Sunday: Camille's empire copes with setbacks
BY KYLE ARNOLD, World Staff Writer
Saturday, February 16, 2013
2/16/13 at 6:38 PM
In the past two decades, Tulsa entrepreneur David Rutkauskas has taken a small sandwich shop that started out squeezed under a mall escalator and built a global empire focused on franchising multiple brands.
It’s an engaging story, filled with babies sleeping in kitchens and national recognition. But recently there’s been bitter to go with the sweet.
Camille’s Sidewalk Cafe, named after Rutkauskas’ wife and business partner, went from its humble beginnings to a chain of more than 100 restaurants by 2009. Rutkauskas took what he learned about franchising and applied it to other brands he created, including FreshBerry Frozen Yogurt, and created Beautiful Brands International.
BBI began marketing not only concepts created by Rutkauskas, but also became a consultant-for-hire for others with restaurants they wanted to franchise.
That’s where the early successful history of BBI, driven by hard work and some insightful ideas, gives way to a more recent tale of the challenges of managing a maturing, and larger, business in a competitive industry.
The economic recession of 2009 was hard on many restaurant chains, and BBI was no exception. In addition to putting pressure on Camille’s franchise holders, some of Rutkauskas’ new concepts failed to find a market and his consulting businesses saw some clients walk away.
Perhaps the most visible sign locally of the issues the company is dealing with was the closing of the original Camille’s Sidewalk Cafe at Woodland Hills Mall at year-end. That restaurant joined a long list of Camille’s locations in the Tulsa area that have come and gone during the company’s 16-year history.
After years trying to establish the mall kiosk as a reputable eatery and expanding the brand at locations throughout the Tulsa area, Rutkauskas said the Woodland Hills Mall location had to close. He cites an inability of the two sides to reach a lease agreement.
“It just didn’t work out,” Rutkauskas said.
That location isn’t the first Camille’s to close. While Rutkauskas is credited with pioneering the fast-casual concept with the restaurant, nearly two-thirds of the chain’s locations have been shuttered since 2008, leaving just 36 nationwide after a high-water mark of 107 in 2009.
Read more in Sunday's World.
Only 36 Camille's Sidewalk Cafe restaurants, such as the one at 96th Street and Riverside Drive in Tulsa, remain open today. In 2009, there were 107. MICHAEL WYKE/Tulsa World