Finance & Operations

7 Tips for Expanding Your Multi-Unit Restaurant Business from Pilot Coffee Roasters

By Dana Krook

Brightly coloured Pilot Coffee Roasters location

With a passion for great coffee and great people, Pilot Coffee Roasters is a multi-unit, quick service restaurant, roastery, and wholesale business in Toronto that maintains a positive impact on their entire supply chain. But it all started with just one coffee shop.

Founders Andy and Jessie Wilkin noticed a trend in Australia they thought might work in Canada: cafes were roasting their own beans and telling customers about the process. Though Toronto already had its fair share of coffee shops, no one was really capitalizing on the full product – from bean to beaker.

In 2009, they launched Te Aro Coffee Roasters as a roaster cafe with an ethical direct trade model for sourcing coffee. That first location included both a restaurant and wholesale space. 

Two years later, they opened a second cafe called Crafted in a different neighborhood. In the the two to three years that followed, the couple rebranded to become Pilot Coffee Roasters, moved their roastery and tasting bar to a bigger location, and won Micro Roaster of the Year by Roast Magazine for 2014.

Suddenly, opportunities came flooding their way and the expansion picked up speed. Now they’re six locations strong, with an additional seasonal space outside the city and over 200 wholesale accounts from coast to coast.

So how did a single coffee shop expand to seven spaces in less than a decade? 

Kiernan Patenaude, General Manager of Pilot Coffee Roasters, has been with the company for three and half years and has witnessed Pilot not only grow but also stay true to its original mission. She gave us seven essential tips on how any food and beverage business can expand to become a multi-unit business – without losing its focus on the people.

1. Have a Clear Vision and Mission Statement

Barista creating a decorative image on the top of a cafe latte

For Pilot, their vision was clear from the very beginning. “We want to roast great coffee and work with great people to do it,” says Kiernan, relaying the company mission statement. 

“You need really clear values to help you know where you’re going and how to get your team on board.” A clear mission statement sets up a strong foundation from which all other pieces flow – and it’ll remind you why you started your business in the first place, when you’re facing the stress that comes with scaling.

2. Hire the Right People

Kiernan knew Pilot was the right workplace for her after her partner, Andrew, joined the team and she got an inside look at the company’s concept and values. As soon as there was an opening for a retail manager, she jumped on board and added her own passion to the business. 

“You can’t do it all on your own,” says Kiernan. “It’s so important that you find people that fit in with your values and your mission statement, so they can help you along the way.”

3. Invest in Technology

When Kiernan started at Pilot, they were using a point of sale (POS) that wasn’t meeting the demands of their growing business. “I wasn’t thrilled with the POS we were working with,” she says.

One of her biggest concerns was the tax functionality. Since the business is based in a Canadian province that requires a different tax rate for food and beverage purchases under $4 – think all regular coffee orders – they had to manually remove and add the tax with their old POS. 

“As much as you want staff to remember to do that, errors would happen. It was causing much more of a headache for our retail staff, as well as on the accounting side of things.”

When Kiernan found out TouchBistro POS had a way to adjust the tax rate automatically, she looked into the possibility of switching. After discovering the many integrations and features offered to TouchBistro customers – including payment processing, loyalty program, an intuitive interface, and 24/7 support – she made the decision to switch. 

“You’re not going to have credit card discrepancies at the end of the day because TouchBistro is directly connected and integrated with the payment processor.”

Investing in the right technology not only helps the operations at one location but across every venue you open.

4. Invest in Yourself

“Immerse yourself in whatever industry you’re joining and do whatever you can to re-invest in yourself by constantly researching, learning, and staying ahead of the game,” says Kiernan, explaining how education and innovation are keystones for Pilot. 

“Right away, [Andy and Jessie] invested in travel. Andy traveled to Origin [coffee producing countries], meeting farmers, exporters, roasters around the world. He became a Q grader, which means he’s certified to give a quality score to qualify coffees as specialty coffee or not. Now, all of our staff members go through a green bean training session with Andy to understand and learn how he goes about sourcing our coffee.”

5. Be Consistent…

When opening a second restaurant (or third, fourth…), it’s crucial to stay consistent between all your locations. “The more we can keep everything the same, the easier the process is for each location,” says Kiernan.

Using the same POS solution at all locations can help you stay consistent, from the front of the house to the back. “One of the most recent TouchBistro tools we’ve been using is the Kitchen Display System (KDS),” she says. “We’ve found it extremely useful to use it as an espresso bar screen. The baristas can see a nice, easy, and clean queue of tickets coming through. What we absolutely love about the KDS is that it tells you how long the ticket has been in queue. So whenever we notice it taking too long, it’s an immediate indicator to change something.”

Though one cafe may be busier than the other, having a KDS system helps streamline the process of ordering and preparing items, so times can stay consistent between locations.

6. … But Pay Attention to the Neighborhood

Patrons sitting in a pilot coffee roasters location

While you do want to maintain consistency between multiple locations, you’ll also need to make sure your adapting to the needs of your new neighborhood. “We always think about the clientele we’re going to be serving and what their needs are,” says Kiernan.

For the cafes in business areas, Pilot staff are focused on preparing time-sensitive, to-go orders with as much efficiency as possible. For neighborhood cafes farther away from downtown, the focus shifts slightly to the cafe experience and providing additional seating.

7. Keep Customer Service in Everything You Do

“There is customer service in every single aspect of the business,” says Kiernan. “Not only the obvious customer interactions but your interactions through the entire supply chain, to your wholesale accounts, to every person you interact with. So focus on providing the best service possible.”

When you keep people at the focus of your business, opportunities come more easily and more frequently because people feel good about interacting with your brand.

From one coffee shop to seven locations, Pilot Coffee Roasters continues to grow as they add locations and upgrade existing ones they’ve now outgrown. And with every expansion comes a new opportunity “to roast great coffee, and work with great people to do it.”

How Pilot Coffee Roasters Uses TouchBistro for Their Business:

  • Payment processing integration with Moneris, which removes credit card errors
  • Loyalty integration with ReUp to connect directly with regular customers
  • Kitchen Display System (KDS) to communicate with baristas and monitor prep times for each order
  • Tax functionality to automatically calculate tax rates on different items
  • Modifications and custom notes section to easily customize drink orders
Photo of Dana Krook
by Dana Krook

Dana is the former Content Marketing Manager at TouchBistro, sharing tips for and stories of restaurateurs turning their passion into success. She loves homemade hot sauce, deep fried pickles and finding excuses to consume real maple syrup.

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