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Thayer Ventures Announces Pillsbury As Managing Director; Launches Its Third Fund Targeting Innovation In Travel Technology

Hotel Interactive - Wed, 2017-01-11 05:13
SAN FRANCISCO-–Thayer Ventures, the only venture capital firm focused specifically on innovation in travel technology, announced the appointment of Leland “Lee” ...

PSA sales rise 6% in 2016 on European recovery, Iran

AutoNews - Wed, 2017-01-11 04:46
PSA's global deliveries rose by nearly 6 percent last year, propelled by a European market recovery and strong sales of Peugeot cars in Iran. China and southeast Asia was a problem region for the automaker with sales falling 16 percent.
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Nissan highlights safety features with 'Star Wars' campaign

AutoNews - Wed, 2017-01-11 01:01
In the latest new spot to top our weekly viral video charts, Nissan takes inspiration from a galaxy far, far away.
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Nissan ties in Rogue with Star Wars campaign

AutoNews - Wed, 2017-01-11 01:01
In the latest new spot to top our weekly viral video charts, Nissan takes inspiration from a galaxy far, far away.
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The Kebab Shop wins minority investment for expansion

Nation's Restaurant News - Wed, 2017-01-11 00:02

The eight-unit fast-casual Mediterranean chain The Kebab Shop has received a minority investment from private-equity firm AP Franchised Concepts to support future growth, the companies announced Tuesday.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed. The Poway, Calif.-based chain founded in 2007, which operates in San Diego and Northern California, offers European-style doner kebabs with slow-roasted rotisserie meats, made-to-order grilled items and fresh salads.

Photo: The Kebab Shop

Arian Baryalai, The Kebab Shop’s CEO and chief financial officer, said the investment will support the company’s plan to open six to eight locations over the next two or three years, moving into the Los Angeles area and expanding in Northern California.

And though the new investor has “franchised” in its name, that doesn’t mean The Kebab Shop plans to franchise, he said. “We’ll wait until we get to 10 to 15 locations before we make that decision.”

Like the kebab restaurants common in countries like Germany, The Kebab Shop offers flatbread-wrapped sandwiches, shawarma or a doner box with a kebab on saffron rice or with fries, along with entrée plates with meat and two sides. Prices range from about $8 to $10 for sandwiches or box to $11 to $13 for plates, said Baryalai.

Photo: The Kebab Shop

AP Franchised Concepts was launched in 2016 to invest in and operate restaurant and retail concepts.

Founded by Anthony Polazzi, the firm has also made minority investments in the eight-unit Szechwan restaurant chain Han Dynasty as well as Orange, Calif.-based Bean Sprouts chain, a healthy-dining concept for kids.

Roth Capital Partners served as exclusive financial advisor to The Kebab Shop on the deal.

Contact Lisa Jennings at

Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout

Pizza Patrón franchisee acquires chain

Nation's Restaurant News - Tue, 2017-01-10 22:06

A Pizza Patrón Inc. franchisee has purchased the Hispanic-oriented chain from founder Antonio Swad, the company said Monday.

Charles Loflin of San Antonio, a Pizza Patrón franchisee since 2003, and the largest Wingstop franchisee, said the deal closed on Dec. 22. Terms were not disclosed. Pizza Patrón has 92 units.

“The Hispanic consumer is the fastest-growing consumer [demographic] in the United States of America, and we feel like we have a niche that will appeal to that consumer,” Loflin told Nation’s Restaurant News. 

Loflin said Pizza Patrón headquarters will move from Dallas to San Antonio. 

Loflin also owns San Antonio Wings Inc., which franchises 66 Wingstop units in Austin and San Antonio, as well as Arizona, New Mexico and South Texas. 

Both concepts were founded by Swad, who later sold Wingstop to Atlanta-based Roark Capital Group in 2015. The company went public in 2015.

“This is Antonio Swad’s first concept, and is his baby in every way,” said Sandy Bell, a Pizza Patrón spokesperson. “He can’t be more pleased to hand the baton to Charles Loflin after these 30 years because there is no one that would make him feel more confident in the transaction and transition.”

“I’ve known Antonio going on 20 years,” Loflin said, adding that he acquired the first Pizza Patrón to move outside the Dallas-Fort Worth area. “I have store No. 7 as a franchisee.”

With the purchase of Pizza Patrón and its 11 company-owned restaurants, Loflin said he now owns 33 units of the brand. The locations are spread evenly between the Dallas, San Antonio and Phoenix markets.

“I grew up in Texas and spent all my life here, so I’m familiar with the Hispanic consumer,” Loflin said. “I like the ease of the brand, with no delivery. It’s just a great pizza at a great price.” 

Units average between 1,200 square feet and 1,500 square feet. 

No major changes are expected, he added. 

“We just want to take the brand that people know today and put a modern spin on it with pizza recipes, online orders and apps,” Loflin said.

Contact Ron Ruggless at

Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless

Wingstop teams with Amazon Alexa on voice ordering

Nation's Restaurant News - Tue, 2017-01-10 21:01

Wingstop Inc. now offers voice-activated, customizable ordering through Amazon Alexa, the company said Tuesday.

The 949-unit, Dallas-based operator allows customers to used the cloud-based Alexa service to place orders and re-orders, make payments and get estimated pick-up times. Wingstop is the first restaurant brand to offer full-menu voice-activated ordering through the device.

“Wingstop is digitally driven, and the launch of voice-activated ordering is the next step in our commitment to providing the most convenient, engaging and cutting-edge brand experience for our fans,” said Stacy Peterson, CIO of Wingstop, in a statement.

Digital orders accounted for 19 percent of Wingstop’s total in the third quarter ended Sept. 24, the company said.

Amazon’s voice-activated Echo products and Google’s similar Home devices allow users to request and play music; find information, like recipes; set a timer and complete other tasks.

Both products will list restaurants near any particular location, according to Restaurant Hospitality, and Amazon’s device will allow users to “ask Alexa” for restaurant meal deliveries in about 20 cities with Amazon Prime if they have made earlier orders through

Wingstop said its branded Amazon Echo capability takes the experience further, letting users activate an order by using basic vocal prompts such as “Alexa, ask Wingstop to order wings;” “Alexa, ask Wingstop to order favorite;” or, “Alexa, ask Wingstop to order an eight-piece classic wing combo with lemon pepper, fries and ranch.”

Customers must enable the skill in the Alexa app and then link their Wingstop account. Patrons can also manage favorites, set order locations and save payment information for future transactions.

“We are proud to be working with Amazon to enable Alexa ordering of Wingstop combos, as well as re-orders and favorite orders, plus the ability to customize flavors, dips and sides — making ordering your favorite wings easier and more fun than ever before,” Peterson said.

Rob Pulciani, director of Amazon Alexa, said: “We’re thrilled to be working with Wingstop to launch the first full-menu voice-activated ordering functionality, allowing customers to avoid the line by ordering through Alexa.”

Wingstop pioneered social ordering on Facebook Messenger and Twitter last June, expanding on more traditional customer ordering or via mobile device. 

For the third quarter, Wingstop’s net income decreased to $2.8 million, or 9 cents per share, compared with $3.2 million, or 11 cents per share, the previous year. The company said it had higher labor and administrative costs compared with the same quarter last year. Revenue in the quarter increased 14 percent, to $21.8 million. Domestic same-store sales rose 4.1 percent. 

Wingstop, founded in 1994, owns and franchises restaurants in the United States, Indonesia, Mexico, the Philippines, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates.

Contact Ron Ruggless at

Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless

GM wins IHS Markit's 'Loyalty to Manufacturer' award

AutoNews - Tue, 2017-01-10 21:00
General Motors took home the top prize in IHS Markit's Loyalty Awards for the second consecutive year, earning the 'Overall Loyalty to Manufacturer' title for the 2016 model year.
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Papa Murphy’s comeback plan includes delivery, refranchising

Nation's Restaurant News - Tue, 2017-01-10 20:30

Papa Murphy’s Holdings Inc. is looking to traditional pizza chains in a bid to jumpstart falling same-store sales: It plans to test delivery.

The Vancouver, Wash.-based take-and-bake pizza chain, presenting to investors at the ICR Conference Tuesday, said it will test delivery this year through third-party providers.

“We have an opportunity to do delivery different than anybody else does it, with no quality compromise whatsoever,” Papa Murphy’s CFO Mark Hutchens said.

Papa Murphy’s is hardly the only chain testing or moving forward with delivery, a strategy more companies are using thanks to the growth of third-party providers.

Indeed, numerous chains at ICR mentioned delivery in their presentations, ranging from quick-service Jack in the Box to polished-casual Kona Grill. Fast-casual Zoe’s Kitchen said it’s testing just about every form of delivery, including using its own drivers.

But for Papa Murphy’s, delivery would open up a business that it has eschewed for much of its history to date, even though just about all of its major competitors already provide it.

Papa Murphy’s believes its customers would use delivery. At the presentation, the company said 72 percent of its customers indicated in a survey that they would use delivery, and 53 percent would order pizza more often.

“There’s strong consumer demand,” Hutchens said.

Hutchens said Papa Murphy’s would avoid one of the major pitfalls of delivery: The reduction in quality that comes from the 15 minutes it often takes to get a pizza from a restaurant to a home.

Because customers bake the pizzas themselves, Papa Murphy’s argues the quality would be better.

Delivery isn’t the only strategy in which Papa Murphy’s is working to catch up with competitors. The company is working to build its online ordering mix, which exceeds 50 percent at chains like Domino’s Pizza Inc. and Papa John’s International Inc. At Papa Murphy’s it’s about 8 percent.

Online ordering is important because customers who order online tend to order more — average check is 20 percent higher — and it’s more efficient than orders taken by phone.

Such strategies are important to Papa Murphy’s, which is coming off one of the toughest years in its history, and one that culminated in a 7.8-percent decline in fourth-quarter same-store sales and the departure of CEO Ken Calwell.

“2016 was challenging,” Hutchens said. 

Jean Birch made her debut as Papa Murphy’s interim CEO at ICR. And she revealed another key strategy in the chain’s bid to reverse its fortunes: Refranchising. 

Over the years, Papa Murphy’s bought restaurants from franchisees and built its own units in a bid to develop markets. As such, the traditionally franchise-heavy business went from 95 percent franchisee owned to 90 percent.

Birch wants Papa Murphy’s to get back to the 95-percent mark, so the company plans to sell roughly 100 units to operators. It plans to use funds from that sale to pay off debt.

“We’re traditionally 95-percent owned, and we’ll be getting back there in the next few years,” Birch said. “We make our money through the franchise business model.”

Contact Jonathan Maze at

Follow him on Twitter: @jonathanmaze

How Waymo decided to go driverless

AutoNews - Tue, 2017-01-10 19:22
John Krafcik, head of what used to be Google's self-driving project, said the company's approach to automation was determined after observing how drivers responded to advanced driver assist technologies.
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Must-see videos: El Pollo Loco touts the authentic flavors of LA

Nation's Restaurant News - Tue, 2017-01-10 19:17

McDonald’s Executive Chef Dan Coudreaut travels to New York City to check out its Big Mac in the 'Big Apple.' El Pollo Loco has been serving Mexican marinated chicken cooked over an open flame since it opened. KFC live-streamed the launch of its first inflatable restaurant and shares the highlights. In the fifth installment of Starbucks' animated series “1st & Main,” Chloe fills out her college application while having to reevaluate her impact on the world as a millennial​ bunny. Denny's now offers twice as many $4 value menu items for a limited time.

What's cooking across America at McDonald's?

El Pollo Loco touts the authentic flavors of LA

KFC builds first inflatable restaurant during the holidays

Starbucks releases new web series episode

Denny’s doubles value-menu offers

Despite global duties, Munoz stays focused on U.S.

AutoNews - Tue, 2017-01-10 19:13
Jose Munoz's latest promotion gave Nissan's North America chairman the additional job of chief performance officer, giving him responsibility for every market in the world.
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Rising used-vehicle supply seen pushing prices down in 2017

AutoNews - Tue, 2017-01-10 18:19
Used-vehicle prices could this year as the number of off-lease and other used vehicles is slated to increase, said Tom Webb, Cox Automotive's chief economist.
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O’Charley’s parent names new president

Nation's Restaurant News - Tue, 2017-01-10 18:11

American Blue Ribbon Holdings LLC has named William E. Hall president of its O’Charley’s restaurant group, the company said Monday.

Hall, who replaces Ned Lidvall in the role, has taken on responsibilities including the operational execution of O’Charley’s restaurants located across 20 states.

He is also a veteran of Nashville, Tenn.-based O’Charley’s. He served as the casual-dining chain’s president and executive vice president of operations from 1990 to 2004. During that time, O’Charley’s grew from 65 to 216 restaurants.

“I am extremely pleased to return to O’Charley’s, where I earlier spent 14 years of my career, and again have the exciting opportunity to work closely with an outstanding team in Nashville and throughout the O’Charley’s restaurant base,” Hall said in a press release. “Our goal is to continue providing our guests with great quality food and O’Charley’s hospitality.”

Hall has held various restaurant management positions in the 13 years since leaving O’Charley’s. Immediately before returning to O’Charley’s, Hall had a brief stint in senior management of Club Corporation of America. Before that, he was president and chief operating officer of Spaghetti Warehouse.

According to NRN’s Top 200 census, O’Charley’s has 213 units.
Update: Jan. 10, 2017  This story has been updated with whom Hall replaces and Hall's previous positions, as well as with O'Charley's correct unit count. 

Contact Bret Thorn at

Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary

How can I drive consumer interest with bakery items?

Nation's Restaurant News - Tue, 2017-01-10 17:34

Collaborate with a supplier to create unique, proprietary recipes for one or more baked goods selections. Bake off items in-house and finish during service. Don't overreach — offer items that don't require a lot of labor. Train someone on your staff to take responsibility for baked goods, whenever possible. Also, if possible, offer items that fit thematically within your concept, like a pizza chain offering cannolis. Combine items when it makes sense — like topping a cookie with ice cream.


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NADA'S Welch tells automakers to end 'unfair' incentive programs

AutoNews - Tue, 2017-01-10 17:00
National Automobile Dealers Association CEO Peter Welch called on automakers to end 'unfair' incentive programs and get parts to dealers faster to repair recalled vehicles.
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Among growth chains, lots of optimism

Nation's Restaurant News - Tue, 2017-01-10 16:55

Time was, not all that long ago, the “private day” at the annual ICR investors conference was the forgotten part of the three-day event. Relatively few investors attended, choosing instead to use it as a travel day.

That certainly wasn’t the case Monday, when investors crowded the room, standing three rows deep in the back, to get a look at concepts like Blaze Pizza and Bobby’s Burger Palace, the latter of which was founded by the celebrity chef Bobby Flay.

These concepts not only got investors’ attention, they presented a far rosier picture of the restaurant operating environment than many of the public companies scheduled to attend later.

First Watch, the rapidly growing breakfast-and-lunch chain, told attendees that same-store sales increased 3.7 percent in 2016, and that unit volumes were $1.35 million — although it is open only through lunch.

Punch Bowl Social, the eight-unit “eatertainment” concept,” boasted that it is ramping up growth this year, and that it is a sought-after concept by developers eager for its traffic-generating, 25,000-square-foot boxes.

The high-tech stir-fry chain Honeygrow told attendees of its 2-to-1 sales-to-investment ratio. And Blaze Pizza boasted of high unit volumes, saying that its new location in the Disney Springs shopping, dining and entertainment complex is “arguably the busiest pizza restaurant on the planet. 

“There’s a big disruption going on in the pizza space,” Blaze Pizza co-founder Rick Wetzel told attendees. “The category is stale. There are 75,000 pizzerias in the country, half are dominated by big players with factory-style conveyor belt pizzas and the other is independents with long service times and pizza by the slice.”

Three fast-casual pizza chains presented at the conference, including MOD Pizza and &pizza. All of them are the beneficiaries of major deals from investors. All of them gave a strong picture of demand for their own offerings.

The relative optimism on the first day stood in contrast to the meager reports so far from the public chains. Papa Murphy’s Holdings Inc., for instance, reported a 7.8-percent decline in same-store sales in the fourth quarter, when CEO Ken Calwell resigned.

Denny’s Corp., meanwhile, reported a slower-than-expected, 0.5-percent increase in same-store sales in the fourth quarter. Denny’s CEO John Miller warned of an environment that “will most likely remain challenged for the foreseeable future.”

To be sure, Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group Inc. reported better-than-expected, 0.8-percent same-store sales growth in the fourth quarter. And Del Taco Restaurants Inc. reported 5.5-percent growth in the fourth quarter that was notably impressive, given the relative weakness in the industry last year. 

And growth chains are naturally more optimistic than their older, more mature brethren because they’re newer, hotter and adding units more eagerly.

That said, the contrast in views between the two demonstrate that these growth chains are taking share in a restaurant industry that isn’t getting much benefit from growing demand.

That should continue, as long as investors keep pushing to hear the growth chains’ stories.

Jonathan Maze, Nation’s Restaurant News senior financial editor, does not directly own stock or interest in a restaurant company.

Contact Jonathan Maze at

Follow him on Twitter: @jonathanmaze