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Tasti D-Lite and Planet Smoothie Franchise Review: Q&A with the ‘Tasti Trio’

Posted Nov 11th, 2014

Friends are opening a co-branded store in Santa Monica and have big plans for Los Angeles County

Kanna Sunkara, Ramu Sunkara and Laura Crane attend the West Coast Franchise Expo in Anaheim. The trio will soon open their first Planet Smoothie-Tasti D-Lite store in Santa Monica and will also help other entrepreneurs get started in L.A. County.

Kanna Sunkara, Ramu Sunkara and Laura Crane attend the West Coast Franchise Expo in Anaheim. The trio will soon open their first Planet Smoothie-Tasti D-Lite store in Santa Monica and will also help other entrepreneurs get started in L.A. County.

Three friends who have dubbed themselves the “Tasti Trio” are about to bring Tasti D-Lite and Planet Smoothie to Santa Monica, California, and they have big plans for the brands in Los Angeles. Twin brothers Kanna and Ramu Sunkara are joining with a friend, Laura Crane, to open a co-branded Tasti D-Lite & Planet Smoothie store at 530 Wilshire Blvd. in Santa Monica. They expect the store to open in late January.

The trio also will serve as Area Developers for Los Angeles County, helping other entrepreneurs open their own Tasti D-Lite & Planet Smoothie locations. They expect the brands to catch on quickly. Tasti D-Lite, which started in New York City, already is a favorite of celebrities, and Planet Smoothie’s focus on taste and nutrition should appeal to Californians, Kanna says.

We asked them to share their excitement about their new store.

What were you doing before deciding to start your Tasti D-Lite & Planet Smoothie store?
Ramu: Commercial real estate, almost exclusively off-market deals, which we have been able to do because Kanna and I have such strong networks and enjoy meeting people and sharing opportunities. We are both very social, and since we’re twins, people joke that it seems like we’re always everywhere.

Laura: My parents are both entrepreneurs, and I’ve known for a long time I wanted to do something on my own. I was just waiting for the right opportunity. I’ve worked with my dad managing our HVAC-mechanical contracting company, which is pretty useful when you’re building stores. He has been so helpful in the buildout of our pilot store, almost acting like our fourth partner. He’s saved us from mistakes, so I’m grateful to have him on the sidelines.

How did you first learn about Tasti D-Lite and Planet Smoothie?
Laura: I learned about Tasti D-Lite first. Kanna and I were visiting a friend in Manhattan, and I stumbled into a Tasti D-Lite after a jog. It was great — it’s creamy and sweet, but not overwhelmingly sweet. It’s lighter than froyo, and it felt like something between a snack and a dessert. It quickly became a “post-Central Park jog” addiction.

Kanna: Laura was really excited and wanted to share it with me, and I thought, “Wow, this is great!” It’s a great product, it tastes really good and you don’t feel sick or have a sugar crash after you eat it like you do with froyo.

Laura: The wheels in my head just started spinning, and I started researching and saw that California was just blue sky — there weren’t any Tasti D-Lite franchises yet out here — and I realized it was tremendous opportunity.

Ramu: It’s also very popular with celebrities, which makes the brand a perfect fit for L.A. In terms of the actual product, there is nothing like it in the market.

Laura: When we researched the franchise and found out about the co-branding opportunity with Planet Smoothie, that was even more impressive. The smoothie market is huge in L.A. People are very health-conscious, and the fact that Planet Smoothie and Tasti are both transparent with their ingredients and sweeteners was attractive. The other great thing about the co-brand is that Planet Smoothie and Tasti D-Lite use a lot of the same equipment — it’s not much more money to have two franchises under the same roof.

How will you win customers?
Kanna: There are competitors in the froyo market, so at the end of the day, why Tasti? Tasti is in a league of its own. There is huge demand for healthier, lower-calorie options. I think people are blindly eating froyo thinking it’s good for them, and a lot of people need to be educated.

Ramu: I think that once people hear that there is a better option and try it, they will recognize the difference and will tell their friends, “You have to try this!”

The Planet Smoothie & Tasti D-Lite combined location will be in bustling downtown Santa Monica, California.

The Planet Smoothie & Tasti D-Lite combined location will be in bustling downtown Santa Monica, California.

Your first store is in downtown Santa Monica. What makes it a great location?
Ramu: There aren’t a lot of grab-and-go options, even though there are a lot of office buildings and heavy walk-in traffic. Living here, we have been frustrated that there aren’t places to get a quick snack without having to sit down and order.

Kanna: There is nothing quick and healthy that is also portable. You could say “some of the froyo places,” but when you check the nutritionals, Tasti comes out on top!

Ramu: Yesterday I went to a froyo place, and by the time I got to the end of the cup, I was feeling guilty about having a dessert and thinking: “Should I finish it? I just had a big dinner.” With Tasti D-Lite, I wouldn’t have felt guilty. Tasti is not overindulging. It’s a healthier treat. That’s why we think Tasti will attract customers — and Planet Smoothie takes it to another level because you have the meal replacement option, including açaí bowls, coffee smoothies and protein smoothies.

Kanna: We think the corporate crowd on Wilshire Boulevard will go crazy for our coffee smoothies. We’re also close to a future rail station for people commuting between Santa Monica and all over Los Angeles.

What made you want to open retail businesses?
Laura: This was more about the concept, the quality products and the opportunity to be the pioneers in L.A. I understand how to build a business and want to use my management and operation skills to do something on my own. Plus, I’m thrilled to be making a contribution to my community. I’ve always admired Kanna and Ramu because they are innovative, think-outside-the-box businessmen with unique skills, so the idea of being partners with them and doing something the public will enjoy was very appealing.

Ramu: We wanted to do something a little different after 12 years in commercial real estate — something that would allow us to use our social and networking skills with our commercial real estate knowledge to contribute to this community we know and love. Kanna, Laura and I all went to USC, so we have strong roots in L.A. I also have wanted to do something with my brother that is more creative.

We recently lost our mom, and this feels like we are honoring her in a way, supporting each other. We’re creating a sense of family and friendship in our community by giving people a place to come together and enjoy themselves.

Kanna: My mom worked very, very hard as a single mom because our father passed when we were just 12. She was on her own raising three kids, and I have nothing but gratitude for everything she did for us. She grew up in a village in rural India, had minimal education and English was her second language. When my dad died, she could have taken us back to India where life would have been easier, but instead she chose to stay here in California, where the opportunities would be better for Ramu, our sister (a doctor) and me.

We want to make a difference, and we also think that engaging with the community as Area Developers for Tasti D-Lite & Planet Smoothie will allow us to interact with more like-minded movers and shakers who want to impact their own communities in a meaningful way.

What do you think of the corporate support for Tasti D-Lite & Planet Smoothie? What has the process been like so far?
Laura: We have an amazing corporate team, and they are a big part of the reason we made this commitment. They have been tremendously supportive in every step of this process and are a really special group of people.

Kanna: We’re friends with the franchisor. This is fun. It’s fun because of the people behind us. Yes, it’s hard work, but it’s rewarding work. We are enjoying doing this work alongside these people. When you buy into a franchise, you can worry about how much support you’ll get. Will I be left on my own? We feel like we joined a team and a family.

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