Written by Niki Iwasaki
Gary Occhiogrosso is President and Chief Development Officer of TRUFOODS, LLC, a NYC based restaurant franchisor. He is a restaurant franchisee expert, having opened approximately 100 franchised restaurants across the U.S. This spring semester, Gary will teach the Restaurant Business Planning and Concept Development course, which he developed as part of the Tisch Center’s Professional Diploma in Restaurant Entrepreneurship (applications due January 4).
Q1. What is your background?
I grew up in the food industry as part of a family owned bakery business. In 1984 after a 9-year career in radio, I launched a successful Dunkin Donuts franchise with a childhood friend. In 1989 I opened a gourmet nut and candy franchise called Ralph Rotten’s Nut Pound and assisted the franchisor with several additional units in NY, NJ and FL. That was the catalyst that led me to create a franchise and brand development firm that launched several franchise programs. One of them is Ranch *1, a grilled chicken sandwich restaurant concept based in New York City. We built 60 restaurants and had development agreements all across the USA. Then in 2003, I became the President of Desert Moon Fresh Mexican Grille and opened 23 franchised restaurants before leaving to pursue other ventures.
In 2009, I joined TRUFOODS where I am currently the President and Chief Development Officer. At TRUFOODS, we acquire and update heritage brands such as Ritter’s Frozen Custard. We also re-brand businesses, like a chicken brand that just launched a new model called “Naked Chicken.” It is one of the four concepts that we offer as franchises at TRUFOODS. Simply put, we are a multi-brand restaurant franchisor. I also host a radio show in New York City on AM 970 where I talk about small business and franchising.
Q2. Can you talk about your involvement in coaching and higher education, and what brought you to teach at NYU?
Franchising by its very nature is the transfer of information under a system called the franchise business prototype. As an advocate for the franchise industry, I’ve coached and developed many brands. I am a member of the International Franchise Association and the founder of the website, FranchiseMoneyMaker, where you can learn about franchising, small business and entrepreneurship, so I have a lot of opportunities to talk about the franchising business. Years ago, I lectured at NYU Stern about franchising. This past year, I was asked to develop the Restaurant Business Planning and Concept Development course at the Tisch Center.
Q3. What will you cover in your course?
We are going to learn how to create a restaurant concept starting from scratch. Students will create a concept and set a standard for its brand. Topics covered will include defining the required components of a new restaurant concept, such as price, location, and categories/characteristics of restaurants, assessing the viability of an idea, evaluating consumer demand, and identifying relevant trends that indicate market potential. Additionally, I will teach the art and skills of entrepreneurship using Michael Gerber’s book, The E-Myth.
Q4. As a successful industry leader, what would you encourage students to gain while in the program?
It’s important to understand that there are various elements to successfully launching a restaurant business – not just one. Technical skills are necessary, but critical thinking and passion are what will drive your career. I believe it is consolidating these elements, instead of separating them that leads to success. I want my students to take away that thought as the mindset of entrepreneurship.