Foodie Franchisees Move to Tampa

paulaayala

Lupis Felipe Morales and Paula Ayala at the Grand Opening of their new vomFass shop

December 6, 2016
Toni Jakovec
The enterprising husband and wife team of Luis Felipe Morales and Paula Ayala decided to take on a new challenge. Leaving Venezuela behind, Luis and Paula embarked on the adventure of a life time – opening up their own vomFASS in Wesley Chapel, Florida.

Wesley Chapel is a suburb in the Tampa Bay Area. Located approximately 10 miles from downtown Tampa (pop. 350,000+), Wesley Chapel has a population of about 45,000. The location is ideal for a gourmet shop such as vomFASS as this Gulf Coast metropolis is known for cultural diversity and fine dining.

Let’s get to know Paula –

Toni Jakovec: Good morning Paula. The question everyone wants to know is, what brought you to the US?

Paula Ayala: My husband and I had both been working in the health care field, in fact, we were competitors for a while. Eventually we ended up in the same company. After many successful years, we decided that entrepreneurship was what we really wanted to pursue. We began looking for opportunities outside Venezuela. We loved Venezuela, but it was not doing well socially or economically, even though it is one of the richest countries in natural resources. However, Venezuela does not have an agreement with the US, but France does. So, as I am a French citizen, I was able to get an E2 visa, which is an entrepreneurial visa. vomFASS was the first opportunity we seriously considered.

TJ: How did you learn about vomFASS?

PA: We engaged a franchise broker who brought the vomFASS concept to us. The broker introduced us to countless franchises, but I had already fallen in love with vomFASS. One of the reasons I felt so comfortable with vomFASS is because many of the flavors are very natural for me. My father’s heritage is Spanish, my sister trained as a chef, my mother was a wonderful cook, so many of the products are very familiar to me. My product knowledge is so extensive customers often ask me how long I have been working with vomFASS and are always surprised to find out how short a time it has been.

TJ: How long did it take from deciding to join the vomFASS family before the doors of your shop opened?

PA: It took between a year and a year and a half.

TJ: What were your reasons for choosing Florida and the Tampa Bay area in particular?

PA: Once we decided to live in the United States, we began looking for areas where we had friends and family. We ended up with two options – Ohio or Florida. The Ohio winters were not for us, so we decided on Florida where we had friends and family. We were looking for a small, neighborhood friendly area and found it here in the Tampa area.

TJ: Are you in a shopping center?

PA: Yes, we’re located in the Shops at the Wiregrass.

TJ: By the way, I would like to compliment you on your English. Where did you learn to speak English so well?

PA: As a child my mother thought English would be more important to learn than French. So throughout my childhood I always took extra classes – swimming and English.

TJ: Do you consider yourself a “foodie”?

PA: Absolutely.

TJ: Do you have any plans to attract the Latino community to your shop?

PA: We have not done any marketing specifically. But, I was incredibly surprised to have as many non-English speaking customers as we do. Of course, for my English speaking customers, my team is terrific. I also have an Aunt working here, who is from Venezuela and she takes great care of all of my Spanish speaking customers, such as Columbians, Venezuelans, Puerto Ricans and Cubans. For example, if we have a Peruvian customer, we talk about ceviche and I introduce them to Calamansi vinegar and they immediately fall in love. If I have a customer from Columbia and they want to make a meat dish I can tell them about the Jalapeño Oil, for example. There is always a perfect product for each culture.

TJ: It sounds like you love to cook.

PA: I do. Cooking in my family is our way to say “I love you.”

TJ: That’s very sweet. Let’s talk about the store a bit. I understand that you had a “soft opening.” What did you learn from that soft opening before you were ready for a grand opening?

PA: Actually, my husband and I both learned somethings. In our previous careers, we were always working in a “business to business” environment. Once we opened our vomFASS shop, we had to switch gears and realize we were now in a “business to customer” environment. We learned that in a retail situation our presentation and delivery needed to be quite different. For me, that soft opening was very instructive on how to sell in a retail environment. It is a different way to attract and treat customers. Not only was that very helpful for me, but the soft opening also gave me a chance to build my team. The team has become an integral part of our shop and in the four months we have been open, we already have team members who are capable of running the store. That team is very important to me. I was ill for a couple of days and the team handled the store wonderfully, allowing me to recover without worry. The soft opening was invaluable in bringing the team together and preparing us for an amazing grand opening.

TJ: How long did you wait between the soft opening and the Grand Opening?

PA: It was about two months. We did the soft opening June 26 then the Grand Opening was August 13.

tampagrandopeningTJ: What did you plan for the Grand Opening?

PA: We followed the recommended vomFASS Grand Opening strategy. The first thing was to introduce ourselves to the Wesley Chapel Chamber of Commerce and alert them to the Opening. We used the “message in a bottle” invitation model. Customers loved this presentation and were delighted to receive their choice of any vomFASS oil or vinegar as a special gift when they brought the bottles back to the shop.

TJ: How were these “message in a bottle” invitations delivered?

PA: They were hand delivered to local shop owners, restauranteurs, chefs, bankers and other local businesses and personal contacts.

TJ: What a lovely idea. Were you able to collect names and addresses to build up your mailing list?

PA: Yes. When people brought their bottles in, we were able to collect their name and email address for future promotions.

TJ: That’s a wonderful idea. What type of special food did you offer at your Grand Opening?

PA: The Grand Opening actually took place over 3 days. On August 11 we offered an International Whisky tasting. The ribbon cutting was on the 12th, and that was our VIP event with members of the Wesley Chapel Chamber of Commerce. August 13th was the official Grand Opening and open house. We served complimentary cocktails and stracciatella ice cream (gelato) with your topping of choice: Aceto Balsamico Maletti; Pumpkin Seed Oil or Mac Spey scotch. One item was the traditional vomFASS Salmon Bites appetizer. We also had Chef Peter Gambacorta, who we met through the Chamber of Commerce, create several special salads highlighting vomFASS products. Ben Meinen from vomFASS AG & Kim Peebles from vomFASS Claremont came to help and they were doing cocktails. The most popular of the day was the Gin & Tonic with Pink Grapefruit liqueur.

TJ: It sounds like you had a spectacular Grand Opening. I hope those in the Tampa Bay area come visit your store. I want thank you so much Paula, for the wonderful interview and sharing the terrific recipe for Salmon Bites.

Here’s a wonderfully easy and yet complex flavored appetizer for the upcoming holiday season or any gathering.

vom Fass Salmon Bites
Toni Jakovec December 6, 2016

Ingredients:

Directions:

  1. Slice English cucumber into round, bite-sized disks.
  2. Whisk Pistachio Oil into cream cheese until combined. Put mix into a pipette bag.
  3. Dice smoked salmon into pieces that are of similar size, set aside.
  4. Cut green part of scallions into aiguillettes (long thin strips)
  5. Top each cucumber slice with a quarter-sized dollop of pistachio cream cheese. Top the cream cheese with a piece of salmon.
  6. Top the salmon with scallion aiguillette (or dill sprig) and 2 capers.
  7. Drizzle with Pistachio Oil after to finish (optional).

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