The Lost Cajun opening franchises across the state, around the country | SummitDaily.com

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The Lost Cajun opening franchises across the state, around the country

Raymond "Captain Griff" Griffin came to Frisco in 2010 with his wife, Belinda, with the idea of opening a laid-back, casual restaurant where they could escape from the crushing hurricane seasons of their hometown of Barataria, Louisiana.

"I owned a fishing lodge in Louisiana called Griffin Fishing Charters, and after surviving Katrina, Rita, Gustav, Ike and the big oil spill, I just had enough," Griff said. "And so me and my late wife, Belinda, moved up here and decided to open a little gumbo shop in this old shoe store."

When the couple first opened The Lost Cajun on Main Street, the gumbo was served in plastic bowls with plastic spoons and the place sold out every day.

"Some of the locals were calling me the soup Nazi because I'd run out of food," Griff said with a laugh.

Despite the hiccups in the beginning, the residents of Frisco embraced the bayou transplants, making The Lost Cajun a popular local hangout. Now, only a few short years later, the restaurant's neighborhood appeal and friendly service have become contagious, and Griff's quiet retirement to a little mountain town has become a second career of franchising and expanding "the little hole in the wall gumbo shop that could" across the state and around the country.

COURTESY AND RESPECT

The idea to franchise The Lost Cajun landed on Griff's doorstep on the heels of Jon Espey, a good friend from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, who came to Summit County for a visit one summer and never left.

"Jon and I met and became friends at the Griffin Fishing lodge, where all this started," Griff said. "That's where all The Lost Cajun food and ideas bubbled up, from the swamp down there. After I moved up here, Jon came up here for (Frisco) BBQ Fest in 2012 and saw the people in the restaurant and said, man, I need to get in on this. And I said, it just so happens that there's a space available in Breckenridge."

About 40 days later — "40 or four?" Espey asked, remembering the chaos — Griff and Espey had converted the former pie shop on Main Street in Breckenridge into the first-ever franchise location for The Lost Cajun. That's when Espey, who has a degree in business and a background in marketing, floated the idea of franchising.

"During that time period, people more and more around the country were asking us about franchising," Griff said. "And I was scared to death because I know I can make gumbo in Frisco, Colorado, and down in Barataria, but I wasn't sure that we could replicate what him and I do — our personalities, the store, the food — and Jon convinced me that we could."

With the help of executive chef Ross Pullen and operations manager Hanna Hoffman, Espey cranked out a 25,000-word manual covering everything from menus and service to turning the lights on and off. The franchise concept is grounded in Griff and Espey's very simple and straightforward corporate mission statement: "We treat each other with courtesy and respect, and we always say please, thank you and you're welcome."

"And that's it, that's the whole thing," Griff said. "That's what we base everything we do off of: treating our employees with courtesy and respect, treating our customers with courtesy and respect, treating our franchisees with courtesy and respect. When we start training people, we say it 30, 40, 50 times a day, and we insist that they must say please, thank you and you're welcome when they address each other, the cooks, the servers, the customers."

FIRST FEW STEPS

Once a potential franchisee falls in love with The Lost Cajun, its people and its mission, the gears begin turning to open a new restaurant, Espey said. It starts with a stack of paperwork dealing with the business and financial logistics, followed by a three- or four-step process including a site approval.

"He'll travel to whatever city people want to put one and gathers all the data as far as population, income types, families, all that," Griff said of Espey. "And he and the franchisee will agree on a location, and then he does all of the work; he's the guy in the background. Jon calls me his dancing monkey."

"I'm the winder," Espey said with a laugh.

"He rolls me out when it's time to entertain someone or get them excited about the franchise, and then he does all of the documents when it comes to fruition for real," Griff said. "It's because of him that we're franchising, because of all the stuff he does. I'm a Cajun with a ninth-grade education, that's my whole background, so he's the one who does all that. Preachers are mighty good, but someone has to collect the money and make sure all the bills are paid."

The first franchisee to sign on the dotted line was Griff's son, Gabe Griffin, who relocated his family to Glenwood Springs from Barataria to open the third Lost Cajun in April of this year.

"The first day they were open, we called up the local college and said free food from 11 to 1," Griff said with a laugh, explaining how he threw his son to the wolves on his first day as a restaurateur. A location in Rochester, Minnesota, followed soon after. "In Rochester, we sold so much food Friday, Saturday and Sunday that when we came in on Monday, we were out of food. We had to close the restaurant at 1 o'clock, have the servers out in the parking lot handing out coupons for free beignets."

BEYOND COLORADO

The franchise options just keep coming. Other Lost Cajun locations in the works include Hendersonville, Tennessee, which will open in about two months, quickly followed by Columbia, South Carolina, and then Greenville, South Carolina, in the spring. Griff said the company is also in legitimate negotiations with potential franchisees in Denver; Odessa, Texas; and West Palm Beach, Florida, and a couple from Silverthorne just inked a deal for a spot in Pagosa Springs.

"We are so blessed because we are not actually out there marketing and trying to sell franchises," Griff said. "People call us and say, we've eaten at one of the stores in Colorado, a friend of ours ate there and told us about it and said we have to have one of those in our hometown — it's a grassroots effort. These people are calling us. We're not out there in magazines doing radio and TV spots; it's all word of mouth. People look at our website and see opportunities are available, and they call us. It's amazing.

"What's more amazing is the kind of people calling us. It's not people with a hope and a dream. The people calling us actually know more about franchising than we do, franchise coaches, owners, managers that are getting involved with this, and as we're going they're teaching us. We're smart enough to shut up and listen."

With all of the growth and expansion, the inevitable question arose about where the corporate headquarters for The Lost Cajun should be located.

"Do we open the office in Denver because of convenience of corporate flights or in Frisco or Breckenridge because of the proximity to the ski slopes?" Griff said. "We made the clear choice that Frisco's where we started, the town of Frisco has absolutely supported this business. … So we decided that the tax dollars that we were going to spend, the right place to spend it was here in Frisco because they support us."

The town of Frisco will always be home for The Lost Cajun because of the way the community has supported Griff and his restaurant family, welcoming them and helping to spread what Espey calls "the please and thank you culture."

"We love being around the people and the immediate gratification we get when they say this is the best catfish I ever had, this is the best gumbo I ever had," Griff said. "That has been the most rewarding thing. I love the people in Summit County. I don't feel like an outsider anymore."