Brunch specialist sees franchising on the menu Jersey restaurant chain, The Turning Point, feels fattening bottom line could lead to selling franchises by end of year

Kirk Ruoff, founder and CEO of The Turning Point, poses in his Long Branch location. The chain has 14 restaurants, which are located in New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania.-(PHOTOS BY AARON HOUSTON)

Kirk Ruoff has spent the past 20 years turning one of the New Jersey’s favorite leisure weekend activities, brunch, into a booming business.

The Turning Point, a chain of 14 upscale restaurants scattered throughout New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania specializing in brunch, has truly become a staple among state residents. The restaurants offer people a way to enjoy lazy weekend mornings while dining on signature brunch dishes such as the “OMG French toast” and the Tuscany omelet, or healthier dishes, such as zucchini spaghetti. 

In addition to its 14 locations, the company has three more restaurants under construction, including one in Moorestown. It has grown from humble beginnings in 1998 to an empire that currently employs more than 500, including 15 executives in its Eatontown corporate headquarters. In 2016, The Turning Point produced $20 million in revenue.

In fact, the company has enjoyed so much success and growth, it is currently exploring the possibility of franchising for the first time.

“Right now, the plan is to add three or four more locations per year,” Ruoff said. “We’re actually writing a new private placement memo and (planning to) go out and do a capital raise for a Turning Point franchise. I have the exploratory team together now, and if everything looks good and the plan looks like it’s viable, we can sell franchises by the end of the year.”

Serving a high quality of life

For Kirk Ruoff, profit was not the only factor in creating a restaurant chain focused on brunch. Quality of life was also an important issue. When he acquired the first Turning Point, he was a manager at a local Chili’s restaurant, his wife was pregnant and the couple was still living with his parents. Ruoff found himself routinely working all day in order to make the dinner part of the business work, but, after a few months, he decided that the restaurant should close at 3 p.m. every day.

“At the time we opened the first restaurant, I was working 15-hour days and my wife was pregnant,” Ruoff said. “She was like, ‘This is no life and this is not what I signed up for.’ She wasn’t happy and I wasn’t really happy, so I started working on a business plan to do a breakfast and lunch restaurant. The thing that grinds on you in this business is working at night, and having to finish up at 1 or 2 o’clock in the morning. The hours we now keep enable our employees to have a higher quality of life, and we are able to attract a higher quality of people.”

Ruoff added that franchising represents the next logical step in the company’s growth, and envisions Turning Point restaurants opening throughout the tri-state area through franchising.

“You want to try to maximize your sweat equity,” Ruoff said. “I’ve been doing this 20 years. We have 14 successful locations, we have our business model set, so now, let’s go out and try to grow a little faster. We’ve perfected the single story concept, so now, I want to try to give people a business by selling them my business.”

Ruoff came up with the idea of becoming a brunch specialist in 1998, when he acquired a 14-table restaurant, the Turning Point Coffee and Tea Salon, in the affluent Jersey Shore town of Little Silver. The restaurant specialized in high-end coffee and teas, while serving gourmet lunches and dinners.

“When I acquired the restaurant, the idea was that the dinner part of it was not working at this location. The former owner was making a profit off lunch and coffee, but not making a dollar on dinner. I saw that there was a need for an upscale breakfast restaurant, and when we made the change to just breakfast and lunch, the store was profitable in two months. The idea of just serving breakfast and lunch just took off.”

Ruoff, a Florida native, almost immediately spotted a market for a restaurant in the state that specialized in serving healthy brunches, and decided to keep the restaurant open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day.

“In New Jersey, I noticed that all they had were kind of greasy diners, Perkins and IHOPs, so, I thought maybe I can keep the coffee and tea part and incorporate a breakfast and lunch part,” Ruoff said. “People liked the name Turning Point, so I dropped the coffee and tea part and just kept The Turning Point, and decided to just work on serving healthy breakfast, lunch and brunch options.”

In addition to an ever-changing menu, the décor of the restaurant has to be inviting, Ruoff said. Every restaurant has off-white walls, ceiling fans, a gourmet coffee bar and wall decorations in order to create a special dining experience.

“We really look for continuity when we look at the spaces we rent,” Ruoff said. “We spend a lot of money to fit out our space and make sure everything kind of goes together — the food, the service and the décor. You want to have the décor match the level of food. I put a pitcher of ice water on every table. People have told me that I’m crazy to do that and that I’m losing sales of sodas and other drinks, and I say, ‘No.’ When I go out, I want to have a pitcher of water on the table.”

At the end of the day, The Turning Point relies on the quality of its food and its service for its success, Ruoff said.

“The bottom line is that customers like the dining experience, and they like the consistency of what we do,” he said. “They have confidence in the ingredients we put in our food, and they know it’s a clean, well-run restaurant. We try to train all of our people to be welcoming.

“I don’t care if you don’t have restaurant experience — if you’re a nice, friendly person, we’ll hire you.”

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