Tomato Cafe owner Deborah Gagnon is growing her company’s roots by setting up a licensing agreement with an Arizona partnernship
Deborah Gagnon has heard it all.
Gagnon, president of Albuquerque-based Tomato Cafe Inc., an upscale gourmet Italian food bar with one location in the Northeast Heights, has received at least 20 phone calls over the past decade from people wanting to duplicate her concept elsewhere through licensing arrangements.
The licensing concept has always intrigued Gagnon, 43, an athletically-built firecracker who helped grow her small business into one of the city’s most popular independent restaurants since opening in 1993.
“The restaurant business will eat you up and spit you out,” she says, acknowledging the industry’s notoriously long hours and constant competition from national chains. “You just don’t want to grow old in it.”
Having a source of residual income through a licensing agreement — which would put extra money in Gagnon’s pocket without having to invest much of her own — had seemed the way to go in recent years, if the right opportunity came along.
But that never happened. Either potential buyers would know how to operate a restaurant, but didn’t have the financial backing, or were plenty rich but had no business savvy. Few, if any, could provide the whole package.
“I never got that combination,” she says.
Last year, however, things changed. In April, Kathy and Steve Dodd, a 30-something couple from Lake Havasu, Ariz., who had roots in Albuquerque, asked Gagnon about launching a Tomato Cafe in their area. Steve had prior experience with Frito Lay and in grocery store management, and both had been running a successful Keva Juice franchise.
“I felt, finally, this may be the couple to make it happen,” Gagnon recalls.
In January, after eight long months of negotiations, Gagnon signed with the Dodds her first licensing agreement. The pair intend to open the first out-of-state Tomato Cafe next spring in Lake Havasu, a popular tourist destination.More