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Digicom Interview with Theodora, Co-founder of The French Workshop



Theodora, who is the Co-founder of The French Workshop, a thriving bakery across Long Island in New York joined us in our latest podcast episode to share insights to business owners from her own experience. We also discussed Theodora's background, the challenges and triumphs of building the French Workshop.


In this article, we’ve compiled the key takeaways from this episode so you have a better understanding of what to expect when you tune in.


Theodora grew up in the food industry. However, she decided to pursue something a little different. She has a business and marketing degree from Hofstra University. She then spent five years in healthcare. Eventually, her passion for the food industry led her to go back to her roots and establish The French Workshop.


It wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine from the start. The French Workshop did face some initial challenges as a new concept in the market. But, Theodora chose to emphasize the importance of listening to customer needs and adapted accordingly. Over time, the bakery evolved, introducing sandwiches, vegan, and gluten-free options to meet the diverse preferences of its customers.


Starting in Bay Side, Queens, in December 2016, the French Workshop has since expanded to several different locations. The journey from the first store to the upcoming fifth, sixth, and seventh stores presented challenges, especially in the face of global labor issues. Theodora then goes on to highlight the importance of investing in people and creating career paths for employees to build a dedicated team.


What’s next for The French Workshop? As for now, they're gearing up to sell franchises. Theodora stressed the significance of creating detailed training manuals and operation manuals, emphasizing the need to quantify processes and keep them simple. This, she believes, is crucial for sustained growth.


The French Workshop has also started venturing into the digital space. From selling gift cards online to offering merchandise, the bakery aims to enhance its online presence. Theodora acknowledged the importance of engaging with customers through newsletters and adapting to the new norm where anything and everything has become digital.


Later on in the podcast, Theodora continued to advocate about the necessity of work-life balance. Despite the demands of building a business, she stressed the need to take breaks, step back, and gain a fresh perspective. This, she believes, is vital for bringing new insights to the business.


As a final piece of advice, Theodora highlighted the role of the team in the success of any business. She recommended investing in a strong team and maintaining personal inspiration, as the energy of a leader directly influences the team's motivation and success.


Tune in now to hear the full conversation!



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We at DigiCom are obsessive data-driven marketers pulling from multi-disciplinary strategies to unlock scale. We buy media across all platforms and placements and provide creative solutions alongside content creation, and conversion rate optimizations. We pride ourselves on your successes and will stop at nothing to help you grow.




Hemant Varshney (00:00.502)

Hey guys, thanks for tuning into our Growth Marketing Podcast this week. I have one of my best friends, Theodora. I call her Dora Bora, so it's weird for me to say Theodora. Dora jumping on call. Dora has been building the French workshop. It's a bakery across Long Island in New York, and she's done a phenomenal job. I'm super proud of her.


Dora, thanks for jumping on our podcast.


Theodora (00:33.243)

Thank you, first of all, thank you for having me. I'm so super excited. You know, I love you. Best friend. So proud of each other. So proud of you. So thank you. Thank you very much for having me.


Hemant Varshney (00:42.058)

I'm gonna go.


Hemant Varshney (00:46.038)

I love you too, of course. Dora, you've been plugging away for years building the French workshop and there's so many different components to it. But just before we jump into all of that, could you just give us a little bit background about yourself and some career highlights and then let's chat about the French workshop.


Theodora (01:09.235)

Sure. So I have been working in food industry from very young age, family business. You know, where was that kid filling ketchup bottles at eight years old? Fast forward, yeah, that was me. Fast forward, I studied business, international business and marketing at Hofstra, and was continuing to work with my family in various food endeavors.


Hemant Varshney (01:25.474)

Hahaha


Theodora (01:37.947)

I left that for about five years and I worked in healthcare. I worked at NYU Langone and was working, started from the bottom and then worked in corporate, then left that to come and work on the French workshop.


Hemant Varshney (02:00.11)

Amazing. And you know, I know, I know, like, you know, the conversations as you were going back and forth to like make the jump to get out of corporate to start the first store and, you know, like, all these years later, that first store was an absolute success and hit. Tell us, tell us a little bit about that journey from store one to store five now.


Theodora (02:11.399)

Yeah.


Theodora (02:24.719)

Yeah, we're working on five, six, seven, so it's wild. But so as anything new, food business, new concept, the beginning was tough.


We opened our first shop in Basie, Queens, December of 2016, so basically 2017. But, and it was a completely new concept, new to the market. Bell Boulevard is not, was not what it is now. So it was such a learning curve in what the market needed and really listening to what the customers wanted.


And I think the French workshop now is a different and has evolved beautifully into what the customer needs. Really. It has been very reactive.


Hemant Varshney (03:23.886)

So how have you been listening to your customer needs, right? Because you get thousands of customers coming in through each store, not just one store, each store a day. And so, yeah, how are you listening? How are you evolving?


Theodora (03:39.567)

So a perfect example was when we first launched this company, we did not have sandwiches. We did not have a lunch. And...


It was such a gap in our day and it was such a gap in the customer that like, yeah, how many customers are you really capturing on a daily basis to come get a cake? You know, not everyone has a birthday every day. Yes, we serve coffee. Yes, we serve croissants, but like that gap in our day.


was, you know, that was really reactive when we started selling sandwiches and offering kind of like a lot. It is a lunch, even for dinner. Some people will come in like nurses and doctors and residents and stuff and they'll grab sandwiches like at 7 p.m. So that was really like one of our most successful things that we've like adjusted, I would say. That was a big one, but really.


Hemant Varshney (04:35.083)

Yeah.


Theodora (04:39.503)

And another one that we, another big thing that we did is we started offering vegan and gluten-free options. And it's been wonderful.


Hemant Varshney (04:45.11)

Yeah.


Hemant Varshney (04:48.778)

Yeah, that's great. I mean, like oftentimes with a lot of brands that we're working with, right? Like French Workshop, of course, being one of them, but like other brands too, right? It's always about listening and we always come down to, hey, we have to like understand what the data is telling us. And if the data is telling us, like even through customer interactions, hey, bring.


XYZ products or if there's a lull period in your business from this time to this time and you have the ability to Create you know exceptional products and also sell them during that period it can it can absolutely transform your business


Theodora (05:29.619)

And I think it's really important for a business owner to keep their brand authentically theirs. So like, you can't exactly listen to everything. Like yeah, we have plenty of customers that want cannolis or rainbow cookies. Like that's not who we are. So we're not going to do that, right? We're not going to or even we're, you know, we want Greek.


Cookies, we want, like we are who we are and we try to accommodate, but we really stand true to who we are. And I think that just keeps the experience authentic. So that's also like a big thing we learned along the way, because if you start really just bending to everything, then you really dilute your brand.


Hemant Varshney (06:15.976)

Yeah. Okay. So just being thoughtful also, you know, in the feedback. So I guess the sandwiches are very like Parisian French based sandwiches, right? Yeah.


Theodora (06:25.297)

Yeah.


Theodora (06:28.463)

Ham and spaghetti, you know, like, you know, we have, of course, we have some, you know, influences, chicken pesto, whatever. But like, you know, a croque madame, you know, croque monsieur, like Monte Cristo, like we try to keep, keep that theme throughout our product.


Hemant Varshney (06:46.094)

Amazing. So let's talk a little bit about your expansion and going from store one to store two to now store six and seven. What's that journey? What advice can you give business owners that are listening about how to kind of expand into these stores? What are some challenges? What are some highlights and recommendations?


Theodora (07:16.987)

So definitely the problem that everyone is facing globally is labor. It's very hard to attract labor, keep labor, turnover is crazy. I do think from store one to now moving on to our journey.


Theodora (07:40.911)

We started really focusing on our staff and on our people. And I think that's made a difference. I think we started creating career paths for people because you don't just want that 18 year old college kid. Yes, you do, right? You do need a seasonal worker, but you want someone that's gonna be here that's gonna grow with your company and take pride in what they do.


So I think really investing in your people, you know, and caring about them genuinely has made a difference in our company. So I think that would be like our first thing. And then, so like, so I'm not talking vaguely, I think another thing that has really helped us is like creating process. So I come from a world, you know, again, family business,


And I'm so thankful, but like my father has all this experience, but a lot of it is instinct. My father, my brothers, right? Like this is what they do. This is what we've all done. But at some point it can't be instinct. It's gotta be like, let's pull it down and put it on paper and quantify it so we can teach it. So I think that has been, you know, instrumental in our growth. And.


Hemant Varshney (09:00.749)

Yeah.


Theodora (09:08.247)

And it's an exercise that you have to keep doing. So we're actually gearing up to start selling franchises. We're going to franchise our concept and going through that exercise of.


training manuals to this detail and these operation manuals to these details of like there's nothing left to question. There's nothing left of instinct. It feels right. No, it's a number. It's a target. It's a word. It's a color. It's a... So I think that is like instrumental in growth.


Hemant Varshney (09:44.33)

Yeah, people in process, right? That's, yeah.


Theodora (09:46.795)

Yeah, and simplify it. Like, it can't be this complicated thing. And if it is, okay, then you have work to do. Go back, sit down, pull it apart, make it simple. How can you make it simple? Again, you can't sacrifice your quality because if you know the French workshop, that's really what we're about. But it's like our quality controls that we put in every shift, our temperatures. Like it's black and white. You gotta take these temperatures.


Hemant Varshney (10:06.871)

Yeah.


Theodora (10:17.624)

These are the colors, these are the batches, like as simple as possible so that somebody can come in and get trained in a week, you know, and work your floor.


Hemant Varshney (10:26.93)

Yeah, yeah. And, you know, I know we've been talking a little bit over the years about like franchising and creating the process and like the books. But I think to expand to the level and how much like the French workshop has been growing, keeping things as simple as possible is, you know, is important. And if one of


the challenges which you've already highlight is like, you know, labor and staff and keeping folks, keeping things simple and easy and building a career path, all kind of ties together like hand in hand. And this is very much an equation of one plus one equals three. Yeah, it's pretty, that's pretty cool. I know, you know, with some of the work we've been doing together, it's about expanding like digital presence.


Theodora (11:10.131)

Thank you.


Yeah.


Hemant Varshney (11:21.998)

And one thing that I'd like to call out is when, you know, we got your Google analytics hooked up and started running some ads, like one, the sheer volume of traffic, I was not expecting to see that. And it was incredible to see that to the point where I called you like multiple times, I was like, you were in Greece and I was like, this is, this is nuts.


Theodora (11:43.635)

Thank you.


Theodora (11:47.483)

Hahaha


Hemant Varshney (11:50.45)

And a lot of brands have to pay a lot of money in ad dollars to get to the type of traffic that the French workshop organically generates. And that's a testament to the product and the brand and the quality. And then, so the next part of it is like digital expansion and kind of what that looks like for the French workshop, what that looks like for you, especially with 2024 coming up.


Theodora (12:18.715)

I definitely think we're exploring digital is very new to us and it's very exciting being able to we started selling gift cards online. Again, it's kind of like listening to your customer. So through the years, There's been so many customers that have called us, hey, like my friend lives in New York. My mom lives in New York. Like I want to buy them this for


Christmas or you know, whatever Thanksgiving or their birthday So like we're trying to be reactive the same thing with like merch. We're trying to create merch to sell Coffee subscriptions online like we understand that the world is moving towards this digital space. So we want to start serving that


And that's really exciting for 24. We're working on a lot of new things internally that we can put on our digital space. We really did, we put our menu online. Our website was so outdated for a long time because I think we were focusing on just the brick and mortar of it all. But now it's really time to make the French workshop shine online as well and attract that national attention.


Hemant Varshney (13:34.166)

Yeah, I mean, you know, just also from an engagement perspective, like the velocity of like that's the word velocity that you guys, you know, the brand has. It's pretty it's pretty amazing, especially like seeing all of the communities that


Any ads are deployed in like the amount of comments or likes or engagement and like, thank you for, you know, thank you for building a store here and, you know, like just reading, reading through that. It's a, it's pretty remarkable. And again, it's a huge testament to what you guys have been doing.


Theodora (14:10.951)

Thank you. It's also a wonderful way that we can talk to our clients every day. We have a new, you guys helped us launch a newsletter, so we have our weekly updates. Hey guys, we have Toys for Tots now, come on in, or we're doing this, or we're doing cookies for Santa. So it's a way that we're also talking to them every day. So even if they come once or twice a week, maybe we're just being able to communicate with them better. So it's been very helpful.


Hemant Varshney (14:38.893)

Yeah.


Hemant Varshney (14:42.814)

So, you know, you've given like business owners like a number of different recommendations and piece of advice like, you know, in terms of building stores or digital or people in process. Are there any other pieces of advice that you would give?


Theodora (15:06.571)

Um, I would say you're only as good as your team.


And I think it's really important to have a team around you, even if that's one person in the beginning. Two. If you're going to invest anything, invest in a team and invest in, you know, other things later, other software or whatever. Invest in that team and that support system because nobody can do it alone. And I think that is my biggest, biggest


recommendation because like I'll see we've been able to build this incredible team and we're still building and it's like in the beginning we would do things maybe in a more old school way on excel or on whatever it is because we didn't have the budget right we didn't have the budget for something else but we had wonderful people that are still with us and are growing and learning with us and now these people


fast forward all these years and now we have, we're building CRM systems or whatever, we're doing operations manuals and they've been with us from day one and they've really grown with us and they're part of our DNA and I think they've really helped us become who we are because nobody can really do it alone.


Hemant Varshney (16:31.734)

Yeah, I like that you said part of your DNA that is amazing. And it's the reality, right? It is the truth. It's like, yeah, building businesses, it's tough. It's often lonely. And the people, like your team members, are who make it fun, right?


Theodora (16:45.24)

Yeah, yes.


Theodora (16:52.208)

Yeah.


Hemant Varshney (16:55.604)

What's one question you wish I asked you that I didn't and how would you answer it?


Theodora (17:02.307)

Um, one question that you asked, I wish you would have asked me, um, I don't know. Let me think. We talked about future plans. Um.


Hemant Varshney (17:18.814)

It can be anything. Like sometimes, like some of our podcast guests will be like, oh, well, I wish you asked me about basketball or like, it can be anything.


Theodora (17:28.707)

Oh, no, I mean, I wish you had asked me about work life balance. Um, yeah, a work life balance. One thing I think, because I, we've talked about this many times. Of course, you have to be passionate about what you do and work like crazy and keep your head down and work. But I think, you know, the importance of work, like work, work life balance is.


Hemant Varshney (17:35.938)

Yeah.


Theodora (17:57.959)

being able to take a break maybe once a year, maybe once every six months, but take that break and remove yourself from what you're doing and come back with a fresh perspective and your business will change. Your business will change. So I think that, and I'm not good at this, and you know that, but you come back with such fresh eyes and your business really reaps those benefits.


Hemant Varshney (18:22.327)

Yeah.


Hemant Varshney (18:25.878)

Yeah, I agree. I am a huge proponent of like when you need your time off, you need to just like disconnected. I mean, like, you know, the reality of building a business is you're always on, there's no real off switch, right? Like for me, for example, like...


Theodora (18:31.879)

Yeah.


Hemant Varshney (18:45.302)

I normally wake up at like 7.30, eight. Like yesterday I was up at like 5 a.m. checking through accounts because of Black Friday, Cyber Monday. And I just woke up excited. I'm like, let's go. And half the team is not awake because you know, and half the team is. And like, it's just like, why are you sending me messages so early in the morning? And it's just like, yeah, like now's the time for us, right? And then there are other times where it's like, oh man, I'm hitting a wall and like,


You need to direct your team and inspire them. And if you're not inspired, how are you gonna inspire a team?


Theodora (19:22.039)

Yeah, true, very, very true. They feed off your energy.


Hemant Varshney (19:26.462)

Yeah, it's important and yeah, I like it. It's quite remarkable. Well, thank you for jumping on and sharing all of this advice. Where can our listeners find you?


Theodora (19:44.171)

We have our website www.frenchworkshop.com. We have Instagram, the French Workshop. We're on TikTok, Pinterest, French Workshop. Find us.


Hemant Varshney (19:57.309)

Well, thanks for jumping on.


Theodora (19:58.683)

Thank you so much for having me. This was very fun. Thank you.

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