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PizzaRev founders try for bigger slice

Twelve audacious dealmakers tell how they drive capital toward the most promising companies in franchising. Meet the 2014 Franchise Times Dealmakers—the daring dozen who move the money that builds empires.


PizzaRev founders, backed by BWW, gun for first place

Irv Zuckerman zooms up to his new PizzaRev store in El Segundo, a mile from LAX, in a hot white Mercedes wearing shades and a crisp shirt. “It’s like I’m 25 again,” says the 65-year-old, beaming, who booked the likes of the Rolling Stones and U2 in his former life as a concert promoter. “This has to work.”

Irv Zuckerman and Rodney Eckerman

“We’re on the wave, and when we see a wave we understand how to ride it,” says Irv Zuckerman, right, with Rodney Eckerman, co-CEOs and founders of PizzaRev in Los Angeles. “Irv is the software and I am the hardware,” adds Eckerman, referring to his role behind the scenes. Their strategic partnership with Buffalo Wild Wings is the Franchise Times Deal of the Year.

“This” is PizzaRev, a choose-your-own-ingredients chain that with a mere three stores, after only 11 months in existence and founded by two men new to the restaurant business, attracted a minority investment from Buffalo Wild Wings. That’s the 32-year-old publicly held franchisor and operator of more than 1,000 sports bar and grills, itself still on a fast-growth track and on its way to 1,700 in five years.

Hand-selected by Sally Smith, CEO, as Buffalo Wild Wings’ first investment in emerging brands, PizzaRev gains Smith’s expertise and clout as a strategic adviser and board member, and begins an intriguing experiment featuring a franchise system acting as a private equity investor, but with far more on-the-ground experience than most.

“We’ve tried just about everything so we might be able to speed the learning curve,” Smith says modestly a few weeks later, in her Minneapolis offices where the temperature is 15 below. (Zuckerman insisted PizzaRev’s quarterly board meetings be held in L.A., and Smith didn’t argue, he says with a laugh.)

Buffalo Wild Wings will become PizzaRev’s first franchisee, and the older brand now can offer new opportunities both to its own employees and to its 100 or so existing franchisees who’ve been asking for something new to build.

PizzaRev gains heavyweight backing from Smith and her savvy chief marketing officer, Kathy Benning, credited with B-Dub’s smart and effective national campaigns—which may be enough to give it greater traction than the dozens and dozens of similar brands springing up all around. The partnership is the Franchise Times 2014 Deal of the Year.

Zuckerman was lured back into business by Rodney Eckerman, now his co-CEO at PizzaRev and previously a fellow exec at ClearChannel. “I was playing golf, having a nice time,” Zuckerman says, when Eckerman brought up an idea his son Nick was kicking around.  “Let’s do something for pizza like Chipotle, but high end,” was the thought.

Sally Smith

“I need to get there before private equity does,” says Sally Smith, Buffalo Wild Wings’ CEO, about her mission to invest in a couple of emerging brands each year for the next five years. Her team developed “guardrails” for their search process, “so we don’t get off track and get seduced by something” that’s not the right fit. “We are investing in emerging brands so in three to five to seven years we have a growth vehicle,” she says.

The pair were new to the restaurant business, but they were old hands at concert promotion and they figured the lessons apply. “Let’s open three, so one bad location doesn’t sink the whole show, like a bad album or a bad venue,” Zuckerman recalls. “We opened up three within four months in different types of neighborhoods. All of them did well.”

Meanwhile, Smith had gone to Wall Street in March 2012 to unveil her strategy to invest in emerging brands as a way to create a new growth engine, and her team had reviewed more than 300 concepts. They worked with GulfStar, a investment banking firm in Houston, to help buy back some Buffalo Wild Wings stores from a franchisee there. GulfStar in turn was talking with PizzaRev about raising capital, and the introduction was made. By March 2013 the deal was done.

“The world moves faster and faster every day,” Eckerman says about the artisan pizza niche, adding the fast-casual burrito business took maybe eight to 10 years to develop. “Now you make it or burn out in two years.”

Both count their background at the publicly held ClearChannel as a plus, because they speak the language of Wall Street.  “We ran a food and beverage portfolio of $100 million,” Zuckerman says, and as concert promoters they learned how to serve the masses. “People think they’re in the fast-food business, but they’re not. The arenas and amphitheaters—they’re in the fast-food business. How do you get 20,000 Jimmy Buffett fans beer and wine and food in 30 minutes during intermission? That’s fast.”

With sons Nick Eckerman heading up the food and Jeff Zuckerman in charge of marketing, their elders are gunning to win. “Your goal’s gotta be to be the leader. We’re not trying to get bronze,” Zuckerman says.  

Eckerman muses about another franchisor, McDonald’s, that famously invested in an emerging burrito chain and prompted widespread debate about whether the eventual outcome was a good thing or not. “That was a great thing,” Eckerman insists. “I would love to say 10 to 12 years from now we would be a Chipotle.”

And Sally Smith, back in Minneapolis, simply wants to help the founders of her investments grow, starting with PizzaRev and then continuing with whatever concept comes next. Her team is close to making its second investment, guided by the “guardrails” she insists they follow.

She figures at least a few of those will hit the mark. “As much as we’d love to have a thousand-unit chain, if you got to 500 would you be disappointed?” she asks. “I wouldn’t be.”

Auspex Capital saves El Rancho sale with fast switch to MUY

Auspex Capital was just one week away from closing the sale of El Rancho Foods, a 76-unit Taco Bell franchisee in the Northeast, to Sentinel Capital Partners—when the deal blew up.

It happens all the time in the mergers and acquisitions business, but never so late in the game in Auspex’s experience, and El Rancho’s owners had to wrap things up by year-end. So Auspex quickly turned to a long-time client, MUY Brands, operated by Jim Bodenstedt in Texas, and convinced him to take a look at the $80 million deal.

Auspex raised the capital to fund the deal, including securing new senior debt from GE Capital Franchise Finance, and at the same time sold three companies for MUY—shedding two brands Bodenstedt viewed as low growth (Long John Silver’s and KFC) and trading up to the high-growth Taco Bell brand with geographic diversity.

 “We were able to quickly change gears and find a new horse,” says Chris Kelleher, managing partner at Auspex, because Bodenstedt trusted them and was able to say, “OK, I’m not going to spend a whole bunch of time going through this; I’m going to trust the representation made by the sell-side broker.”

Sentinel walked away from the deal November 2, 2012. MUY entered the picture November 3 and “needed to not only close a 76-store deal including 23 properties in about six weeks, but also complete the divestiture of three separate businesses to raise the equity to do the deal,” Kelleher recalls.

“It was a lot to get done in less than 60 days,” Kelleher says, and he credits the speed to “lots of hard work and experienced dealmakers at all levels of the transactions.”

Such confidence comes in part from careful analysis, an Auspex hallmark. “We’re not a flashy group. You kind of get what you get,” Kelleher says. “We pride ourselves on doing deep financial analysis and that creates a level of confidence. They know that we’ve thought through all of this.”

First deal after ordeal proves emotional for Capital Insight

Four months after his surgery for laryngeal cancer in 2011, Brett Bishov of Capital Insight met the CEO and CFO of Platinum Corral at the Restaurant Finance & Development Conference in November.

“I hadn’t really been able to do much until that conference because I wasn’t feeling well,” Bishov says about his low-key discussion with Billy Sewell and Kirby Mitchels, who operate one of the three largest Golden Corral franchisees. “They were one of the first meetings I had where there was a real intellectual discussion about their future.”

The pair were mulling over a simple refinance of their senior debt and rolling it up into one facility as a way to lower borrowing costs. They were also planning to proceed on their own. But a full year later they were ready to work with Capital Insight, and Bishov had a grander plan.

The company was over-leveraged, Bishov believed, with more than 12 different banks as creditors and more than 20 different landlords. Sewell also had signed many personal guarantees on the debt. “I’m not necessarily saying that’s bad, but there are so many various creditors, so if one small creditor has a concern that affects your whole enterprise,” Bishov says.

From the start of 2013, Bishov began looking at every property owned by Platinum Corral, determining a lot of equity was there and plenty of cash flow to pay the rent. “They should use the equity to de-lever the company,” Bishov proposed.

“So we took a company that had $25 million in debt, and we did $40 million in sale-leasebacks,” Bishov explains. “We were able to generate millions of extra dollars.”
Over a year they did $60 million worth of transactions in multiple separate deals and a global refinancing.  Now Platinum Corral has the cash to grow. “It’s one thing to be a growing company,” everyone claims to be that, he says. “It’s another thing to have the balance sheet that enables you to be a growing company.”

At the beginning of the process, there were a small number of institutions interested. “Six months later, after we’d gone through a third of the transactions, everybody couldn’t get enough of them.

“They said, I didn’t think you could do it. And a lot of people said I couldn’t beat cancer either,” he says.

Bishov’s battle with cancer, which included the removal of his voicebox and is detailed in a Franchise Times article last year, made the deal more meaningful than usual. “I didn’t know if I would ever be able to speak again and perform at a level I would consider to be substantial critical thinking and be able to navigate all the challenges that come forward,” he says.

His viewpoint has changed. “When you go through a challenge like I did, you value what’s truly important, and that is, I want to do business with people that I like and that I respect and they respect me,” he says.

Century 21 ‘zee convinces ‘23 Putins’ to join his Chicago business

Bill Kessler is a Century 21 franchisee who studied Soviet-era Russian history in college, a fact he cites when describing his experience acquiring 23 independent real estate offices around Chicago in the last year and a half.

“Real estate as an industry attracts people who, kind of like Putin, the more you tell him what to do the more he does something else,” he says with a laugh.

So he faced 23 Vladimir Putins, Russia’s infamously independent president, when trying to convince owners to join his franchised brand, either remaining as minority owner or selling outright.

“You take the perspective of Maslov’s hierarchy of needs—some people wanted to be part of something bigger and better, some want to be relieved of something they were doing, and some people went into brokerages who were great salespeople but didn’t have the urge to be good administrators,” Kessler says.

They broke into Chicago first with a startup operated by three agents. “And then we started the long process—it took about a year to really get traction, because you have to build credibility.

“It took a year of ground work and figuring out what the needs were,” he adds. ”Then we started to get some acceptance, and once you get a little bit of momentum and you get revved yourself.” He cites his team, including Eric Horbinski, VP of expansion, and Thomas Bretz, whom he calls “the driving force” behind all the transactions, as key reasons so many deals got done.

Now sales volume at Century 21 Affiliated, his Madison, Wisconsin-based operation, are three times what they were four years ago—and he didn’t need to finance any of the deals. “We never paid cash for anybody, and that was part of the chemistry” he was seeking in prospective sellers. “We figured out a way to either relieve them of debt, and/or we’d say, ‘do you want to share in the profits moving forward? We can do that.’

“We had no interest in coming up with hard cash in any case because the companies themselves were not profitable models and the physical assets were almost an impairment, not an asset.”

Kessler says he empowers his local leaders to make significant decisions, allowing him to spend at least part of the winter in his condo in Mexico, providing leadership from afar. “I’m a great delegator, and I accept good enough is OK,” he says.

For Wendy’s, Cypress pulls off massive refranchising job

Wendy’s International had a doubly challenging mission when they engaged investment banking firm The Cypress Group in the summer of 2013.

They wanted to sell their restaurants west of the Mississippi to concentrate their efforts and focus where they run better stores. And they wanted to boost their “image activation” program, to attract well-capitalized operators who would re-invest in the brand’s ambitious store remodeling effort.

“The CEO of Wendy’s put out a press release in July 2013, which described the refranchising program,” says Carty Davis, the Cypress partner who headed the effort.  “We had a goal to sell them by the end of the second quarter of 2014.”

About 250 inquiries from buyers, a tightly structured bidding process that allowed for no deviation from the deadlines, and three to eight full-priced offers in all markets later—and all 350 stores are scheduled to close before the deadline.

“It’s been very successful,” Davis says simply. “Wendy’s has been very satisfied with the work Cypress has done”—so satisfied, that former SVP Dan Collins nominated Cypress for the Franchise Times Dealmakers awards.

Davis credits the teams at Wendy’s and at Cypress for the smooth execution, and although it’s the biggest financial transaction of his career, he’s not grandiose about it. “If our client’s happy, we’re happy,” Davis says.

CKE, Hyatt Hotels among premier deals for DLA Piper

Two deals last year stand out for Rich Greenstein and Rick Morey, two DLA Piper attorneys who provide legal counsel for some of the biggest transactions in franchising—and say they get a thrill out of doing so.

They advised Roark Capital, the private equity firm in Atlanta and a long-time client, on its purchase of CKE Inc., including 3,413 Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s restaurants in 42 states and 30 foreign countries.

“They have two brands, both established. They’ve got a significant number of franchises both domestically and internationally,” says Greenstein. “You look at it from the diligence perspective as two transactions in one.”

They also advised Hyatt Hotels on its $325 million investment in Playa Resorts, which operates 13 all-inclusive resorts in Jamaica, Mexico and the Dominican Republic. Hyatt signed development and franchise agreements as part of the deal, and now will grow new brands created especially for the segment.

They see their role as digging for and providing crucial information. “Our clients want us to say, ‘Here’s the issue, now we’ll help you evaluate the risk,’ ” Morey says.

And they relish the art of the deal. “I’ve got to tell you there’s a certain energy,” Greenstein says. “There’s something about M&A that’s really motivating. Everybody’s pulling the same way to accomplish a goal, and you feel so thrilled when you sign the sale agreement and then when you close.”                       

QK owners gain growth funds via Greene Holcomb

Doug Koch and Robbie Qualls started QK Inc. with one Denny’s store in Holbrook, Arizona, back in the 1990s.

“They sank a lot of their personal net worth in buying it, and they built it to 85 locations basically through blood, sweat and tears,” says Matt Greeson, managing director at investment banking firm Greene Holcomb Fisher.

“They had never had outside money other than traditional bank financing,” he adds, but that changed last year when he led a recapitalization effort to buy out one partner, Qualls, who wished to retire, and provide growth capital to Koch, the CEO who will remain at the helm.

“Doug has always been the growth guy. Here’s a real opportunity to grow this to a 200-location operating company. Robbie said that’s too much risk,” Greeson says.

He arranged three buyers: Cave Creek Capital, Stewart Capital and Seacoast Capital, also adding three new board members and a level of oversight foreign to Koch. Forty-five percent of the company was sold, with several different ownership stakes.

“The deal was complex, because there were a number of different entities coming in,” Greeson says, and the original owners had individual goals for the transaction.

“The agreements flying back and forth: There were five separate law firms involved in this deal. It took on a life of its own.”

A growth plan by a franchisee must come with the blessing of the franchisor, and Denny’s is on board. “Growing new restaurants has to be blessed by the franchisor.

So, we had to get Denny’s involved from very early on,” and the CEO gave the thumbs up. “They said, if we want anybody to grow big, it’s Doug,” Greeson says.

Newcomer RMH rockets to No. 2 Applebee’s ‘zee

"We’re almost one year and two months old,” says CEO Jeff Neumann about his company, RMH Franchise Holdings in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey.

That’s right, in just more than a dozen months Neumann has acquired 138 Applebee’s restaurants in three separate transactions, and committed to develop 26 more over five years, for more than $125 million in total value.

Jeff Neumann

Jeff Neumann, CEO of RMH Holdings, became the No. 2 Applebee’s franchisee in just under 14 months—and his brand-new company was buying stores so fast he didn’t have time for the standard corporate trappings. So when his attorney asked on a phone call late one night—what’s your company name?—Neumann punted. “Nobody has ever accused me of being a creative genius. It’s my kids’ initials: Ryan, Morgan and Haley.” The intent was always to change it, “but now my kids won’t let me,” Neumann says.

RMH, named by Neumann on the spot for his children’s initials one night when his attorney asked about the company name, is now the second largest Applebee’s franchisee in the country.

Neumann’s acquisition binge is on pause right now, he says, as the company focuses on integrating the new stores. Then he’ll start again, the next time looking at other brands and parts of the country. “We’d like to be one of the largest in the U.S., to have multiple brands and spread throughout to create scale and diversification.” He points out single-brand franchisees are prone to problems if their franchisor stumbles.

Neumann developed a taste for the restaurant business as a private equity investor, on his own in a New York firm and before that in GE Capital’s private equity group. “Along the way I ran a number of the companies that were in my portfolio,” he recalls. “As I was getting older I found it more enjoyable to operate the companies.” He sold the last of his portfolio firms in December 2011, to focus on building RMH.

Neumann concedes he came “out of nowhere” to buy Applebee’s stores, including 45 restaurants from Concord Hospitality, 15 restaurants out of bankruptcy from AppleIllinois, and 78 restaurants from Thomas & King. The franchisor is a fan, he says, and vice versa. “A threshold requirement for us was that our franchisor be franchisee-friendly, and Applebee’s is. They’ve moved mountains for us,” he says.

RMH is backed by AKON Investments, a Washington, D.C.-based private equity firm, and they’ll be gunning hard for additional acquisitions and new unit development. Neumann says he’s found his sweet spot. “I wanted to play to my strengths, which lent itself to an M&A strategy, capital markets—those are my strengths. Hardcore day-to-day operations, not so much.”

He’ll rely on other members of the team for those skills, and then keep looking for brands to buy. “It needs to be a mature brand—we’re not interested in venture risk,” he says. Why mature brands? “Because I’m not smart enough to pick the winners.”

He ticks off other criteria. “It needs to be a large system. The unit economics of the store have got to be attractive. There needs to be a compelling reason why the brand does well.”

Oh, and there has to be large numbers of units for sale. “There are plenty of brands out there you simply can’t buy anything,” Neumann says, indicating this is one newcomer who will find a way.

Southern Star swaps Northeast Dunkin’s for Florida—genius

Most would call Tim Cloe a genius, especially this year with the winter from hell. He’s the Dunkin’ Donuts franchisee who wanted to move his family to Florida and was looking to sell his 13 stores in Massachusetts.

That’s when David Paris got involved, the attorney from Paris Ackerman Schmierer, and Dan Connelly at JCM Franchise Development, a division of Joyal Capital.

They executed a 1031 asset exchange, swapping $37.5 million worth of stores in the Northeast for 20 Dunkin’ restaurants plus development rights in Orlando, all without the usually attendant tax bill.

Now Cloe is living the life in Florida, operating Southern Star Restaurant Management Group. Enough said, to justify his recognition in the Franchise Times Dealmakers project. But he’s also kicked into high growth mode for Dunkin’ in a less developed market for the brand when he had been intent to simply sell out.

Cloe declined to be photographed or interviewed for this article, telling Paris he’d rather stay out of the spotlight. Paris says he’s finding that typical when he works on additional 1031 asset swaps for clients, including a Dunkin’ operator in Fort Meyers and Miami that he’s re-deploying in Atlanta.

“These guys—everybody gets nervous to talk when the IRS is involved,” Paris says with a laugh. “Franchisees, a lot of them are conspiracy theorists. They want to stay off the brand’s radar; they want to stay off the IRS radar.”

Paris, of course, knows the asset exchange is perfectly legal, and it’s his job to make sure it’s done correctly. That can be a big challenge, because in order to receive the tax-exempt status, money from the sale of stores has to be re-deployed to the purchase of stores within a time limit. “Dunkin’ was good about helping us with that,” Paris says, referring to the franchisor. “Let’s not forget they make a significant amount of money on these deals because there are transfer fees.”

He thinks the tactic will work for many operators and brands, particularly those that are sold out in one region but have open space in another. “Where it can be done, it should be done, because you’re just preserving your money,” Paris says.

Dedicated M&A unit bears fruit for Safeguard team

Safeguard launched its Business Acquisitions & Mergers division in 2008, a strategy to grow its network of print management franchisees and distributors in a highly fragmented market. Last year the strategy bore plenty of fruit.

The group made 16 acquisitions, with total top line revenue for the franchisor of $85.4 million. In all, the Dallas-based Safeguard has completed 83 transactions through BAM, all but three acquisitions by the franchisor and re-sales to franchisees, and 40 percent of those 80 sales were to new franchisees.

“It started with a humble strategy: Let’s buy small, competing distributors. In fact what it became is, let’s help our franchisees do these deals,” says Scott Sutton, vice president of franchise development. “One of the key ingredients that was missing was money—and this was when everybody was beginning to see the access to capital decline.”

A new CEO, JJ Soreni, joined the firm in 2009 and ramped up the program, seeking funding from parent company Deluxe and assuming direct mergers and acquisitions responsibility. Safeguard sells the companies “at 97 percent loan to value” to the franchisee. “We’re spending a lot of time and resources on making acquisitions, but we’re spending resources on growing businesses.”

Deluxe is a $1.6 billion publicly held company. The Small Business Services division, of which Safeguard is a part, is $1.1 billion. Those types of resources fund a lot of acquisitions, which in turn are gaining the attention of larger and larger companies looking to sell.

Until last year, “the largest deal we’d ever completed was in 2010, for $2.5 million. Six months ago we did a deal for a company that generates $25 million,” Sutton says. Safeguard has 276 units.

Sutton says he looks for all the statements to match up. “We look at a couple of metrics that are really indicative: What are the products they’re selling; what’s the tenure of the customer,” for example. Then intuition kicks in. “Is what the founder says congruent with what the leaders say and the employees say,” and then does all that compute with the data?

If so, another acquisition may be a go.

Snap Fitness founder adds brands to his American dream

Like everyone else in 2008, Peter Taunton watched capital dry up, so Snap Fitness franchisees couldn’t get funding. But Taunton decided to make a rare move. “We thought, look—we either go down a path of relying on third-party vendors for the services we need, or we’re going to head down this path of vertical integration,” to create infrastructure for franchisees, he says.

Peter Taunton

Peter Taunton, CEO of Snap Fitness and Lift Brands, started in the fitness business “in the trenches, with a lot of grit and hard work,” he says. Owners of a failing fitness club paid him “a whopping $16,000 a year,” he recalls, but they said if Taunton saved the club he could buy them out. “I had nothing to lose. I had nothing but a mullet and a big heart,” he says. Today he’s looking forward to more acquisitions to add to his arsenal. “Only in America. I feel so fortunate to have a front-row seat to the American dream.”

“We’re going to have to invest millions in ourselves, so we never have to experience down the road what we’re experiencing today. We went down the path which very few people go, because it’s very expensive.”

Snap’s founder and his team started a captive insurance plan, providing property and liability coverage. They began offering financing for all of the brands falling under the Lift Brands umbrella. (Lift Brands is the new company name, started last year as the umbrella organization.) They formed a construction division, back-office software management, and so on.

And then they started acquiring brands: first Kosama, a boot-camp concept (which hasn’t taken off), and last year 9Round boxing (which definitely has—from 30 locations to 105 last year alone), and Steele Fitness, high-end personal training. A fourth yoga concept will roll out this spring. Taunton enjoys his ability to help others grow.

“I’ve taken a brand from an idea and rolled it out into an international company, and I feel like we can help you,” he says about his pitch to entrepreneurs. “Only in America. I feel so fortunate to have a front-row seat to the American dream.”

Dennis Monroe counts ‘a million’ tools to grow, and he’s used them all at Monroe Moxness Berg

Dennis Monroe didn’t coin the term “franchise finance,” but he was certainly one of the first to look at his work that way. He started in the 1980s, helping a Wisconsin grocery store owner who wanted to buy Hardee’s stores.

“At the height he had way over 100 Hardee’s and he got most of those over five years. He was one of the first mega-franchisees. We developed a neat way of financing his growth,” says Monroe, co-founder of Monroe Moxness Berg law firm in Minneapolis.

Dennis Monroe

Dennis Monroe

The tactic was to go into smaller towns and ask local banks for loans, and to include owning real estate so the economics worked. “These were big deals in the small towns,” Monroe recalls,

Finding “neat” ways to finance growth in franchising—that’s been Monroe’s trademark for nearly 30 years. He receives the Special Achievement award in this year’s Franchise Times Dealmakers project.

His career highlights follow three decades of trends in franchise finance. By the early 1990s came securitization, or packaging a bundle of loans and re-selling them. “We were knee-deep” with the tactic, “and we represented everybody from Lehman Bros. on down,” Monroe recalls.

“We thought the world was unbelievable, what we could do. It was a highlight to see all that money come into the system, but it was a house of cards, as we all know,” he says. The next four or five years featured a series of workouts.

These days Monroe sees many new lenders and investors wanting to get in the franchise finance game, and he enjoys matching them with operators.  “I’m always trying to find new, creative financing tools, both on the franchisor side and the franchisee. We’re seeing much more on the securities side, such as private placement, earlier stage IPOs, and particularly I’ve been focusing more on emerging concepts.”

He’s got a law degree and an M.B.A., plus he spent two years as CEO of Parasole, a Minneapolis-based restaurant company where he saw how his financing tactics worked in practice.

“There’s always a way to bridge it,” he says about the need for financing. “There’s a million different tools, but you have to understand all those tools.” He plans to cut back his hands-on lawyering time in favor of speaking, promoting his firm and serving on boards.

But he’ll never be far from business owners and their needs. “How can I grow our concept? That’s a question I’m asked all the time,” Monroe says. “That’s what I love—is to put together a blueprint for growth.”

About this project

Franchise Times Dealmakers is an editorial project and awards event designed to highlight excellence by management teams, investors, lenders and advisers in buying and selling franchise companies to drive sustainable growth.

Franchise Times called for nominations during the fourth quarter, seeking details and lessons learned from transactions closing from July the prior year through last December. Editorial staff narrowed the nominations to a subset of finalists, which were presented to a panel of judges. Twelve were selected to receive awards at a special event March 27, and they are covered here.

Online nominations open October 1 for next year’s Franchise Times Dealmakers project; to nominate your deal before that date e-mail Beth Ewen, managing editor, at bewen@franchisetimes.com.

About the judges

Franchise Times invited nine experts in franchise finance to serve on the selection committee, to augment the judgment of four Franchise Times staff members.

“I was particularly impressed that despite the complexity of many of the deals, the professionals involved were able to get massive amounts of work accomplished in record time to get the deals done,” wrote one.

Added another: “Recognizing all of these achievements gives some honor to those involved that their accomplishments do not go unrecognized. But more importantly, it provides the professionals a deserving thank you for all the energy, time and resources that these individuals pour into these transactions.”

We agree, and add our own thank you to the thoughtful, efficient and savvy judges who gave their time to the project. They are:


Dan Holland
Cadence Bank

Blythe Jack
TSG Consumer Partners

Brad Saltz

Brian Schnell
Faegre Baker Daniels

Tom Schuldt
First Franchise Capital

Chris Sciortino
Robert W. Baird & Co.

Beth Solomon
National Association of Development Cos.

Sharon Soltero
Pacific Premier Bancorp

David Stiles
Trinity Capital


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