Jose's Real Cuban Foods weighing franchising, selling operation

WEST BRADENTON -- The reruns of Jose's Real Cuban Foods spotlight on "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives" still airs in places Jose Baserva least expects.

"I had a couple come in Friday and they said, 'Hey thank you, we saw you on TV,'" Baserva said. "I said, 'Where?'"


"I don't even know where the (expletive) that's at," Baserva joked from his West Bradenton restaurant, 8799 Cortez Road W.

The show, hosted by Guy Fieri, first aired on the Food Network in 2011 and is still serving the restaurant well today as the movie "Chef," starring John Favreau, has helped spike an interest in Cuban food. Baserva, who wants to capitalize on his increased success, is advertising to either sell his restaurant or to franchise the operation, training new chefs and owners.

It's the franchise idea he wants to explore first.

"That was my original idea when I first opened," Baserva said.

The "Chef" movie prompted a Chicago business to contact Jose's about franchising his operation and owning the copyrights. Basvera would receive royalties for the franchise, but would also have to take on some liabilities. Another Ohio company also inquired, he said.

"When I started doing due diligence, I said it's too much for me because of all the legalities."

He'd rather be the one in charge of franchising, he said, and isn't limiting his vision to being a local franchise -- if there is a place in Miami or Chicago or New York, he'll visit and train the owners.

Ideally, Baserva wants to start with eight to 10 locations and have a low franchise fee. He still wants the other diners to be small so they can be at capacity and to not serve hard liquor.

"I couldn't control the hours of operation and couldn't control their prices," he said.

Baserva has a few options if he wants to grow, but he

should be prepared to be highly organized, said Rick Bisio of Bradenton Beach, a franchise coach and the author of "The Educated Franchisee."

"The first thing you need is the ability to replicate," he said. "You have to have a defined successful prototype."

That means spending money to have a standard operations manual, marketing manual, employee management and labor matrices, kitchen flow and other institutional procedures in place. A franchise disclosure document, to include audited finances, history of the business and a litany of other information spread out in 200 to 300 pages, is also a must, he said.

"Just putting that together with an attorney is about a $30,000 investment," Bisio said.

The work just to get the initial franchises organized will easily eat up any franchise fees in the early stages, he said, probably costing a combined $100,000 to $300,000.

Baserva instead could do the McDonald's model, where the McDonalds had their restaurants and sold to a company that specializes in franchise development, headed by Ray Kroc.

Kroc's company replicated the restaurants across the country while the McDonald family held its California territory. Kroc eventually bought out the McDonald family's remaining interest.

It could prove useful if Baserva could open a Jose's in Sarasota or St. Petersburg to prove its viability here and establish a market he could keep, Bisio added.

This wouldn't be the first time Jose's tried to expand. Last year, a second Jose's opened on 14th Street West in a former motel, but the city discovered the building's owner didn't permit previous work and didn't have the necessary permits for a restaurant, so the city shut down the location after Baserva invested $25,000.

"That left a bad taste in my mouth," Baserva said, adding he is considering legal action against the landlord.

"I work real, real hard and I got a great reputation," he added. "I want to make sure it doesn't go down the tubes."

That difficulty could actually help Jose's, Basio said.

"What he's going through is absolutely normal," he said. "That's the learning curve that he's going down that he's going to be able to attract investors who'll say 'he's already been through the tough times.'"

An ad on a commercial real estate listing website shows Baserva would like to sell the restaurant's operations for $295,000. The new owner would take over a restaurant that does more than $645,000 in annual sales for the 30-seat diner and would take over a $1,000-per-month lease.

That's Baserva's least desirable option.

"If they want to buy the whole place and I disappear, I will," he said.

The restaurant is still a success, doing $93,000 in sales in March and does about $50,000 to $60,000 during each of the summer months. That's all from having 13 items making up the menu, he added.

But his pride is too high to just up and quit.

His small restaurant boasts an average of 4.5 stars out of more than 200 reviews on Yelp. He wants to work with other franchise owners to help them build that.

"I'm not going to please everyone, but I'll always try to," he said. "But the day that I stop trying to do that, I'll sell cars."

Until then, the Food Network is likely to keep airing his episode and Baserva will continue to serve up a slice of Havana.

Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.