The French Fries concept Pommes Freunde comprises 35 units in Germany with a focus on transport locations and is part of the Enchilada group of companies. In an interview with FOOD SERVICE, managing director Sebastian Petz talks about the situation of restaurateurs at traffic locations, sales development during and expansion goals after Corona.
What have French fries friends done in the past few months to generate liquidity?Sebastian Petz:
First of all, of course, we have massively reduced costs by optimising processes, short-time working and tax deferrals. We have also found partnership solutions with most of our landlords. In addition, we have injected liquidity into the company through shareholder funds during this difficult phase for the entire industry.
Has the company received government aid?
Yes, we have applied for and been granted support and aid. However, like everywhere else, the disbursement process is very slow, with delays of up to four months. This is just about bearable for us as a larger group, but we wonder how it is going for the many individual restaurateurs out there.
How did Pommes Freunde's sales develop in general during Corona?
The Pommes Freunde concept highlights fresh fries with Belgian dips and currywurst with homemade sauce. There are 35 locations in Germany with a focus on transport locations and shopping centers, and around 200 employees work for the brand. Pommes Freunde is part of the Enchilada Group, which is one of the top 30 gastronomy brands in Germany with total annual sales of over 150 million euros and more than 160 outlets.
It varies a lot. At the locations where we've been able to build Own Delivery and Delivery, we've exceeded last year's sales in some cases. At locations that were completely closed, such as shopping centers, sales have of course slumped. How many units does Pommes Freunde currently operate? Are there any plans to continue expanding?
We currently have 35 locations across Germany. We have made good use of the time and opportunities that every crisis brings and will actually exceed our expansion targets of 15 new stores for 2021 and 25 for 2022. We firmly believe in a future for gastronomy after Corona and that we will emerge as one of the winners. In light of the Corona pandemic, what are the challenges of operating units at traffic locations?
Of course, transportation locations are particularly impacted: With home office regulations, business travel gone, retail closed and tourists absent, the usual foot traffic at traffic locations has dropped to a previously unimaginable fraction. The biggest economic challenge then, when only a fraction of people are at transit locations, is to still keep them open for commuters and travelers.
Why are traffic locations so well suited to the concept? What opportunity do you see for your downtown locations post-Corona?
Pommes Freunde is very strong at being able to offer, in small spaces, high quality, fast food to hand and to enjoy there. This also makes us a very commercially successful concept for our franchisees. Of course, city centers continue to be very attractive to us as well. We believe in the inner city, even though Corona will undoubtedly change it.How many employees does Pommes Freunde employ? Have you had to lay off employees in the past few months?
We currently employ 200 people in the head office and at the locations - and the number is rising. So far, we have been able to avoid layoffs; changes have only occurred when an employee wanted to leave of his or her own accord.After about a year of Corona now, and in light of the new decisions, how do you view the federal government's decisions regarding food service?
Unfortunately, it has to be said that the crisis management of the Federal Government is catastrophic. There is no perspective of opening the restaurant, there are no guidelines on how to operate the restaurant and in addition there are unrealistic ideas on how, for example, quick tests as a prerequisite for visiting the restaurant should be implemented in a practicable way. What needs to happen now from your perspective?
The government has fallen into a kind of shock paralysis like the rabbit in front of the snake. In any case, opening everything up and then closing everything down again is not a strategy in our eyes. This also applies to the decisions of the Conference of Minister Presidents: the recently adopted restrictions may be appropriate from an epidemiological point of view, but first and foremost the Federal Government must do ts homework: The long-announced testing and vaccination strategy must be rolled out massively in the coming days, otherwise this lockdown will only bring us into the next lockdown. The bad thing about it is that, partly due to the failings of those acting politically, an industry that has invested the most in hygiene concepts and safety is being punished and is now being left without prospects.
Sebastian Petz studied business administration, is a restaurateur, founder and managing partner of Pommes Freunde Franchise GmbH. He is responsible for the implementation, further development and national/international expansion of the Pommes Freunde concept.