“It’s been really hard. You birth a baby and you put it into someone’s hands and you trust them,” said Gina Butler, the founder of Gigi’s Cupcakes who sold 100 percent of her cupcake chain to a private equity firm in June 2016.
Running three locations in the first six months was a lesson in experimentation for new operators at The Learning Experience. Now their mantra is to empower their employees and ‘get the heck out of the way.’
Chefs at independent restaurants are all the rage these days, attaining celebrity status, trotting the globe and hosting their own shows while they delight diners who flock to their celebrated kitchens. But we know plenty of great chefs are working in franchising, too, driving culinary innovation that can lead to a dizzying number of people trained in their methods and a multiplied portion of the masses who can enjoy top-notch food for a generally dialed-down price. In our new Kitchen Royalty package, planned as an annual feature, we shine the light on five of these innovators whose work is coming to a franchised restaurant near you.
Beth Ewen, Tom Kaiser, Laura Michaels and Nicholas Upton
Last month we published the Restaurant 200, our annual ranking of the largest franchisees who posted another year of eye-popping growth. This month we talked to four of their standout chief financial officers to find out how they’re driving their companies forward.
Tell about your upbringing.
I grew up in Appleton, Wisconsin, a little college town. I’m the oldest of five kids. I was my dad’s guinea pig. He taught me how to read with flashcards when I was 2. I was kind of an experiment.
Dr. Stephen Gubernick operates a busy location of The Joint in Scottsdale, Arizona, but found himself referring his chiropractic patients elsewhere for acupuncture, something his franchise doesn’t offer. He even had a clever name for the new acupuncture clinic he wanted to open: It would be called The Point, referring to the ancient Chinese practice of pricking patients’ skin with 4-inch needles to gain health benefits, so The Joint and The Point would be side by side.
After spending time in the Air Force, teaching high school in Chicago and operating a coffee shop, Dustin Jones found his passion at Dream Vacations. “After I went on my first cruise, I realized I love this industry,” said Jones.
Jones’ history in training and education will combine well in his new role as vice president of engagement. Since joining in 2011, he has worked his way up from training specialist to managing the support team and training at the travel agency franchise.
I grew up in South Florida. I’m one of four children, and rushed through school as quickly as I could. I graduated on the same day with my associate’s degree and my high school diploma, then to college. Both my parents were the opposite of entrepreneurs. They worked the same jobs my entire life, 9 to 5. They commuted over an hour to work every day, and retired from the jobs they were in when I was born. Things were pretty predictable.
Tom Ryan wasn’t interested in being CEO of the Smashburger brand he co-founded in 2007, but as he rolls up in his BMW X6, impeccably dressed and with a full tank of confidence, it seems he was born ready for this role—and this interview.
Ryan’s impressive resume precluded his arrival at the restaurant. With a Ph.D. in flavor and fragrance chemistry and the inventions of the McGriddle and Stuffed Crust Pizza under his belt, he looked more like a flashy executive than a food science savant that’s the bedrock of his career.
I grew up in a little small town in Texas. I had 23 people in my graduating class, and I married one of them. I worked for a custom farmer for years, driving combines and building fence. We learned, I think, a very, very strong work ethic.
Eight years ago Shirin Behzadi was recovering from surgery to remove a life-threatening brain tumor. During a rehabilitation process that took two years, Behzadi had to learn to walk again, to speak and, as she tells it, to take ownership of her life and help others do the same.
Aubrey Janik is wise beyond her years. Just two years after opening her first Erbert & Gerbert’s location in Plano, Texas, the 23-year-old franchisee has pushed pause on her ambitious five-year business plans to instead create The Franchise Blueprint, an online video-based franchise training course that helps other beginning franchisees avoid some of the frustrating mistakes that often cost newbies precious time and mental anguish.
Building an authentic brand that’s true to their family story is of the utmost importance to Jennifer and Tim Strickland, even if it means sharing personal—and sometimes painful—details of what led to the formation of their candy franchise.
What was your upbringing like?
I grew up in Oklahoma City, and I was a pretty quiet kid.My mother was a schoolteacher. My dad was in oil and gas, a wildcatter, and I had one younger sibling. My dad’s degree was as an astronaut, but there was more money in the oil and gas business back then. I grew up around oil and gas wells, and coming out of college that was one of my first jobs as a petroleum land man. I got into business around my freshman year in undergrad and developed a love for dissecting numbers and looking at businesses and putting together the pieces of the puzzle.
What was your upbringing like?
I was born and raised in the Seattle area. My dad was in the broadcasting industry. He was able to raise some capital and got into buying troubled radio stations and turning them around. In addition to all the normal stuff, I actually was a student of The Little Gym, that’s where it was founded. My mom was in journalism, with the Seattle Times. By 2002, we moved to Arizona and by 2002 she went to the Arizona Republic.
Kalpana, the third youngest of four Patel sisters who are all Planet Fitness franchisees, was super stressed on “expiration date” at her big-box gym in Vancouver, Washington. That’s when you send out mailers with an expiration date, and on that day in particular the gyms have a lot of sign-ups.
I grew up in New York City, the daughter of Hungarian immigrants who escaped the communist regime in Hungary in 1956. My mom was 9. I was raised by Holocaust survivors, so our life was work, work, work. My dad was not in the picture. My family left a lot behind. My brother is an actor. We lived in Queens.
Craig and Dianne LeMieux are area developers for Tropical Smoothie Cafe, with more than 60 locations under their purview and two cafes of their own. ‘If you follow it, it works,’ declares Craig about the franchisor’s model.
What was your upbringing?
I grew up in Palm Springs, and never planned to go back to Palm Springs. There’s nothing to do. We played in the dirt and dug holes and rode our bikes all over. My father was a pilot for Continental and my parents got divorced when I was 6 or 7. They were a pioneer with divorce.
T-shirts, signs and pop-up ads to promote an initial public offering? Muscle Maker Grill is using those populist tools and others to promote its initial public offering under a new option known as Reg A+ or a mini-IPO.
Dominic Flis cannot pinpoint one particular day that was the best ever for his family’s Little Rock, Arkansas-based Burger King operation. But naming the worst day ever is painfully easy: There are two. “The day my Mom passed away and the day my Dad passed away,” he says, in 2007 and 2009, respectively.
‘You don’t come to me for a deal. It has to be fair,’ declares Jerry Thissen, the founder of National Franchise Sales, who over 40 years and with 26 employees has built the firm into the largest franchise brokerage outfit in the country.
In his life as a franchise attorney, Peter Lagarias says, “things often don’t resolve for on and on and on.” By contrast, results are immediate from Rotaplast International’s work, in which teams of doctors, nurses and Rotary volunteers travel to foreign lands and repair cleft palates and lips for children whose families can’t afford the surgery.
Suzanne Greco was seven years old when her big brother, Fred DeLuca, opened what became the first Subway restaurant in Bridgeport, Connecticut, in 1965. “I stayed in the background while everyone else was working,” Greco said, “but I aspired to be a worker, too. Fred and our mother gave me little chores, like sweeping the floor and drying dishes.”
Judging on appearances, everything looks better in Scandinavia—the peaceful lifestyle, colorful cottages, lush fjords, sleek Volvos wagons and, of course, the breathtaking, gorgeous furniture that elevates daily living to an art form. It’s a look that’s becoming more common, showing up everywhere from apparel to automobiles.
Nearly six years after A&W’s disgruntled and demoralized U.S. franchisee association banded together with its largest international franchisee and former President Kevin Bazner to purchase the brand from Yum, now-CEO Bazner is feeling confident as the nearly 100-year-old brand is back to growing sales and adding units.
What does it take to run a company for Warren Buffett? Ask Gino Blefari, the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, one of the few Buffett acquisitions that have been allowed to use the hallowed Berkshire Hathaway name.
Susan Beth’s car may not be as clean as it used to be, but she still thinks the best job in franchising just found her. Susan (we should refer to her by her last name, but it would just sound like we’re calling her by her first name, so why bother?), the COO of NRD Capital Management, an un-private equity fund started by Aziz Hashim, is the most bubbly M&A adviser you’ll ever run into. “I’m a Type A when I need to be,” Susan says, reassuringly.
‘When you’re filled with ego, you’re focused on yourself, not finding someone to help,’ declares a Halal Guys operator in Southern California. Paul Tran and his four partners came together for their love of the brand.
There’s a reason no one has successfully franchised a gumbo-based chain before—it’s a long, arduous process to make it just so. But the real secret isn’t in the recipe. Meet the founding father of The Lost Cajun, Raymond Griffin, a widower franchising the concept he and his late wife dreamed up that’s grounded in courtesy and respect.
The Flynn Restaurant Group is one of the master operators in franchising. So when he changes tactics, the industry takes notice. The Applebee’s and Taco Bell operator has shifted his focus in the past two years with a massive diversification play that has him gobbling up locations in the Panera system.
Passion comes first for Keely Watson, who owns five Club Pilates units in California. ‘I think with any business you dive in headfirst. That’s much easier to do when you’re passionate about it,’ she says.
In a couple of hours, Paul Stanley will have a black star circling his right eye and a furry tail attached to his skintight black pants, and Gene Simmons’ silver tongue will be stained blood red. But first they are playing an acoustic set for the superfans, sans their signature white face paint and 30-pound platform boots.
Staying even is not OK for Shannon Strunk, who with his wife, Cynthia, operates more than 60 units of three brands in the Gulf Coast. He believes in owning real estate, too, because ‘cash disappears quick.’
Among the 2017 class of Hall of Famers, Kerry Bundy of Faegre Baker Daniels is a seasoned attorney with a breadth of experience in and out of the courtroom. She and her clients Jen Beck and Shelly O’Callaghan, both of Dairy Queen, discuss their longstanding legal relationship and how they work together to tackle the legacy brand’s unique legal issues.
David Paris of Paris Ackerman & Schmierer is in this year’s newest Legal Eagles Hall of Fame class, those who have been so named for 10 years. The franchisee attorney sees issues from the other side of the FDD, especially where mergers and acquisitions are concerned. Paris and two of his clients, Vik Patel and Tim Cloe—both large operators in the Dunkin’ Donuts system—discuss the importance of having an attorney with a business mindset.
Assad Khan vividly remembers his first taste of bubble tea while strolling through New York City’s Chinatown district back in 2009. He should remember, because that day—and his instant love for the Taiwanese tea drink—changed his life.
As the second-largest pizza chain eclipses $10 billion in sales and goes all-in as a high-tech pioneer, it expects to overtake Pizza Hut before 2020. CEO Patrick Doyle describes the fateful decisions that started Domino’s fast run-up.