Q&A with Dan Brinton, CEO of Fractured Prune Doughnuts
Originally started in 1976 in Ocean City, Maryland, Fractured Prune Doughnuts has entered a period of dramatic change since being purchased by Dan Brinton, the brand's CEO and a lifelong "doughnut guy."
With 23 restaurants open, six under construction and an additional 140 in the pipeline, Brinton is a busy guy. His home is Scottsdale, Arizona, but he spent 223 days on the road last year in his quest to dramatically expand the chain that allows people to customize their own treats.
Since purchasing the brand, he's focusing on adding sophistication to its supply chain, cultivating relationships with a new generation of franchisees, developing a radically different store prototype and, when possible, keeping things low tech.
Franchise Times: What is your strategy as you dramatically increase the company's restaurant count?
Dan Brinton: People on the East Coast recognize our brand, but when we go into these new markets ... we need some brand recognition early, and we need to expand relatively quickly. We've got stores going into South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Michigan, Colorado, Northern California, Arizona, Delaware, [and] we're working on several deals in North Carolina, Texas, Florida, Hong Kong, Dubai, Saudi Arabia, specifically Riyadh, Japan, Toronto, New York City, Hoboken, New Jersey, central Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Tennessee and one in Georgia.
FT: International... that sounds scary.
DB: It's a pretty scary prospect, especially at the stage we are at presently. It was not something that we solicited. They came to us, and we had to really think about it long and hard, because I have heard the same horror stories of losing control of your brand as you grow internationally. If we select the right partners—and that's truly what it needs to be is a partnership—and if they are as vested in us as we are in them, then I think we will be extremely successful.
FT: How big do you expect Fractured Prune to get?
DB: This is about building a brand for my children. It's a legacy brand. I have no interest in being a publicly traded company. I never say never, but I can almost assure you that's not on my radar. We are trying got build this thing in the right way, so we look at it more as a marathon than a sprint, although we've been sprinting pretty hard.
FT: What's behind your extremely lean operation, and big focus on outsourcing corporate staff?
DB: Our goal is to be the first virtual franchisor. I hate the word virtual, but that is truly our goal to be the first virtual franchisor in the world where we are in the field constantly, and not bogged down with paperwork, corner offices and mahogany desks... We don't ever look at [downsizing] as a downside. I can go out and hire the best person in the industry... We like the outside perspective, where they are doing other businesses as well, and can bring some of those learnings to us.
FT: Your patrons customize their doughnuts, but you're strongly against using technology like tablets to allow them to do so. Why is that?
DB: I want people to come into our building and feel like they've been somewhere. When I ate doughnuts when I was a little bitty boy at three years old, my first doughnut with my mother was the greatest experience of my life, and I remember it, eating doughnuts all my life and we would sit down and have a conversation. It's why people love doughnuts—it takes people back to their youth. It's a selfish reason for me, but I think it's a personal reason for so many people that are our customers, and I'm very proud to keep it that way. As long as the world will let me resist, then I'm going to do it.
FT: You've been in the doughnut biz for a long time. What keeps you coming back for more?
DB: I've always loved the doughnut industry and it's been very good to me. It's given me a livelihood for almost 20 years now, and I can't imagine doing anything else. It's so much fun, because nobody's going to get hurt today. Nobody dies eating a doughnut, I hope, and people love it. It's not like I'm selling lotto tickets, cigarettes, porn or some awful thing that's harming somebody. It's just a feel-good experience. You walk into these stores and people are happy, and they like the doughnut guy. I like being the doughnut guy.