Big Bet

Schlotzsky’s mega-deal puts SoCal in hands of neophyte ‘zee

By Beth Ewen

Schlotzsky’s is betting everything in its new Southern California market on one man: Moe Vazin, who owns two American Maid manufacturing plants and six Buy Low grocery stores that do a brisk deli business—but who has never operated a restaurant.

The Austin, Texas-based franchisor has inked a deal for 170 restaurants—yes, 170— with Vazin, who actually was pushing for up to 300 stores. “This one is by far the largest,” says Schlotzsky’s President Kelly Roddy about the deal. “We try to keep them under 30, and we actually try to keep them in the range of 10.”

But Roddy decided to end discussions with multiple prospects, each of whom wanted to open 25 or so restaurants, and put them all in Vazin’s hands, for a territory that includes Ventura, Los Angeles and Riverside counties, stretching from just south of Santa Barbara all the way to the Nevada/Arizona borders.

“There are very few people who have the business background to handle the volume of 170 restaurants, that have that capital to build out that quickly. It takes a very unique person to do a deal that large,” Roddy says.

Vazin says he likes Schlotzsky’s new format, which includes Cinnabon cinnamon rolls and Carvel ice cream, along with the flat round buns that define a Schlotzsky’s sandwich. All three are owned by Focus Brands in Atlanta, in turn owned by private equity firm Roark Capital, and Schlotzsky’s is the first Focus company to sell all three products under one roof.

“The new format is gorgeous,” Vazin says, adding he found Roddy and his management team to be “very, very receptive” and “very open-minded. We hit it off really well.”

Vazin says he’ll use funds from his operating companies to get the first five or so stores opened, and will seek bank loans and perhaps financial partners down the road. He’s working now to sign letters of intent for locations, and wants to get five to seven opened this year.

“They were looking for operators who were aggressive and had a long-term plan. I told them I’m not going to dabble in it,” he says, adding he’s downsizing his grocery store operation in order to focus on the restaurants. He’ll continue operating his American Maid plants in the Los Angeles area, which make small housewares such as plastic pitchers and storage tubs.

Vazin also sells imported goods through a related company, VMI International, and has real estate holdings tied to his family’s dealings in the supermarket business.

Many franchisors avoid cutting mega-deals with a single operator, especially someone new to the brand, and some scoff at the idea that all the stores will ever be built out. Roddy, too, acknowledges the risk in turning away seven or so operators who would all start building at the same time.

But Roddy is convinced. “Trust me, we had a lot of conversations about that,” Roddy says. “They’re used to running a large business, a multi-unit business, and they’re well capitalized.” That last point may have been most convincing, given the difficult times most franchisees face in raising money.

How long will it take to get those 170 stores open? “We are saying nine or 10 years. Moe is saying five years. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Moe get them open in five,” Roddy says.

Source: Franchise Times

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