From Secretary to Multi-Unit Franchisee: Tamra Kennedy

Posted 23/02/2017 : By: Debbie Dennis

Taco John’s franchisee Tamra Kennedy started out as a secretary for a fast-food restaurant franchisee and worked her way up to owning multiple units. Set to join the ranks of the IFA Board of Directors in 2018, Kennedy has become an outspoken proponent of franchising.

By Andrew Parker

For Tamra Kennedy, the desire to succeed through hard work and a clearly defined set of values is at the core of what she teaches to her employees at Twin City Taco John’s, a nine-location multi-unit franchise of Taco John’s, the Cheyenne, Wyo.-based Mexican fast food-chain with more than 380 restaurants in 27 states.

Kennedy started as a secretary making $4.05 an hour working for a franchisee of Burger King and Taco John’s. “My job was to open the mail and collect paperwork from the restaurant, bundle it up and send it to the accountant,” she recalls. As her experience with numbers and data began to accumulate, Kennedy took the initiative to help track restaurant metrics to improve operations. After 17 years and a series of hands-on training courses — including spending a year as part of the night crew to learn the operations side of the business, to supplement her knowledge of the administrative side — Kennedy had the opportunity to buy the restaurants from the owner. She currently owns and operates nine locations, primarily in the Minneapolis-St. Paul twin cities area in Minnesota, with one restaurant in central Iowa.

Giving Back

Community service is a core element of the values system at Twin City Taco John’s. The organization has been involved with numerous outreach programs, including Tacos for Toys for Tots in the Twin Cities (which involves giving a free taco to anyone who brings in a toy); Second Harvest Heartland, a food bank in Minneapolis; and several community-based local events, festivals and parades.

The culture of giving back starts day one, Kennedy says. “Actually, it starts before that as they begin filling out the paperwork. It’s important to all of us that those values are front and center. Before they ever touch a taco, we talk about who we are, not just what we do. They are going to be exposed to those core values.”

An honest day’s work anywhere has value, Kennedy continues. “We say our family feeds friends. It’s what we do every day. Our neighbors live and work in this neighborhood. Our employees live here. We know the names of our customers and what their favorite things are,” she explains.

Kennedy’s favorite part of the restaurant business is “teaching young people how to become good employees and good teammates.” For some of them, she says, “this is the first time they’ve been on a team that they didn’t pick.” School can be challenging and home can be challenging, so Kennedy strives to establish work as a place where others are doing the same thing for the same reason. “A lot of my managers joined when they were 14 or 15, and now they’re in their 30s or 40s. There are managers and chefs that started out as team members. They stay because they found a way to make it a home.”

Kennedy’s involvement goes beyond her local community, as she has gotten more active with IFA in recent years, working with the Franchisee Relations Committee, participating in the mentorship program, and taking a seat on the IFA Board of Directors in 2018. She admires the “amazing brain power” available throughout IFA’s network of members and praises how many within the industry are always eager to lend a helping hand.

Twin City Taco John’s Core Values

  • Strong Minds. Willing Hearts.
  • Pedal Down PACE with Focus.
  • Teach and Learn.
  • Results through Spirited Competition.
  • Honor: Family-Company-Customer
  • Respect for Our Product.
  • Great Ideas and Hard Work

    Kennedy considers franchising to be “an intersection of great ideas and hard work. People that want to start a business desire some sense of security and the fact that they are going to succeed.” With franchising, entrepreneurs get a known quantity and a brand’s product or service that is familiar in the marketplace. “Some of the risk is taken out of it because there’s a proven process, there’s a model they learn more about and accept as their own and believe in,” says Kennedy.

    Franchising offers a structure in three key areas. “We call it people places and things,” Kennedy says. “The structure has to do with how to manage inventory, how to manage people, and how to manage money. If you can manage those three things, you can run any business.” Without those baseline elements, the chances of success are much lower, and with franchising, some of the tools are already in place. “It’s been thought out, it’s been tested, it’s been proven that this is how to produce a product that’s going to the public. This is how you change oil, this is how you change tires, this is how you make food, and this is how we build a taco,” she adds.

    What advice does she give to those just getting started in franchising? “Follow your franchisor’s plan, so that you can take advantage of the thoughts that are put together by those before you, and don’t hesitate to ask questions,” she says. “Focus on structure and follow the plan that you bought into. Don’t challenge everything and work together, really truly work together.”

    For owners looking to expand to multiple units, Kennedy offers these words of advice: “Look at the reasons why you’ve been successful and figure out the pain points. Make sure you don’t damage what you already have by being so eager to have more.”

    Andrew Parker is Editor-in-Chief of Franchising World and IFA Senior Manager of Publishing.

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