Rustika Cafe and Bakery, a chain of four restaurants in Houston, is a family business. Francis Reznick founded the company in 1994 as an extension of his culinary talents. His son, Marco, led the charge for the initial expansion, opening the restaurant’s second location, and now manages a larger franchise effort.
The bakery came first. The Reznick family moved from Mexico City to Houston in the 1990s, and “when we got there I said I had to do something,” said Francis, who put his baking skills to good use and the wealth of family recipes to start the business, working on it. at home and delivery to local restaurants and grocery stores. His first customers? A Carrabba’s in Sugar Land, Texas, and a few mom-and-pop shops, she said.
The company grew rapidly through word of mouth, and its client list grew to include hotels, casinos and grocery stores, as well as Houston landmarks such as Taste of Texas. She set up the bakery in a storefront in 2001 and moved to a bigger location a few years later. The decision to open a restaurant came almost by accident, Francis explained. The new location was already set up as a restaurant, and she figured she might as well take advantage of the development.
“We started including our heritage in our food,” she said. Born in Mexico City to a Jewish family, that heritage is evident in the menu, which pairs dishes like tacos and tostadas with matzo ball soup and club sandwiches.
The culinary logic is simple. “Things that I loved when I was growing up, I incorporated,” she said. She expanded the menu to include trendy dishes such as avocado toast, but said she always added a “Rustika touch”. Customers can add toasted lox or queso to their avocado toast.
Customer favorites include chilaquiles, a dish of fried tortillas cooked in salsa and topped with onion, sour cream and a protein, and empanadas. On the bakery side, Francis said his most popular cakes are white chocolate raspberry, strawberry and cream tres leches and triple chocolate. Marco, now CEO of the company, estimated that the original West University Place location derives 40% of its revenue from custom cakes and 60% of its revenue from pastries and desserts.
Sales are geared towards breakfast and lunch at franchise locations. Marco estimated that the two franchise restaurants make 50-60% of the sales of these food products, while the rest comes from sales of desserts.
He joined the family business when he was 16 and started working the last shift after school. “For my parents, it was always about the kids,” Marco said, recalling family dinners and the long hours they spent putting him and his two older sisters in private school. He saw the shift as a way to make life easier for his parents, as well as a good way to save for his first car.
Some of Marco’s favorite memories are watching his mother cook and bake, he said. He recalled the special joy of watching her make her favorite almond butter cookies. “She made them and I ate them all,” he said with a laugh.
He only got more involved from there. Marco stayed local for the university, studying economics at the University of Houston’s downtown campus, and led the charge to open a second location during his third year there. After honing his skills as a manager, he led the company’s franchising effort.
Rather than finding franchisees who know how to cook, Marco said they use their original West U location as a commissary kitchen, making all the pasta and frostings ahead of time and shipping them to the other locations for that they are baked and decorated on site. .
“I always wanted to have more stores,” Marco said, but “it’s very difficult to add more locations when it’s a family business.” Expansion is capital intensive and it’s hard to replicate the magic of having a family owner in the restaurant. He sees franchising with owner-operators as a way to extend that experience.
“We are looking for people who can be as passionate about the Rustika Cafe and Bakery concept as we are,” Marco said. Other qualifications include managerial talent, sales skills and customer service experience.
The cost of opening a Rustika restaurant ranges from $235,000 to $410,000, and the royalty is 7%.