“It was a bit easier to grow during the good years before the economy turndown,” Schwendiman said. Still, his years of restaurant business savvy lent him to focus on his restaurant’s advantages – superior product and unflappable reliability. These traits, he noted, proved to be exceptional for the corporate catering market.
“We were never satisfied to be on time. Our store had a reputation for being early,” Schwendiman added.
Eying his first expansion in 2007, Schwendiman settled on the growing Hazel Dell/Salmon Creek area. The store along Highway 99 quickly established itself and demanded expansion with extra seating and larger ovens after only its first year.
Nipping at the heels of the new store, however, was the faltering economy.
“We refused to decrease personnel or anything else that would alter the customer experience,” Schwendiman said. Instead, through heightened efficiency and increased personal intervention from Schwendiman himself, The Blind Onion Vancouver stores weathered the worst of the downturn.
2010 saw the third Vancouver-based store spring to life in Orchards.
“I saw about six other restaurants close in that area the first year,” Schwendiman said. “It was a tough 18 months, but by 2012, it had become a thriving location.”
According to Schwendiman, site selection is key. He said the company finds quality “B” locations that provide more value over expensive “A” locations. In time, with loyalty, they lose very little from the compromise.
Beyond their strategic locations, Schwendiman said the real secret to The Blind Onion’s success is the fact that they work very hard to hire quality people that look to become long-term employees. All 30-plus Blind Onion employees follow genuine, simple tenets: take care of the customer, take care of each other, take care of the place and use your best judgment.
“I want my employees to feel empowered,” Schwendiman said. “If they hold the customer in mind, they will usually be right. They’ll make mistakes along the way, [but] I want them to know that is okay too. We’ll learn and move on.”
Looking to the future, Schwendiman said he continues to eye expansion throughout Clark County and beyond, employing a franchise strategy that launched in 2013. Recently, he licensed the Orchards store to long-time Blind Onion manager Jeremy McCullough.
“I am monitoring three “B” sites now,” he added with a grin, looking out the pizza shop window.