When the region's first Golden Corral restaurant opened next to the Shore Mall in 2011, customers waited in lines stretching around the parking lot to get in.
The restaurant is still packed, which is no surprise. For more than a decade, the chain has been voted the No. 1 grill buffet franchise by Nation's Restaurant News.
But big numbers of customers are only one prerequisite for success, said Djenane Bartholomew, who with husband Dexter owns the Egg Harbor Township Golden Corral.
"A lot of people see the lines and say, 'Wow, you must make a lot of money.' But once a customer pays the entry price, you don't sell them anything else," she said. "It's very important to keep costs to a level you can maintain."
That one price - $11.59 for adults, $5.29 for children 4 to 7 - is for all you can eat from a large dinner buffet.
The Bartholomews have been in the quick-service restaurant business for a decade, owning several of the nation's famous franchises, including Papa John's Pizza, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, Checkers Drive In, Dunkin' Donuts and Let's Yo Yogurt.
Djenane said opening this Golden Corral was one of the best decisions they've made, even though it requires a 90-minute commute from their home in Holmdel, Monmouth County.
"Any franchise, you do your due diligence, and if it's all about money, it shouldn't be the only reason," she said. "You have to be involved. It's a penny business, and you've got to stay on top of it."
Golden Corral has been great in part because of the very supportive senior management of the corporation, which cares about their franchisees and is more dedicated to them, she said.
"For example, before a site is approved for a Golden Corral, the CEO visits it to make sure it's going to be a viable site. They're not going to make you make decisions on your own," Bartholomew said.
She said she and her husband decide which franchise opportunities to explore based on what they and their kids like. They had visited a Golden Corral in Florida while on vacation "and the kids loved it."
Whether to stay with a franchise is a different decision, based on business practice, the vision of the franchisor, and profitability, she said. Besides the Golden Corral, the only franchise they've kept is the Let's Yo Yogurt in northern New Jersey.
Djenane said she and her husband find it useful to attend big gatherings of franchisees such as the International Franchise Expo that was held Thursday through Saturday at the Jacob Javits Center in New York.
"We share stories with other franchisees and help each other," she said. "It's very helpful for people getting into franchising to know the real deal."
She said a big challenge in New Jersey is finding an appropriate site and getting the numerous approvals required to build and open a restaurant, which typically takes five years. "Some people have owned a territory for 10 years, and they're still looking for the right property."
The Bartholomews also own the Golden Corral rights for Toms River and Brick in Ocean County, and they're looking for sites there - something near the Garden State Parkway to make travel between their restaurants easy.
She said she thinks the only Golden Corral territories in New Jersey still available are in and around Newark in Essex County.
"Knock on wood, Golden Corral has been a great success for us, especially for opening during a fiscally challenging economy, so we're very grateful," Djenane said.
The Waves in Ventnor
Philadelphia Residential Development Corp. and Pelican Homes will hold a groundbreaking July 1 on the Waves, a $25 million oceanfront residential development in Ventnor.
The Waves will feature 27 luxury units from $749,000 to $1.29 million with 2,600 to 2,800 square feet each at Little Rock and Weymouth avenues.
David Perlman, of Pelican Properties and president of Philadelphia Residential Development Corp., previously has developed properties in Longport, Avalon and Ocean City, and revitalized properties in Philadelphia.
The Waves will be built on a 275-by-131-foot property that formerly was occupied by the Monaco Motel.
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