If founders, chefs and other creatives are the beating heart of the restaurant industry, then franchisees are the veins delivering their ideas to all corners of the globe. Franchising is critical to the success of the industry, allowing brands to quickly scale their big ideas using other people’s capital. And whether it’s a mom-and-pop restaurant owner with one or two franchised restaurants or a seasoned veteran whose influence in the industry is well-known, franchisees — with all their individual attributes, styles and personalities — make a huge impact on the success of a business.
In this week’s installment of Franchisee Spotlight, we’re featuring Anchal Lamba—a first-generation Indian-American entrepreneur and largest U.S. franchisee of Taiwanese bubble tea brand, Gong Cha. Lamba built up her empire of 100+ bubble tea shops over the course of eight years and at age 32, now owns the exclusive rights to open Gong Cha stores in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Oklahoma, and Texas.
Store breakdown: Owns and operates a network of 111 stores and sub-franchisees in nine states across the U.S.
“Before starting as a master franchisee for Gong Cha in 2014, I didn’t have any experience in the food industry or the franchising business. I was working in fashion sales in New York. But I always grew up loving bubble tea, and my passion led to franchising. My father actually tried Gong Cha in Hong Kong for the first time and told me it was the best bubble tea he had ever had. […] So from there, I quit my job, traveled to Taiwan, trained with the franchisor there for two weeks, and then opened my first store in Flushing, New York.
Why bubble tea
“When I traveled to Taiwan […] I learned the register, the kitchen process, how to make the tapioca pearls, and how to brew the tea. I think the bubble tea operation is a lot easier than other fast-casual restaurants, because we are just beverage based. It took some time to learn, but probably not as long as maybe some other brands out there. […] The startup cost to build a bubble tea operation, is a lot less than what you would expect for like a fast-food restaurant, because we don't require that much equipment to create our drinks. We also have standard operating procedures for making each drink.”
Opening her first store
“It was my first time operating a foodservice business and operating a business on my own, so there were a lot of ups and downs. I was learning how to get through the hurdles of scheduling shifts and closing the register and finding a suitable manager when I couldn't be there every day. For the first six months that we opened, I was there every single day, seven days a week from open to close, but it was a real struggle just to manage the day to day, and operations and give the best customer service with the best product. […] As long as you understand the menu, you’ll be able to create the drinks.”
“I had an agreement with Gong Cha and the plan was to open a few stores by myself in the territory that I had. That’s where we’ve grown with the business to 111 locations to date. Eight of those are stores that I own and the rest are franchisees of mine, so I’ve really been able to grow the franchise model. A lot of my franchisees also operate multiple locations and liked the brand so much they opened a second, third or fourth location, so that’s how we’ve been able to grow so quickly over the past eight years.”
Goals moving forward
“We have 111 locations today and by the end of this year, I hope to have about 160 operating locations, and then we’ll hit the 200-store mark in 2024.”
Advice for other franchisees
“Find something that you really have a passion for, because it's going to be your entire life. I’m working all the time, on the weekends, etc. It’s about finding the right franchise that works for you and willing to be totally invested in it.”