Bringing Indian food to the masses is the goal of one of Canada’s newest fast-casual concepts, Bombay Frankies. Celebrating the beloved Frankie roll, a handheld meal from the streets of Bombay, the restaurant offers Indian-spiced meat and vegetarian fillings wrapped in a warm paratha (flat bread) made fresh in-house each day.
A partnership between Ontario-based franchise company Eat Up Canada and chef Vikram Vij, Bombay Frankies builds on the popularity of international cuisine, and the growing interest in Indian food.
“When you look at ethnic restaurants in Canada, especially ones focusing on handheld offerings, shawarma and burritos are everywhere but nobody has done the Frankie roll,” says Alex Gerzon, a foodservice industry veteran who, along with George Heos, founded Eat Up Canada. He adds that a big focus for the brand has been educating people on what a Frankie is. “Most people have never heard of them before. It’s all the Indian flavours you love in one bite and there’s a great opportunity to grow this concept across Canada.”
Heos says working with chef Vikram Vij was critical. “I’m not sure that this brand would have gotten off the ground if it was just me and Alex. While we have a lot of restaurant experience — about 60 years collectively — we’re not Indian chefs. And there’s nobody better in Canada than chef Vikram. So when, when the opportunity came up to work with him, we jumped at the at the at the chance to do that.”
While Bombay Frankies was the brainchild of Heos and Gerzon, chef Vij oversees menu development. And while a franchised fast-casual brand was a big departure for the celebrity chef, restaurateur, cookbook author and TV personality, Gerzon says Vij was passionate about the idea from day-1.
“He always had the idea of Indian food on a national level and always says he considers himself the unpaid Indian ambassador for cuisine in Canada. So, he’s very passionate about getting Indian cuisine out to people that might not experience it,” says Gerzon.
A top priority for the Bombay Frankies team was ensuring its food offerings were both great tasting and authentic. Different spice levels are available based on the menu items and some Frankie rolls are spicier than others. The Masala Marinated Chicken Frankie ($9.99) has been the number-1 seller for meat-eaters, while the Maharajah Paneer Frankie ($9.99) is the top vegetarian choice. Guests can also choose to turn their Frankie into a bowl with Basmati rice or Romaine lettuce ($8.99 to $10.99). For people that want something less spicy, Bombay Frankies introduced a crispy butter-chicken Frankie ($10.99).
And while it would seem logical to launch a chain of Indian restaurants in a downtown hub such as Toronto, Eat Up Canada choose to go north to Newmarket, Ont. to open its first outpost of Bombay Frankies. And although the demographic of Newmarket differs from that of a more multi-cultural downtown core, Heos says his group sees an opportunity to expose this brand to everyone, no matter their ethnicity.
“A lot of people expect a restaurant like this to be in Toronto, but we wanted firstly, and most importantly, a great location, and this is a great location,” says Heos of the unit’s 1,500-sq.-ft., 28 seat, high-traffic location. It has shopping-centre anchors, from Lowe’s to Longos, a beer store, liquor store and other restaurants.”
Future expansion will be focused on A-class shopping-centre locations across the GTA and Ontario, ideally between 1,200 and 1,500 sq. ft. to accommodate 20 to 30 seats.
“Some brands have gone completely away from on-premise dining during the pandemic but we’re big believers in dine-in for this concept in addition to takeout and delivery,” says Heos. “For one, the food is tremendous when you get it straight out of the kitchen. And second, after years of restrictions, people want to go out; they want to experience food and socialize.” Bombay Frankies has invested heavily in the dine-in experience, not just with the bright, fun decor and colour palettes, but also with its smallwares. “[When you dine in] you don’t get disposable takeout packaging, you get a plate and silverware. If you have a chai tea, you get a cup.”
“People appreciate that we’ve given them a dine-in experience in a quick-service format,” adds Gerzon, adding orders are brought to the tables and staff check on guests throughout their meals and clear their trays when they’re done. “In terms of the service platform, it’s important to us to make sure it’s elevated over what anybody else is doing in terms of fast-casual.”
Another factor to elevating the dine-in experience at Bombay Frankies was ensuring third-party delivery orders didn’t slow down service.
“During the pandemic, third-party delivery became very big and guests were coming for traditional dine-in or takeout and, and they’d be waiting for countless amounts of time and they didn’t understand why it was taking so long,” says Gerzon. “In terms of elevating the experience, we decided we don’t want any guests waiting, so we added a second kitchen line — one for traditional takeout and dine-in and one for third-party delivery and online ordering. As we get busy, we turn on the second line or the second printer and a second team that can execute the third-party orders quickly.”
Eat Up Canada already has plans for Bombay Frankies’ growth and expansion across Canada. “The goal is to open four to five locations in the first year, with the potential for more than 100 restaurants in 10 years,” says Heos. “Having seen the rise in popularity of Indian cuisine in Canada, we believe there’s a huge opportunity for Bombay Frankies in the fast-casual restaurant sector.”
Franchising opportunities are currently available, and Eat Up Canada is looking for great locations for Bombay Frankies across the GTA and Ontario, ideally between 1,200 and 1,500 sq ft. “We have a lot of interest, but we will be very pragmatic in terms of our growth,” says Heos. “We won’t settle in terms of the sites or franchisees we select because you can’t recover from a bad site, or a franchisee that doesn’t do a good job. We’d rather not build a location than build it and have it fail.”
New Bombay Frankies franchisees should expect to invest $125,000 to $150,000 of their own money, “the rest of it can be borrowed. We have a great relationship with BMO and there’s the small-business-loan program that now is $500,000.” Other costs include franchise fees of $40,000, royalty fees of six per cent and advertising (all in between local and national) of three per cent. Heos says they’re still analyzing final costs because the first location had some one-time costs related to prototype development that a franchisee wouldn’t have.
“We really like the image of this restaurant and the guest feedback on the restaurant has been amazing,” says Heos. “[As we grow,] we’ll tweak some menu items, but we’re very close to what we will build as the brand develops. We’ll look at other non-traditional opportunities, whether that’s food courts or transportation centres, but we want to walk before we run.”
BY AMY BOSTOCK