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This article by Barbara Fox was prepared for the May 26, 2004

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From Fast Lane to Delivery Van

Some people dream about quitting their demanding jobs to sail around the world or live in a grass hut in Tahiti, and others – captivated by the ads for franchises – dream about quitting their jobs to be their own boss.

Greg Finley left a 30-year corporate career, most recently as president and CEO of a 300-person administrative division of Siemens in Iselin, to open a Forrestal Village-based deli and bakery business called Apple Spice Junction. Now Finley finds himself baking muffins, sweeping floors, and delivering sandwiches, and encouraging other former executives to do the same. He and his partner, Jack Armstrong, and their wives, are the franchise owners and master franchisers for New Jersey and southeast Pennsylvania.

To jump from a mahogany desk to a cutting board would seem unattractive, until you examine Finley’s schedule: No more travel (unless you count bagel delivery), and no more nights and weekends. The lunch business, as legions of former restaurateurs have discovered, allows for more family time. "This is a lifestyle business," says Finley, "and we concentrate on the noon hour. We start early, and we are out of here by 4 in the afternoon."

At the Village deli, the first for New Jersey, decor is keyed to the colors of maroon, green, and mustard, and with the galvanized steel trim, interiors are easy to maintain. Small tables have seating for 40 inside and a dozen people outside, but the mainstay of this business is delivery. Nearly 90 percent of the volume goes "out the back door." Faxed menus offer 13 salads ($6 or $7), 14 sandwiches daily (most are $6), and 7 soups. Delivery is free but tipping the delivery person is encouraged. Bread is baked fresh every day on site.

This lunch business appeals to those chafing at the bit in the corporate world. In fact, the idea was spawned by three men in Utah who wanted to be available to coach their kids’ softball teams.

"I had been thinking about doing something for a number of years," says Finley, "and I was looking at some businesses with Jack Armstrong, a business broker who has been top seller of franchises for the last eight years." Finley wanted to be a "master-level" franchiser, owning a store and selling other stores, but couldn’t decide on which business to choose. "I wasn’t really finding anything that met the criteria I had laid out. Then this came up."

"Both of us became aware of it at once," says Finley. "Jack liked it so much and I liked it so much that we split it; he is selling the franchises and I run the operations. We sold 10 of them off the brochures, and we are going to exercise our rights for southern Jersey and northern Delaware." Three of the buyers are ex-Wall Street brokers.

Finley, his wife, and three children (two in college, one in high school), had moved from Seattle to Belle Mead so he could take the Siemens job in Iselin. A native of southwest Philadelphia, the son of a hospital controller, he graduated from the University of Delaware in 1970, and has an MBA from the University of New Mexico. His longest career stint was for GE, working in nine locations, and he also worked for Baxter International in New Mexico, and Kaiser Permanente in Texas. After all those moves, he is still married to the same woman, Eileen. "I’m looking at her," says Finley during the telephone conversation. "She is in the deli making a sandwich. I’ve got all this education and I sweep the floors at night."

In partnership with Finley, Armstrong’s job is to sell the franchises and Finley’s job is to take charge of the operations. "I show the properties, help with the financing, and then my partner comes in and we get people trained," says Armstrong.

Armstrong grew up in Summit, where his father worked for Western Electric, and he majored in accounting from the University of Minnesota, Class of 1973, and earned his MBA from Pace. He moved to Plainsboro in 1976 when he, as controller and treasurer, helped to found New Jersey Monthly.

Though Armstrong has been brokering franchises for years, this is the first time he actually bought one for himself. "The earnings and income statement was one of the strongest I have ever seen in 10 years, and it is not a complicated food operation," says Armstrong. Potential buyers of an Apple Spice franchise, says Armstrong, should have $100,000 in cash and be able to finance an addition $200,000 to $250,000, bringing the total investment to under $350,000. Most franchisers finance their purchase with SBA-backed bank loans, and Armstrong is working with Commerce and Interchange banks on these loans.

Armstrong says his wife, Mary Jo, fell in love with the deli retail business, went through the training, and is working in the store. "She enjoys talking to the customers and doing the followup – she is getting to know the customers when they walk in and greeting them by name."

The three former Wall Streeters have bought an Apple Spice Junction on South River Drive at Exit 8A in the Forsgate Complex, and other future locations are in Plainsfield, Eatontown, and Woodcliff Lakes. After selling out Mercer County to Bergen County, Armstrong plans to move south, to South Jersey and Delaware.

Armstrong believes Apple Spice Junction has a good business model – not much space on which to pay rent, and lots of vans on the road. Comparing it with another newly popular franchise, the sandwich eatery Quiznos, he claims that a Quiznos location will gross $400,000 "and we will do a lot more than that." The net profit for Quiznos, he maintains, is 15 to 20 percent. "Ours is 26 percent," he says, attributing the difference to the emphasis on delivery.

"We think it is a very good business model," says Armstrong. "With the work environment the way it is today, people seem to be chained to a desk, and don’t have time to go out and take lunch." Apple Spice managers are supposed to build relationships with human resource directors and others responsible for food in the workplace.

Another leg on the Apple Spice stool is evaluation. "Our main focus is making sure the client is satisfied. We call back after every order. Most people appreciate it, and sometimes we get complaints, and we make corrections."

The key to success? Good management skills, says Armstrong. "The culture you create is the most important thing. Treat everyone with respect and dignity. A good manager can minimize turnover." And training the employees to greet customers when they walk into the door.

Franchise owners go to a three-week training program in Utah, and the stores host onsite training for staff members that lasts at least two weeks. "Most of the training is being led by experienced people from Utah until people like me feel comfortable," says Finley. "You need to get food experience hired or have it yourself. But we don’t people who want to come in and exercise their creativity – we have a system."

"The mainstay of the business is delivery," says Finley, "and we have the ideal job for a housewife. They can come in at 9, help us prep for lunch, we do lunch, and they are gone by 2:30." He says he pays "competitive retail wages" of from $7 to $10 an hour, with benefits limited to free food.

Finley opened his first deli/bakery in 3,200 square feet – half for the store, half for the kitchen – on Stanhope Street on Monday, May 10, and this opening changed that center’s paradigm. Before, take-out food was relegated to the second floor food court at Market Hall – a very popular spot, but with no adjacent parking it is not particularly welcoming to the take-out business. In contrast Finley’s store, which is located next to the back of the Carter’s outlet, opens onto a parking lot.

Mathew Seltzer from Cushman & Wakefield represented the tenant and Greg Lezynski of the Gale Company represented the landlord. Earlier policies had relegated food businesses to the food court, but Lezynski is enthusiastic about restaurants elsewhere in the Village. "We think it’s a tremendous breakthrough," says Lezynski. "It adds to the diversity and the vitality that we are trying to promote here at Princeton Forrestal Village. Restaurants have become important tenants to mixed use centers, and they promote the round-the-clock lifestyle center that we hope will flourish here at the Village."

Between this deli and a small business office at 104 Village Boulevard, Apple Spice employs 13 people. "We didn’t want to be in the food court; we wanted our own identity," says Finley. Had Village management not acceded to his request, "we wouldn’t be here."

Apple Spice Junction, 106 Stanhope Road, Princeton 08540. 609-452-2837; fax, 609-452-7270. The store.

Apple Spice Junction, 104 Village Boulevard, Princeton Forrestal Village, Princeton 08540-5460. Greg Finley, area developer. 908-910-9014; fax, 609-452-2699.

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