Creams Café’s burgeoning growth driven by consumer indulgence
The new COO brings 3 things to the table as UK’s favourite dessert parlour eyes global expansion beginning with the Middle East.
Creams Café, branded as the UK’s favourite dessert parlour, has a new chief operating officer pushing its international franchise growth as consumers indulge in unique and delectable cravings. That man is Oliver Rodbard, whose wealth of experience spans from retail and food and beverage (F&B) to the hospitality space.
In an exclusive interview with QSR Media, Oliver said the most important things he brings to the fabric of Cream Café’s expansion are: creating solid relationships, having the freedom to operate within a framework, and imbibing feelings of shared ownership and joint accountability to drive growth.
Oliver, who initially worked in retail, first found himself in the F&B space when he joined Yum! Brands’ Pizza Hut Europe and Canada. There, he spent more than 12 years in different roles, always finding himself involved in operations and creating relationships with franchise owners.
His last posting was as the COO of Soul Foods Group (Canada), a restaurant operator that owns brands like Starbucks, Burger King, Taco Bell, and KFC.
Now, Oliver wants to put on display the lessons he learned from Yum! Brands and use them effectively at Creams Cafe.
Can you tell us about your past experience in the F&B industry and how it has prepared you for your role as Creams Café COO?
Like many people I didn’t actually choose food and hospitality — it chose me! The first few years of my career were spent in retail starting in-store and working up to area management roles. I moved into F&B in 2007 when I joined Yum! Brands in the UK. I spent 12 years there, primarily with Pizza Hut, holding roles covering all aspects of field management in both owned and franchisee markets, leading the Express channel for Europe and the Operations, HR and Technology functions in the Canadian Market.
Most recently, I was with Soul Foods Group, a multi-national franchisee running Burger King, Starbucks, KFC and Taco Bell restaurants across Canada. Throughout my career, I’ve always been extremely curious and open to new ideas and experiences and have been lucky to have led a number of functions outside of operations, including technology, HR, QA, marketing and development. My varied experience, along with the 25+ countries I’ve worked in, will be put to good use in my new role as Creams evolves its business operations to support rapid domestic and international growth.
With Creams Café focused on franchise growth, how do you plan to support franchisees in achieving the brand’s expansion goals?
I’m really enjoying being back in a role where I get to work closely with franchisees. The partnership between franchisor and franchisee is such a critical part of brand growth. Engaging starts with listening to our partners, understanding their experience within the system, learning about what works well, where the opportunities lie and what they need to do to grow their sales and profitability.
I’ll be implementing processes that simplify communication, making it even easier to give and receive feedback, and bringing the franchisee community and the Creams team together more often.
Depending on the size of the franchisee’s business, organisational capability and growth aspirations, the support they require can be materially different. As such, my team and I will be tailoring support to the needs of each individual franchise partner. This will range from building single-site operator capability, developing the right organisational structures and talent plan to fuel future growth and developing multi-site operating know-how through to sales-driving, guest experience and profit expertise.
Over the coming months, we’ll also be reviewing, and where needed, our technology platforms and business systems and processes to make sure that we can support rapid unit growth in the UK and abroad. We’ll do this side by side with our franchisee partners.
What lessons from your previous roles in Pizza Hut and YUM! Brands do you think will benefit Creams Cafe?
Great question! I learned so much from my time with Yum! that I am not sure I will be able to do it justice here. When I think about it, some of the biggest learnings sound so simple. Firstly, relationships are always based on trust, which is earned, not given. You must be intentional about building and maintaining a relationship with your franchise partners. This relationship should be open and transparent; and both parties should hold each other accountable. We should always listen to one another, but listening does not always need equal agreement. Having healthy debates in relationships with franchisees fuels growth.
Secondly, the concept of operating within a framework is key. A robust framework for restaurants and franchisees to operate within results in consistency across a brand for our guests. This becomes even more important when you are scaling up in one or more countries. However, this framework can evolve as the business grows. I’ve seen incredible innovation and best practices created by franchisees and their teams which have ultimately become part of the operating framework. I’ve learned that many of the most successful improvements are a result of partnering directly with franchisees to solve business problems together.
Lastly, a culture of shared ownership is critical. I remember a conversation with a franchise partner in Europe I had a few years ago. The brand was frustrated about the poor guest experience resulting from operational issues in its restaurants. The franchisee was frustrated by the lack of quality marketing and innovation to drive sales. When we sat down together, we were able to reach common ground by acknowledging and agreeing that, for example, we both owned driving sales. The franchisee bought into the idea that consistently great guest experiences and a great local store marketing programme would drive significant sales growth and committed to owning this. I learned that the franchisee needed support building operating capability and had never built and executed a local store marketing campaign. Both were solved with agreed actions, dedicated follow-up and support.
In summary, I learned that solid relationships, freedom to operate within a framework, shared ownership and joint accountability drive growth.
In what ways do you anticipate consumer preferences in the dessert cafe industry to evolve, and how does Creams Cafe plan to stay ahead of these trends?
Since launching in 2008, the core Creams menu has continued to evolve. The brand is not one to rest on its laurels and we’re constantly listening to customer feedback whilst looking at wider consumer trends. Taking these insights, we are able to develop desserts that directly answer consumer demands and preferences, keeping us ahead of the curve when it comes to the dessert restaurant sector.
Two recent examples of this include our Summer 2023 Menu which was inspired by those nostalgic summer desserts we all grew up with. Reimagined retro products include the mashup Lemon Meringue Cheesecakundae, a visually stunning Retro Rocket sundae and the summer bestseller the Unicone — a vanilla soft serve encrusted with rainbow-hued 100s & 1000s and topped with a red glacé cherry. We also launched our first spiced iced coffee the Chilly Vanilly latte and mocktails inspired by the real thing with choices such as the Pina Collider – a playful non-alcoholic take on a Pinã Colada with piña colada syrup, mango coulis and crushed ice, topped with whipped cream and desiccated coconut.
New for winter is a first for the UK’s dessert restaurant scene — Creams’ selection of hot desserts that continue to tap into nostalgia with four comforting classics including the Sticky Toffee Hot Skillet and Spiced Winter Berry Waffle, putting a playful spin on trad puds and answering the demand for warming desserts throughout the colder months. The latest in a slew of innovations from the brand, the new warming winter menu marks the start of a revolution in the dessert restaurant sector. With competitor offerings continuing to be largely cold or gelato and ice cream-based, Creams is set to cement its position as the ultimate all-year-round, day-to-night dessert destination.
Looking ahead into 2024, we plan to continue leading the dessert restaurant sector, releasing new and interesting products that have the “wow” factor. Our new product development is backed by serious intent to create products that awe, amaze and elicit sheer joy from our customers. Watch this space – we’ve got some exciting things coming.
Can you share some insights into your approach to growing brands through customer experiences, and how this aligns with Creams Café’s mission to be the world's largest dessert cafe brand?
As consumers, we all have many informed opinions on what good looks like. Whether we’re talking food, speed of service, hospitality, problem resolution, the list goes on. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned, it’s that my opinion is that of just one person.
What’s most important is what our customers think and believe. I’ve implemented a number of customer listening programmes in various brands in several different countries with the purpose of collecting data to create and validate initiatives to drive the guest experience. Data can cover product innovation, changes to the order flow in the app, service touch points in the restaurant, and value perception.
Whatever it is, when you have customer data at the heart of your decision-making it grounds you in what’s right for the customer, not just what’s right for your brand. As we expand our business, we’ll need to keep our core DNA whilst evolving to ensure we remain the No. 1 dessert café of choice for our guests. Our world is ever-changing and it’s essential we prove and validate our concepts and initiatives with consumers. Consistently great guest experience drives the frequency of visits and sales.
What do you find most exciting about Creams Café’s ambitious national and international expansion plans and your role in achieving these goals?
Creams has been growing steadily over the past 15 years since it was established in 2008, and there are currently about 100 outlets. Historically our presence was in the south of England, but since the pandemic, the brand has had a real focus on delivering the Creams experience further north, which is something we are continuing to look at building over the coming years. As well as our recent openings in Manchester’s Arndale Centre, Sheffield and Blackburn, there have been our Tesco Café launches in Glasgow and Newcastle.
We have also announced a new partnership with Park Garage Group, a renowned forecourt operator, as part of our northern expansion earlier this year. These are in addition to the Centre of Excellence and Training Academy in Nottingham where restaurant management teams around the UK have access to world-class initial training and ongoing developmental strategy plans.
As well as the UK, we are also looking to expand the brand globally, particularly in the Middle East where there is a real appetite for dessert-based, alcohol-free restaurants.
My role as COO is multi-faceted but the focus is on franchisee engagement to support growth whilst collaborating with the executive team to develop, refine and execute the overall business strategy as the brand continues to expand. I’m delighted to be part of driving Cream’s ambition to be the world’s largest dessert cafe brand. The sector is experiencing remarkable growth, driven by changing consumer preferences, and a desire for unique and indulgent experiences, so it’s the right time for Creams to be looking at what comes next.