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Humble makings lead to 40 years for Togo's

Posted: August 20, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: August 20, 2011 1:55 a.m.
 

No doubt most everyone recognizes entrepreneurial companies that continually make headlines, but did you know that Togo’s was founded in a small shack near San Jose State University by a young college student in 1971?

As of July 2011, the chain announced its 40th anniversary, and a summerlong celebration.

Mike Cobbler, founder of the Togo chain, purchased a languishing sandwich shop, which originally opened in 1968. Cobbler formally launched his business in 1971, and opened a second eatery in 1974.

By 1977, Cobbler was franchising shops throughout California. By the 1980s, the company had opened 100 stores and today has 245 eateries in California, Oregon and Nevada.

“Togo’s was founded in 1971 by a young college student with a big appetite and little money in San Jose,” said Tony Gioia, Togo’s chairman and CEO. “He wanted to make sandwiches the way he liked them — big, made-to-order and stuffed with the freshest ingredients.”

Not a pedestrian sandwich-shop chain, Togo’s offers an array of food offerings and meal combinations. Sandwiches come cold and hot, but the chain also offers vegetarian sandwiches, wraps, hand tossed salads, soups and desserts not found in many chain stores.

Local Owner
Local franchise owner Robert Dorian investigated several franchise opportunities before becoming involved with Togo’s.

“I looked at Baja Fresh, Quiznos and more,” Dorian said.

Doing his research and interviewing several people, Dorian said ultimately he was attracted to Togo’s overall attitude toward their product, and Tony Gioia’s personal involvement with franchisees.

“He really goes out of his way,” Dorian said. “Tony calls you to see how you’re doing. And if there’s anything I need, I can pick up the phone, and they’re right here.”

That personal involvement reflects the same values when selecting franchise owners, Dorian said.

“They’re very selective about who their franchisee is, even though the franchisee is paying money to buy a store.”

Describing himself as a hands-on person, as well, Dorian said when the economy and business is down and you want to make a profit, you have to “go out and earn it.”

Dorian does that by going out to talk to the customers and ask them how Togo’s is doing, providing people with the right atmosphere and ensuring customers receive a quality product.

The shelf life allowed for meats is one day, Dorian said. It’s not used after that. Meats are freshly sliced each day, and only fresh produce is used.

Locations
Fifteen months ago, Dorian traded a lengthy commute and employment with a known retailer, for a four-minute commute and the opportunity to become his own boss.

“I used to work with Sit ‘n Sleep in its Gardena headquarters, and was making the commute from Valencia,” Dorian said. “But with our kids in school out here, my wife didn’t want to move anywhere.”

And his Valencia Togo’s on Newhall Ranch is about to be joined by two more locations.

“I just re-opened the Togo’s on Magic Mountain (Parkway) in Santa Clarita by Target,” Dorian said. “It was closed by the franchisee, and I’ve taken it over”

And despite the uneven economic recovery, Dorian remains unshaken purchasing the Ventura territory, he said.

“I will open the third store by the end of the year.”

Chain
In 1997, the sandwich shop begun by a college student was acquired by the Dunkin’ Brands, which includes Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin-Robbins.

By the end of 2007, Togo’s was purchased by Mainsal Partners, a San Francisco-based private equity firm with a broad portfolio of products ranging from a cash-management-systems company to biotech companies.

The firm specializes in providing the support and expertise to assist entrepreneurs and build companies.

“Today, Togo’s is a true ‘West Coast original,’ celebrating 40 years,” Gioia said.

Togo’s has two local locations; one is located at 28166 Newhall Ranch Road in Valencia and the other is located at 24321 Magic Mountain Parkway in Santa Clarita.

jadkins@the-signal.com

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