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Monday, February 25, 2008

Against the odds, Original Pancake House opens in Fairview Park

Posted By on Mon, Feb 25, 2008 at 8:44 AM

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We got a kick out of last week’s “friends and family” event at the new Original Pancake House in Fairview Park (3000 Westgate, 440-333-5515). A sort of operational dry run for the airy, 130-seat eatery, the event gave franchisees Jane and Mike Frazin a chance to put both their staff and their equipment through its paces, prior to the restaurant’s official February 18 opening. For lucky invitees, it meant carte blanche to blow through piles of tender flapjacks, rashers of thickly sliced bacon, and gallons of robust coffee (from local roaster Crooked River Coffee Company), as well as a chance to gab with Portland-based OPH franchiser, Jon Liss. ... Chatting with the gregarious Liss reminded us, once again, of how tough it is to profit in the restaurant biz. Plus, it provided a peek into the inner workings of OPH, a family-owned operation out of Oregon, where Liss serves not only as general counsel and chief cook and bottle washer, but also gets to vet the daily stream of franchise applications. A lawyer by training, Liss estimates he receives 20 applications a day, yet turns down 18 of them out of hand. The reason? Slow and careful growth has been the conservative company’s cornerstone since its 1953 founding – so careful, in fact, that OPH recently turned down a buy-out offer from a major Chicago-based investor, and so slow that after more than five decades it can claim only a modest 110 locations, including six in Ohio. In comparison, slightly younger competitor IHOP boasts more than 1,340 locations across the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. But that’s just they want it, insists Liss, who married into the OPH family via the founders’ granddaughter. As a result, a large part of his job boils down to scaring off would-be operators – warning them in no uncertain terms that a franchise will cost them not only an up-front million bucks, but all of their time, most of their energy, and a good part of their sanity, too. “That’s with absolutely no guarantee of a return on their investment,” he says. “And if they laugh when I tell them, they’re out!” The Frazins, though, were a shoo-in for the Fairview Park franchise, with their already proven record in Woodmere. (That successful OPH is at 28700 Chagrin Blvd., 216-292-7777). “They know they’re in it for the long haul, not to make a quick buck,” Liss says approvingly. As far as praise goes, that may sound a bit faint. But in terms of framing the challenges, the dude is right on the money. -- Elaine T. Cicora Read Elaine Cicora's restaurant reviews, food news, and comprehensive dining guide on the restaurant page at clevescene.com.

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