Applebee's Thunder Bay: 20 Years of Success!
by Scott A. Sumner
The brother and sister team of Ryan Syroid, General Manager, Owner Operator, Mayor of Applebee’s and Robin Syroid, Director of Guest Experience and Co Mayor are third generation restaurant owners in
Thunder Bay! They recently celebrated 20 years operating an Applebee’s in Thunder Bay. This restaurant has become the top Applebee's location in Canada!
“ My grandfather had restaurants and my dad grew up in the business. He brought my sister and I into the field with the Pizza Hut franchises we previously owned. My grandfather’s restaurants were on the Port Arthur side, The Commodore Tea Room and the Fort William side, with the T and M Grill on Simpson Street. Tony and his brother Martin ran these during the 60’s and 70’s,” said Ryan Syroid. “ My father worked at the T and M. After it closed he did some others things but got back into the
restaurant industry with a Mr. Steak franchise, a popular eatery on Arthur Street in the late 70’s and early 80s. It was originally a concept from Denver, similar to what Applebee’s is today- casual dining. Shortly after that he got involved with Pizza Hut in the early 80’s in Thunder Bay and North Western Ontario for 25 years with 11 stores at one time.”
Ryan came on to work at Applebee’s when it opened in 1997. Ryan and Robin’s father passed away 8 years ago at age 67 in January. “ We think about him every day and when running the restaurant his presence is always felt. My Dad was fixture at the bar, not in a drinking way, but he would have his lunch at the bar, keep a keen eye on the door and what was going on. He would let us know if something wasn’t up to his standard.” smiles Ryan.
Robin Syroid started working in the family business at age 16, sometimesfolding the pizza boxes. “ I used to go to Pizza Hut on Arthur Street and my Dad would pay me to busk tables and it was fun. Growing up at home we talked about business all the time at the dinner table. There was no time off. In the 80’s and early 90’s Pizza Hut was the casual dining experience including delivery and a growth opportunity,” said Robin Syroid who went to Victoria, BC and did her MBA after undergrad at LU. She also spent some time with corporate Applebee’s doing marketing for the Canadian team.
“ We had the Applebee’s franchise for awhile before we opened as we were waiting for this location where we felt it would be the most successful. When we opened we were the first restaurant to open up in Thunder Bay in 10 years,” says Ryan.
I asked why choose the Applebee’s franchise?
“ My Dad, being in the restaurant business and us as a family traveling to the States a lot, specifically Duluth, we frequented the Applebee’s in Miller Hill Mall. My Dad read in the trade publications about
Applebee’s growth at the time so he figured it would be a good fit in Thunder Bay. When we opened up we were the 3rd location in Canada and 14th International location. Applebee’s was started in Atlanta, Georgia in the 80’s and then the concept was sold and grew after that at a rate of 100 stores a year for quite awhile to today with 2000 stores worldwide, with 16 in Canada.” said Ryan.
One of the reasons for the success of Applebee’s Thunder Bay has been the spill over of the marketing coming from the American airwaves and people’s familiarity with the brand, from Minnesota especially,
according to Robin.
Opening a new restaurant was a challenge stated Ryan Syroid. “ Starting Applebee’s here was a lot of work and I don't advise anyone without previous restaurant experience to do it. It is about the most
challenging business there is. You have to have a passion for it and if you don’t you are only kidding yourself because of the hours you put in. It is not for everyone. You have to have a passion from within to
be in the restaurant business. It is a 7-day a week venture 11am to 11pm and much more before and after that. The lights are not dim for too many hours here. Each week we can have up to 3000 people come through our doors and we employ year round from 70 to 100 people in front of house and back of house. Turn over in this business can be very high so we have to do hiring and training which can be stressful.” said Ryan.
Teamwork is critical in running a restaurant states Ryan.
“ It is all about the team, there is no I in team as they say and it is true. My Dad used to make references to hockey all the time and how it is the team that gets the job done, not the individual player. Everyday I show up here I do genuinely have a smile on my face.”
Working in the restaurant business you have to be comfortable on your feet running around according to Robin who wears the Fitbit and average daily steps are between 18,000 and 21,000!
“ Applebee’s is about we are a family. We consider our guests our friends, our family. I would say we have the best guests in town to the point where we buy them holiday gifts and they do so for us. It is
fun for us and that is why we still do it. It is hard work but extremely rewarding. We get excited hearing how our guests are doing and talking about their vacations or how their golf game was!”smiles
New on the horizon in the New Year for Applebee’s is an all you can eat riblets and all you can eat Chicken tenders promotion.
“ It is talking about value as well as highlighting some of our neighborhood favourites. Applebee’s is getting back to the basics with value at the forefront- great food at a great price. We like to tag
along with what the US is doing because we get that media spill over from them, its a bonus for us.”
What does the short-term future look like for the brother and sister
“Without a doubt the Bill 148 raising the minimum will be the most challenging thing that we have yet to incur. We have strategies in place to counter it but it will be really interesting in the next 6 months to succeed with the minimum wage going to $14 per hour. With 75 staff it is a huge expense increase. We can’t pass all the costs on or we won’t have any guests. Being around for as long as we have is a
small advantage but it is still going to be tough. We need to adapt and adjust.” Robin
What is your impression of the local economy?
“ My impression of our economy is it is stable. We do need to find a way to get the mining sector, the Pot of Gold in the north, opened up. We have to get people to realize there is a massive amount of money and jobs there for everyone for countless years. We need to get the details worked out to get the boom to Thunder Bay.” Ryan
What is the best thing about working at Applebee’s?
“ We have people tell us we used to work for your father and now we have their children working for us, so many generations. We see couples that have met here and now come in with their families. When it is a challenging day you think about special things like that.” Robin