Los Angeles-based gourmet ice cream and waffle franchise, The Dolly Llama, is booming. The brand started the franchise in early 2020, and co-founder Eric Shomof said three franchisees were signed, in Texas, Florida and Pennsylvania.
European restaurateur Shomof and Samuel Baroux founded the chain in 2017. It is named after a llama who lives on a farm near Baroux’s house in the south of France. “We took that name and made it into something fun,” Shomof said.
Branding is an important part of The Dolly Llama’s appeal. Each of its three locations is meticulously designed so that “when you walk inside you really feel the layout, the brand, the art on the walls,” said Shomof. The stores have a modern, eventful feel, balanced by wacky llama-based decorations: one wall in one spot is painted with fake “Wanted” posters for the brand’s mascot, a llama wearing sunglasses; llama tracks go up the wall in another. It’s a look designed for Instagram, which, given the brand’s more than 50,000 followers on the platform, seems to be working.
Their social media presence also serves to educate consumers, Shomof said. As a gourmet waffle franchise, it fights against the perception that waffles are breakfast foods. Dolly Llama’s Instagram page features pictures of waffles topped with Nutella, chocolate sauce, or fruit served as if they were donuts, cupcakes, or any other treat. It is not open education; the aim is to normalize the idea of eating waffles at any time of the day, as the Belgians do.
Dolly Llama’s waffles are served with a variety of fillings or folded into a cone and topped with ice cream. The menu also includes shakes and ice cream from the spoon.
While the brand has been successful in Los Angeles, none of its franchisees are in Los Angeles, or even in comparable markets. The closest similar market is Jacksonville, Florida, while franchisees in Texas and Pennsylvania are located in Tyler and Bethlehem, respectively, neither of which is a metropolis. According to Shomof, the three ‘zees are all at the same stage of the development process: finalizing the site selection and preparing for the signing of a lease.
Shomof said he assesses each potential franchise location on a case-by-case basis. As a reference, he said 100,000 was the minimum population for a potential location, but he saw “fast-growing cities of 60 to 70 to 80,000 people” that would work just as well. According to US Census Bureau data, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania was home to 75,000 people in 2019; for Tyler, Texas, about 105,000. It remains to be seen whether The Dolly Llama will do as well in these smaller markets.
Jeff Vasquez and his wife, Liliana, are the franchisees who bring the brand to Bethlehem. “We’ve always wanted to do something where we can work for ourselves and enjoy it,” Vasquez said. They accidentally discovered the brand while researching possible concepts and made the deal in April with a trip to LA to see the stores, taste the food and meet Shomof. Vasquez said everything was delicious and that he was particularly impressed with the OG Liège waffle.
According to Shomof, most of The Dolly Llama’s franchise sales have happened organically through social media and word of mouth, a trend he hopes to continue. The brand’s only franchise sales effort was a small advertising campaign.
More than just enjoying the food, Vasquez loved the brand’s business model, which focused on food as an experience. “People don’t just go there for ice cream or waffles,” he said. The stores “have character”. He was also impressed with the brand’s intra-COVID performance, which Vasquez said gave him the confidence to open a new location, despite increased concerns about COVID-19 variants.
According to article 19 of The Dolly Llama’s franchise backgrounder, sales on the chain’s site in Koreatown increased by nearly 50%, reaching $ 477,537 in 2020, while sales on the Downtown Los Angeles site fell only 3%, to $ 421,900.
“I didn’t really believe people would order takeout ice cream,” Shomof said, but when the pandemic hit people started doing it. To help the product survive in transit, they packaged ice cream, toppings, and waffles in separate containers, allowing delivery customers to “become their own waffle masters.” Initial demand was driven by customers posting their designs on social media, he said.
While Vasquez and his wife were in LA, they explored the neighborhoods around The Dolly Llama stores. He said they reminded him of Bethlehem: lots of kids, families and restaurants. He is currently in the process of deciding between a location on Bethlehem’s Main Street, already lined with restaurants, and a few locations closer to Wind Creek Casino on the south side of Bethlehem.
For his part, Shomof said he was “excited to open these franchises” and just as excited to add more. He’s poised to dominate the waffle and ice cream segment in every city and sees franchising as the fastest way to get there.
The initial investment range for a Dolly Llama franchise is $ 240,000 to $ 420,000, including a franchise fee of $ 30,000.