Friday, July 23, 2010 | 3 a.m.
Editor’s note: This is part of an occasional series of stories on how local companies are moving past the recession.
A Las Vegas restaurant owner has turned to franchising to overcome the weak economy and increase her business.
Nearly four years after opening Rachel’s Kitchen, a California-style bistro in the Gardens Plaza on Town Center Drive, Debbie Sofer Roxarzade has survived the slowdown and is looking to expand further.
Sofer Roxarzade came to Las Vegas in 2006 from California, where she once operated seven restaurants in Beverly Hills and Los Angeles. Tired of living in Southern California, she sold the restaurants with the idea of starting her concept in Las Vegas.
She picked the name Rachel after her daughter. The small cafe measures 1,200 square feet and serves 20 people inside and a little more than that outside.
It serves breakfast, lunch and early dinner and closes at 7 p.m., mirroring many small-town cafes across the country.
“When we moved out here, there were tons of chains, but no small cafes that made fresh-to-order food,” Sofer Roxarzade said. “We really saw the need for a healthy concept with fresh juices, made-to-order salads and sandwich wraps.”
When her restaurant opened in a new strip mall, Sofer Roxarzade said there wasn’t a ton of business at first but by early 2007, it started to grow with a regular customer base that wanted a healthy alternative.
The recession hit in 2009 when the rising unemployment rate and people moving out of town took away customers, Sofer Roxarzade said.
“Luckily, we were still busy enough to maintain our overhead and make a small profit,” she said. “I have a lot of loyal employees (four of whom came from Los Angeles with her), which was nice because they worked even harder.”
Sofer Roxarzade said the economic slowdown has prevented her from raising pay since late 2008. The cafe even had to let three part-time workers go, she said.
Restaurants have a built-in advantage in one sense in overcoming the recession because people have to eat, Sofer Roxarzade said.
But she said it’s as important as ever to provide good customer service. For instance, she says it’s important to allow customers to substitute items on the menu if they like and serve them quickly.
“You want to leave a good impression so they choose us over somebody else,” Sofer Roxarzade said.
To deal with reduced business, Rachel’s Kitchen started catering in 2009. Offices can submit bulk orders for several employees at reduced prices, she said. The food is delivered as well.
The cafe has also promoted itself more by putting its menu online, doing postings on Facebook and mailing promotions to businesses within a 5-mile radius, she said.
But the biggest move to grow the company and expand revenue was turning to the franchise concept. A second Rachel’s Kitchen opened in February in the District at Green Valley Ranch.
It was matter of using her knowledge of the restaurant business and working with and training others to be successful as well, she said. The restaurant owners pay a fee and a percentage of the monthly sales.
The District is a perfect location because she has a lot of customers from the Henderson area already, she said.
By having two restaurants, it helps them get discounts when ordering food and supplies and builds up the name throughout the valley, she said.
“We are hoping to get a couple more in the next year or two and maybe get some in neighboring states,” she said. “I think the franchise is good if you are buying into one where you have the support of someone who has the experience with cutting costs and doing the right thing instead of starting out on your own. Learning can cost you money.”
Sofer Roxarzade said she has learned a lot since she started in the restaurant business 16 years ago by opening a combined coffee and gift shop in Beverly Hills. It turned into a hangout for many customers, and she said she saw the opportunity by making food such as sandwiches and salads.
Now, it’s about taking that knowledge and giving it to others.
“It is not an easy business. It takes a lot of time and hours and you have to be committed and pay attention to the small details,” she said. “You have to listen to what the market has to say and what the customers have to say and follow through.”