Cyrus Vaughn can almost talk you out of being interested in his storied food-service career.
After all, he says, his partner Dave McGann is the reason the North Side Arbys restaurant is the top-grossing store in the entire 3,450-restaurant chain, and the reason that the downtown Arbys isnt far behind. Vaughn says the only time he goes into one of the five Spokane-area Arbys that he owns with McGann is when he wants a roast beef sandwich.
Vaughn points out that he no longer owns the Cyrus OLearys and Rocky Rococo restaurants downtown or the Tomato Street restaurant on the North Side. He sold his interest in each to former partners a while back, and theyre the ones who are now keeping the places busy.
And the pies? As Vaughn tells it, Spokane-based Fresh Food Corp. of America sells millions of Cyrus OLearys Pies every year and has double-digit annual sales growth because of his partner in that venture, Barclay Klingel. Klingel is the one who keeps the company running smoothly, says Vaughn, adding that hes the one who should be written about.
Vaughn almost has you convinced, until you remember that it all started with him.
The 63-year-old restaurateur has brought to fruition 20 restaurant concepts in the Spokane-Coeur dAlene area over the past 36 years, and has started a pie-making concern whose products can be found on supermarket shelves throughout the Pacific Northwest and West Coast.
Whatever success Ive had, its because Ive been really fortunate to be with good people, Vaughn says. My job is picking good concepts, picking good partners, and getting out of the way.
His deference about his success is more than modesty or self-effacement. Its rooted in a business pattern that relies on strong operating partners who flesh out his visions.
Mostly, Vaughn says, he comes up with a restaurant idea or seizes on an attractive franchise opportunity, builds the restaurant, gets it up and running, and brings in an operating partner.
Hes very good at understanding his own strengths and weaknesses, Klingel says of Vaughn. Hes very good at the big picture and looks to other people for the day-to-day part.
I dont want to say the day we open we never see him again, but thats kind of his MO (modus operandi), he says. He picks the right people and turns it over to them.
McGann was the first right person whom Vaughn tabbed.
In 1968, at 26 years old, Vaughn left his hometown of Champaign, Ill., to buy an Arbys franchise in Spokane, after some friends had opened successful Arbys eateries in the Midwest.
Located across Sprague Avenue from University City Shopping Center, the restaurant was the first Arbys in Spokane, the 233rd in the country, and dead last in sales throughout the Arbys chain after a year under Vaughns management.
After that year, Vaughn visited McGann, an old fraternity brother from the University of Illinois who was teaching and coaching basketball in Chicago, and sold him on moving to Spokane and becoming his partner in the business.
McGann used his coaching skills to train staff members and boost sales at the restaurant, which still operates at the original site. Vaughn, meanwhile, kept his ownership interest in the eatery, but returned to the Midwest to help start a chain of nightclubs in college towns. Through the 1970s, he and a partner opened Irish-themed pubs, all named Dooleys, near his alma mater and near the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, the University of Arizona, and Arizona State University.
Vaughn had moved to Arizona in the late 1970s to open the latter two clubs. While there, he saw people flocking to a T.G.I. Fridays restaurant, and his thoughts returned to Spokane, where the Arbys venture had flourished and where he thought an eatery similar to Fridays would be well-received.
He returned to Spokane and opened Cyrus OLearys in 1980.
Now would be an ideal time to launch into a story explaining the significance of the OLeary part of the name, except there is no significance, Vaughn says. It just came to him and sounded good, he says. After success with Irish-themed Dooleys, he liked the idea of an Irish-sounding namehe isnt Irish himselfand thought that it had a catchy ring to it.
Through the 1980s and early 1990s, he tried a string of restaurant concepts, some that were franchise outlets of national chains, and some he conceived.
Some were hits, like Rocky Rococo and Tomato Street. Others missed, like Luthers Bar-B-Q and Ritzys. Others did well for a whileBonanza Family Restaurant and Coyote Caf among thembut eventually ran their course.
In most cases, Vaughn says, he has been able to tell whether a new restaurant will work within 90 days, sometimes sooner.
Usually, you can tell right out of the chute, Vaughn says. If its slow after the first month, you have a struggle.
He says he has been quick through the years to get out of a restaurant that isnt well-received, either by selling it or shutting it down.
Vaughn knew shortly after opening a Coeur dAlene restaurant called County Fair, which made its own pies, that it wasnt going to last long, but he didnt foresee what would happen when he turned a lemon of a restaurant into lemon meringue pie, so to speak.
He moved the pie-making equipment from the Coeur dAlene eatery to the back of Cyrus OLearys, and the downtown Spokane restaurant developed a line of gourmet pies. By 1988, pie production was getting in the way of the restaurant operation, so Cyrus OLearys Pies moved to its own facility on Second Avenue downtown.
Around that time, Vaughn brought on Klingelthe younger brother of an old friend from Illinoisto run the pie plant.
The most attractive thing for me was the brand loyalty I heard from the local community even then, Klingel says. People had a very positive, emotional connection that I felt was extremely unique.
What became Fresh Food Corp. now has 26 varieties of Cyrus OLearys Pies and sells the fresh-baked product throughout the Pacific Northwest and frozen pies down the West Coast.
Its a tough business to get right, Vaughn says. Thats the reason you dont see any competition. Its too damn hard.
Vaughn declines to disclose revenues for the ventures of which hes still part owner, which include the five Arbys restaurants, Cyrus OLearys Pies, and a Tomato Street restaurant in Coeur dAlene. He says, however, that sales at Cyrus OLearys Pies are growing about 10 percent a year. The Arbys restaurants sales volume consistently has topped the pie makers volumes, but its growing more slowly. Vaughn expects the pie maker to overtake Arbys in sales in the next year or so.
Vaughn hasnt rolled out any new restaurant concepts in more than a decade; he says he took a run at landing the Krispy Kreme Doughnuts franchise for the Spokane area a few years ago, but didnt get it.
Otherwise, he says he been acting sort of retired while his three children17-year-old and 15-year-old boys and a 14-year-old girlare growing up, spending time either with them and his wife, Janet, on the golf course, or in his old stomping grounds in Illinois and Arizona.
He is becoming more active again now, however, with a new restaurant concept hes developing, though hes remaining tight-lipped about that for now.
Since selling the Dooleys nightclubs years ago, all of Vaughns enterprises have been in the Inland Northwest. In addition to bringing his ideas, hes drawn a number of other people here.
Cyrus is a great ambassador for Spokane, McGann says. He fell in love with this city. He talked me into coming here. Hes talked several other of our friends into moving here.
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