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Leave it to the pros at Burger Fi, FirstLight and Dunkin’


David Farkas

Professional athletes make bundles of money during relatively short careers. Mike Miller, a small forward for the Denver Nuggets, is an exception. The 36-year-old entered the NBA in 2000 and has played ever since.  

His considerable earnings have gone into a variety of enterprises, says business partner David Rodriguez, who teamed up with the veteran two years ago to open 11 BurgerFi restaurants. “He’s been wise with his money and has invested in several things,” including an energy drink Miller and other athletes are backing, Rodriguez explains.

For his part, Rodriguez is managing the growth of the premium burger franchise; the pair have so far opened three units with at least one more planned for this year. A former director of operations for Logan’s Roadhouse and O’Charley’s, Rodriguez is a veteran too, and one who has lost count of the number of openings he’s overseen.

As a result, he has been able to pluck “top-notch GMs” from the ranks of his former employers, including the one he installed in far-flung Lincoln, Nebraska. Rodriguez says BurgerFi was part of the deal when he partnered with Miller.

The two-year-old partnership is Rodriguez’s first stab at fast-casual and franchising. Miller, however, was already a BurgerFi franchisee, having partnered with his brother Ryan to open a unit near Auburn University in 2014. The player discovered the concept while playing for the Miami Heat.

The Miller-Rodriguez partnership, in which Miller is majority owner, has agreed to open units in Columbus, Ohio, Cincinnati and Lexington, Kentucky. “One of my stipulations was, yeah, I’ll join up as partner but I want to come back to Lexington because that’s where I’m from,” recalls Rodriguez, who met Miller in Memphis when he was a member of the Grizzlies in 2013-14.   

Financing issues include seeking investors and determining how many restaurants are needed before the partnership can self-finance new builds. A new BurgerFi costs from $698,500 to $1.14 million.

“Mike is the big owner, the big guy and we are leaning on that for now,” Rodriguez says.

Dallas donut king

Veteran franchisee Hank Huth is on the move—to Greater Dallas after introducing Dunkin’ Donuts to the Southwest in 2008, opening 20 stores in the process. Today, he’s operating 11 units in and around Dallas with plans to add 25 more in the next six years.

Huth, who lives in Connecticut, entered franchising as an area developer in the 1980s via Blockbuster Video and, later, Boston Market (then called Boston Chicken). He operated units in and around New York City for both concepts, eventually selling them back to the franchisors. He later franchised bagel, custom framing and tanning salon brands.

“I like to say I’m not good at creating something, but I am pretty good at scaling it,” Huth says with a chuckle, before adding he became a Dunkin’ franchisee shortly after the brand’s 2006 acquisition. That year, a consortium of private equity firms purchased parent Dunkin’ Brands from Pernod Ricard SA for $2.4 billion.

Today’s scaling involves the acquisition of 10 existing units and new builds in Rockwall, Wise and Hunt counties. Huth, citing his long tenure as a developer, says: “I have East Coast, big city experience and Arizona emerging-market experience. Texas appears to be a combination of both,” he maintains.

Dunkin Brands recently took over a handful of units in North Texas previously owned by Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and partner Troy Aikman. “We mutually decided to end our store development partnership, and Dunkin’ Brands took over full ownership of the Dunkin’ Donuts restaurants in Dallas-Fort Worth market,” a Dunkin’ official told the Dallas Morning News late last year.

The brand expects the number of existing units  (about 40) in Dallas-Fort Worth to grow to 100 units in the coming years.

Huth is their man, then. “Our expansion plans in Dallas are sizable,” he declares. “Right now, I have 11 stores. There is a great deal of opportunity for unit expansion within that market, and that penetration will breed additional availability.”

Helping the elderly

Multi-unit operators have to start somewhere. For FirstLight HomeCare franchisees Jim Vaughn and Jenny Mitchell, a registered nurse, it’s the North Carolina counties of Greenville, Lawrence and Pickens. The partners, who opened their first office in the city of Greenville in July, 2013, plan on adding a second in nearby territory in June.

Business—as measured by hours booked—has been good so far. “I would say we’re above average for a FirstLight, probably in the top 15 percent,” he claims, citing the partners’ 75 to 80 clients. They’re largely elderly people who are serviced in their homes, in rehab facilities and in assisted-living residences.

Competition is tough. National home-health brands and large independent operators threaten their business.  

To blunt it, Vaughn and Mitchell count on FirstLight’s website for help and a local marketing person they’ve hired to offer their services to churches, doctors and senior centers. But their most effective weapon is Mitchell herself, a well-respected provider with a long career in home health and hospice care.

“Jenny’s reputation is one thing we really sell,” Vaughn declares, adding it also helps attract employees. “Our office manager worked for her managing a hospice.”

The franchisees may duplicate an existing second-office scenario in their new territory. Currently, they rent space in an assisted-living facility where their employees provide a raft of services to some 35 clients in a single setting.

Yet Vaughn concedes that part of his business can be confusing when compared to typical home visits. “Managing the ebbs and flows of scheduling is different. So is billing. It’s all trial and error,” he says.

David Farkas has covered the restaurant business for 25 years as a reporter and food writer, and writes about development deals in The Pipeline in each issue. Send your franchise’s development agreements to him at dfarkas99@gmail.com.

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