How Flynn Restaurant Group Grew into America’s Largest Restaurant Franchisee

The Flynn Restaurant Group, franchise owner of around 800 Applebee’s, Taco Bell and Panera units, which are expected to generate $1.9 billion in revenues this year, is the largest restaurant franchisee in the U.S.

The franchisee giant got its start back in 1997 when Greg Flynn, founder and CEO, was a commercial real estate investor in San Francisco. It was his father, Donald Flynn, owner of two Burger Kings, who opened his eyes to the opportunities in franchising.

In early 1999 Flynn bought his first Applebee’s locations. The economy was booming and so was casual dining. Flynn found eight outlets in the Seattle area, cold-called the owner and struck a deal to buy them for $14 million, borrowing $12.8 million. ...Two years later Flynn doubled down, purchasing another 62 units from the same owner for $162 million, $48 million in equity, the rest in debt. Flynn used his Goldman Sachs connections to persuade the firm’s private equity arm to put up $40 million. — Amy Feldman, Forbes

Flynn, who has a bachelor's degree in history from Brown, a master's degree in history from Yale and an MBA from Stanford, now owns more than 25 percent of Applebee’s U.S. restaurants.

 He’s a schmoozer and salesman who can talk to anybody. Confrontation is not his style. “I have a strict policy that we will never fight with a franchisor. I will get out of a system before I fight with them,” he says. “We have a symbiotic relationship.”

Persistence and persuasion are keys to his success. — Feldman, Forbes