Fast-fired artisan pizzas aren’t the only thing Manly Cheung has cooking these days.
The 34-year-old founder of Za Pizza Bistro is opening new Za restaurants at a dizzying pace — four this year alone in Winnipeg, including two new franchised outlets that are scheduled to open within the next three weeks.
Cheung said Za expects to open six or seven more franchised outlets in Winnipeg over the next 18 to 24 months, and at least three in the Greater Toronto Area in 2018.
"The plan is to open up to 100 in Ontario. That is my dream and my goal," he added.
"I’ve also had initial discussions with (prospective franchisees) in Victoria, Vancouver, Halifax and Calgary."
Cheung said the first Toronto-area franchise is slated to open in the city’s downtown entertainment district in February.
The other two franchise outlets in the region will likely be in Vaughan and Mississauga.
The new Winnipeg outlets are in a retail strip mall at 2360 Main St., and in a retail shopping centre off the corner of Regent and Lagimodiere Boulevard (Unit 2, 1573 Regent Ave. W.).
The Main Street outlet is expected to open either on Friday or early next week. The Regent Avenue outlet is slated to open during the first week in October.
Cheung said the Regent Avenue outlet will be the chain’s flagship restaurant in Winnipeg because of the high-profile location and the fact it will be its largest in the city (2,600 square feet) and the only one with an outdoor patio.
The entrepreneur got the Za ball rolling in May 2015 when he opened his first company-owned outlet in a retail strip mall on St. Mary’s Road across from the St. Vital Centre.
Za Pizza Bistro is classified as a fast casual, dine-in/takeout pizza restaurant, with an open-concept kitchen and high-definition televisions showing music videos or live sports events. Although there are other items on the menu, the speciality is customized 11-inch pizzas cooked in high-heat, gas-fired stone ovens. So they’re ready within 3½ minutes, and are priced at $9.95.
Cheung said he spent a lot of time developing and fine-tuning the concept and the product before opening his first outlet.
"I didn’t cut corners. I spent a lot of time perfecting the right dough and the right sauces. Every step of the way, I wanted to make sure it was perfect, " he said. "I didn’t know how the community would take it (the concept), but once we opened our doors... it was one of those stories where we never looked back. The concept was very popular and people enjoyed the product."
He also decided early on that franchising would be the best way for him to grow the chain. It took about eight to 10 months to develop a franchise agreement, and another seven months to attract the first franchisee.
The first franchised outlet opened in April on Ellice Avenue. About three months before that, Cheung opened a company-owned outlet in the food court at cityplace.
He said the three existing outlets are doing well, and he also has high hopes for the two new ones.
He said the Regent Avenue outlet is in a shopping centre which includes a Five Guys Burgers & Fries restaurant, a Burger King and a Starbucks coffee shop. Regent Avenue is also one of the busiest intersections in the city in terms of traffic volume, he said.
The Main Street outlet is also on a busy thoroughfare, and Chief Pequis Trail is also nearby.
"It (the new restaurant) will service that entire kind of North Main area, East St. Paul and Pritchard Farms," Cheung said. "(There is) a lot of residential (development) going up in that area... and not enough restaurants."
An official with Shindico Realty Inc., which owns and manages the Main Street strip mall, agreed the area is currently underserviced in terms of quality fast-casual restaurants.
"If you drive north of Main and Chief Peguis Trail, you really don’t see very much. Yet the community around it has a high density, with a lot of condominiums and apartment blocks and a lot of... upper-mid to high-end housing in the Riverbend area," said Kelly Smith, Shindico’s senior vice-president, property management.
Smith said having Chief Peguis Trail means businesses in the area also have the potential to draw customers from North and East Kildonan.
He said the Za Pizza Bistro outlet is the fifth and final tenant for the recently developed strip mall. The other tenants include Dollarama, Hakim Optical, Starbucks and Pita Pit.
"There are good synergies behind each of the tenants, and we typically try to factor that in when we’re doing site selection for our tenants or when we’re trying to find and qualify tenants for our properties," he added.
Cheung said he has 25 years of experience in the food and beverage industry, having cut his teeth in his parent’s two restaurant businesses — Palatal Restaurant and Palatal Stir Fry Express.
"I started off as a host and I worked in the kitchen, then became a server and a manager. I opened and closed, and I learned how to develop and build them, too. So I have lots of experience."
While it took awhile to land his first Za Pizza franchisee, he now has a waiting list of approved franchisees. Now the company has to find the right locations for them.
"It’s all about location. We don’t want our franchisees to spend X amount and go into a location that we don’t believe in," he said.
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