli items over local staples comes at a price, and Delisse deals with higher ingredient costs by being economical with size. Instead of using 200g of Australian cheese, the business model is based on serving 100g or 150g of French cheese in a sandwich.
Now the business is growing Delisse can buy in bulk. The development of a central kitchen has also boosted efficiencies, with outlet staff simply putting the final touches.
“We try to find the best balance of economy with scale through using the kitchen. We can grow more quickly and manage the quality better. We always wanted to grow. We need scale to be more efficient, and franchising was one way.
“It’s hard to find managers who can run things with extreme efficiency with the care factor that’s needed. It takes six months to find the right team. We need to have people who will treat it as their own, so franchising is the preferred option.”
He is looking for franchisees with personality, owner-operators who will run their outlet on a daily basis, who have business skills and understand the numbers involved, and will bring a strong customer focus that ensures they will go “above and beyond”.
Thomas is ramping up the recruitment. One site has already been secured that will be redeveloped by next autumn, and he’s seeking to match franchisees and sites for next year. At the moment the Delisse locations mean the business is primarily a five-days-a-week offer, but sales show that a $25,000 turnover can be achieved over five days in a 40 to 45sqm site. “That’s the beauty of Delisse,” says Thomas, “it trades strongly in the morning and at lunchtime.”
Because of the central kitchen, the costs of setting up a takeaway outlet are less than other models. The only requirements are a cool room, an oven and a counter, says Thomas.
There are now three outlets in the Sydney CBD, one with seating. As the brand moves into further growth through franchising, the offer will be purely takeaway to allow for a focus on sales. The outlets (kiosks or in-line food spaces) will be designed to maximise efficiency. The ideal locations have a heavy footfall, such as busy food courts and transport hubs.
Thomas has a goal of doubling the outlets to six within 12 months, in central Sydney and North Sydney. He then expects the rate of expansion to increase with a store network of 25 being the five-year plan … just within the Sydney metro area.
As yet the brand is not in any major shopping centres, but these are part of the growth strategy. “Of course we need to be extremely vigilant about rents,” says Thomas. “But the more attractive your business, the better the deals, and we are finding lenders are pretty keen to give us fit-out contributions.”
Finding the right location is one of two essential elements Thomas has identified as risky, so he has appointed a leasing agent to search and negotiate for the best sites. He has sought help from a franchise lawyer as well so he can be confident the franchise agreement serves the franchise relationship and sets clear expectations from the start.