The Coco Cubano Revolution
Many franchise opportunities are often sold to the public as a sure thing, but as everyone knows – in this economy, there is no such thing. There is, however, a close thing to the sure thing, and that is Coco Cubano’s franchising model. It was designed by industry experts, and is run by those who know what it takes to create and run a successful café-bar. To each franchisee, they offer the opportunity to gain from their knowledge.
Tony Melhem, founder of the company, says that Coco Cubano is the brand of his and his wife’s dreams – he says that it’s been in their minds since they first met in their teens. And now that he’s made the dream come true for himself, his goal is to help it come true for franchisees and customers.
Making the brand
“My background is in communications, PR and media,” Melhem says. “I was the PR manager for Sydney Council, and then I worked as the PR and Communications Manager for the Ministry of Transport, through several Government departments.”
Melhem reiterates that he and his wife always dreamed of setting up their own café bar and restaurant. Their first taste of that dream came when they originally got involved in franchising – as a franchisee for another café brand. In that time, they became experts at their craft, and were even recognised with two awards for Franchisee of the Year.
The two of them eventually left the brand to try their luck on their own, and soon after formed the very first Coco Cubano. Melhem says the concept came from their ongoing fascination with history, politics and other cultures. So when they went about finding their niche, they took those interests and shaped them into a brand identity that closely aligned with their idea of what a café-bar should be.
“What we have always loved is that culture where people are always dining at their local café-restaurant-bar, and they are there from morning to night. Where the café-bar becomes an integral part of their community,” says Melhem. “It becomes an extension of their living rooms. I didn’t think that this was being done anywhere in Australia at the time. It especially had not been done in a franchise system.”
Coco Cubano’s concept is different from any other option out there – according to Melhem, that fundamental difference is their selling point. That’s why they attract customers and franchisees alike.
“It is an experience,” he says. “It’s a Cuban inspired experience. Everything that we do takes a Cuban or Latin flavour. We use Cuban rum, and we have Cuban cigars and chocolate. Our coffee is a freshly roasted blend of Cuban, Colombian and Brazilian beans. We have Latin inspired tapas.”
“Cuba really has the best rums,” he adds. “They have the best flavours. The world’s best cocktails come from Cuba.”
To Coco Cubano – and to Melhem – Cuba represents a place that seems to be lost in time. Its history and culture has been idealised, bringing together the best points of pre-revolution and post-revolution experience to provide customers with a taste of the way of life on the small island nation.
“It was an amazing place and in ways it still is an amazing place.”
Melhem invites potential customers and franchisees to look back at the nation’s history and see how ingrained the notion of freedom is to its culture. He points to prohibition in the United States, calling it a particularly relevant period.
“During Prohibition, Cuba became a playground for the rich and famous, the politicians and the stars of the silver screen,” he says. “They would all go down there to play. The mafia even set up casinos – it was a playground that was in America’s backyard.”
This continued until the Revolution, and relations between the two nations came to head in the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.
“The Americans literally blockaded the island, and since then time has stood still and has been frozen. That’s why you still see all those amazing cars still there, the amazing architecture and buildings still there. The idea of change and progress has stopped. It has become the world’s largest living museum.”
Another thing that caught Melhem’s attention about the island was that everyone seemed to be able to sing, dance, play an instrument or perform in some way. He found that their ability to do this was a refreshing antidote to the sometimes hectic pace of life in the West.
“Although their surroundings look like they are from the past, they really know how to live in the present,” he jokes.
“We wanted to capture the essence of that experience and bring it to Australia and share that. We wanted to put it into a business model that was a profitable one,” he says. “We didn’t want one that was based solely on commodities, what we offer is a real experience.”
The idea of the brand really came into focus for Melhem around 1991, but he really didn’t get traction until 2006 – and by 2008, he and his wife had their first franchise café-bar. They have continued to expand in the last half-decade, growing to five locations in New South Wales. One is at the Rouse Hill Town Centre, one at Crow’s Nest, another at Parramatta, one at Darlinghurst and the newest at the University of New South Wales.
Within the next few weeks another is slated to be opened at Macarthur Square, and three more will be opening in the next few months, and a few more are in the pipeline. Melhem says it is evidence that their business model is really picking up steam.
Invitation to roll up your sleeves
The Coco Cubano concept is “fun and inspiring,” Melhem says. For those considering making the leap to franchise ownership, that’s the message he wants to get across.
“You can’t have more fun in a business than this,” he says. “It is hard work but it is very rewarding work.”
Melhem credits Coco Cubano’s fun atmosphere not just to he and his wife as the franchisors, but also to the people and clientele that the brand attracts. According to him, “it’s the customers that make the whole experience worthwhile.”
“We made the environment, but it’s not just about that. It’s like the TV show Cheers. It’s the bar where everyone knows your name – and in short that’s Coco Cubano,” he jokes.
He says that treating everyone involved as a friend and family member is ingrained throughout the business model. “We are making people happy when they come in.”
Running a business is hard work, Melhem says, but that ability – the ability to make people feel welcome, and make them happy – makes it all worthwhile.
“I think one of the rewards for potential franchisees is that they are running their own business. This of course means they will have to roll up their sleeves, but doing that will result in rewards. And those rewards are just great.”
Coco Cubano also represents a strong franchise opportunity due to their range of products. They are not known as strictly a breakfast brand, lunch brand, or dinner brand, so their outlets maintain a consistent turnover throughout the day – from morning, noon to night.
“We have an extensive breakfast menu, and we have a solid lunch menu, a solid desert and tapas menu. We also have the alcohol and the cocktails that are great for the night life. There are over 50 cocktails on our list,” relates Melhem. “I think that this is what does attract franchisees. Other businesses are so niche they only have a small window of opportunity to make their sales. We trade across the day.”
As evidence, Melhem says that there is always a crowd at his store. He says that in order to do some of his phone calls, he often has to step out of his location just so he can hear the people on the other side of the line.
Moving forward, he wants to spread that kind of success to others who share his enthusiasm about the brand, and are ready to put in the hard work to make it pay off.
“I am dedicated to this business, I am passionate about making it a unique experience and a revolutionary café-bar experience,” he says. “For us it is all about empowering our team and empowering our franchise partners, and helping them achieve the same level of success and satisfaction.”
“One of our tag lines is ‘Be the revolution.’ That is not about the Cuban Revolution – it’s about being your own revolution.”
For more information, please visit their website at: Coco Cubano
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