McAlister’s Deli® Franchise Owner with 80+ Locations Offers His Best Advice for Multi-Unit Operators

Adam Saxton, McAlister's Deli Franchise Owner

Adam Saxton may be the quintessential multi-unit franchise owner. Even though he is only in his thirties, Adam has worked in the restaurant industry nearly his whole life, because his family owned pizza restaurant franchises. When he and his brother went looking for their next opportunity, they knew the importance of a proven restaurant franchise that had a plan for strategic growth. They chose McAlister’s Deli®.

Now, as Co-CEO and owner of The Saxton Group, he and his family are the largest franchise owners in the McAlister’s Deli® system, with 80+ locations in six states.

“One of the things that excites me every day is McAlister’s feels like it’s still such a young brand, even with 400 plus units covering large portions of the United States. I feel like we still have a lot of opportunity ahead of us. We’re opening more restaurants now than we ever have, at a faster pace than we ever have.’

With so much franchise experience behind him, Adam was asked by Franchising World Magazine what advice he would give other franchise owners and multi-unit owners. Here is a list of his best advice:

  1. Never compromise on real estate. One of the worst things you can do is feel pressured to make a long-term real estate decision on a short-term opportunity that you know wouldn’t be as successful. Smart franchisors will provide the time and resources necessary for a franchisee to identify the right location. It all goes back to being patient. If what you’re looking for isn’t available, wait until a more fitting option comes on the market.
  2. Build a self-sustaining team and promote from within. We (The Saxton Group) have built a culture where 100% of our promotions come from within. This encourages employees to want to continue growing within the company and results in greater stability and consistency. Show employees a clear opportunity path, and they’ll form the team that will make your business strong.
  3. Evolve with the times. McAlister’s Deli® has emerged as a strong brand with a large following, due in part to investments and decisions that have been made to push the brand forward. Online ordering, a loyalty app, new menu options, fresher and healthier ingredients, and specific offerings for kids and families are just a few examples of how we continue to evolve to meet the needs of our guests.
  4. Don’t get distracted. One of the best lessons learned in franchising is to keep your head down and focus on why you’ve decided to become a multi-unit owner. Even when the times get tough, focusing on what’s important will eventually lead business owners to a profitable outcome.

If you are considering adding to your portfolio and building an empire like Adam has with McAlister’s Deli®, complete the GET STARTED form now.

College Markets Offer Opportunity for Fast Casuals

In a recent Fast Casual article, Taylor Bennet, VP of Franchise Sales Development at FOCUS Brands®, wrote about the potential of college campuses when it comes to fast casual concepts. Understanding the significance of college markets is to the benefit of fast casual brands looking to grow. Colleges offer a densely populated area of consumers who place high priority on food, a testing ground for innovative concepts, and an opportunity to form lifelong brand advocates. The opportunity exists to introduce new technology to a consumer base accustomed to it and tap into trends across the demographic all the while strengthening fast casual systems as a whole.

Read the full article here.

McAlister’s Deli® “Free Tea Day” is a Unique Way the Brand Connects with its Guests and Communities where its Restaurants are Located

Annual event serves as “thank you” to its loyal guests.

Free Tea Day has a lot of meaning for McAlister’s Deli® franchisees. Started as a promotional concept around June’s National Iced Tea Month a decade ago, the brand began Free Tea Day as a way to say thank you to loyal guests and to give new guests an opportunity to experience the brand’s genuine hospitality. Now, with more than 400 McAlister’s Deli® locations in 28 states, the event has become the biggest sales day of the year across the system.

“Free Tea Day is a way to appreciate our loyal guests, but it also gives new guests an incentive to experience our genuine hospitality in each of our restaurants. Breaking dining habits takes work and strategy, and our Free Tea Day programming is planned to give franchisees tested tools to disrupt their markets, create community around this day and earn new customers,” said President, Paul Macaluso.

As a brand, McAlister’s Deli® sells more than 54,000, 32 ounce glasses of tea a day. The tea offered by the franchisees are held to the highest standards, using Rainforest Alliance™ Certified leaves, steaming-hot filtered water, crystal-clear ice, fresh lemon wedges, and pure cane sugar in the brand’s famous sweet tea. By cultivating an ideology and process around the McAlister’s Famous Sweet Tea™, the brand and its franchisees become, in essence, brewmasters of sorts. However, the brand has always taken its tea making seriously, so the title, while trendy, is authentic and well-earned.

“Free Tea Day is our favorite day of the year,” said Chris Smith, multi-unit franchisee and owner of Peak Restaurants. “It’s a chance for us to thank our loyal guests and celebrate our famous tea. It’s something our teams look forward to every year.”
In preparation for Free Tea Day, McAlister’s Deli® provides franchisees with its full support as the system prepares to serve over 400,000 glasses of tea. Programming on staff needs and operational requirements, as well as marketing preparation and execution, are provided as part of the brand’s promise to its franchisees. The franchisor focuses its ad fund to promote Free Tea Day in national and regional markets. Training videos and webinars are only a small part of offerings that help local store owners prepare, and the McAlister’s Deli® National Conference places emphasis on showcasing Free Tea Day photos, feedback and continuing education.

According to Macaluso, “It’s a long day for all of our franchisees, their teams and in our company stores as well, but to see the lines of customers eagerly awaiting their glass of tea makes it all worthwhile.”

McAlister’s Deli® Recognizes Franchisee and System Achievements at Recent Owner’s Conference

Annual franchisee awards showcased many ownership groups in most successful year ever.

McAlister’s Deli® had a successful 2016, largely due to the passion and commitment of its franchisees. At the recent McAlister’s Owners’ Conference, the brand payed homage to the men and women behind the franchise ownership groups.

Starting with its highest performing restaurants, three franchisees groups were recognized for operating restaurants that each surpassed $3 Million Dollars in sales in 2016. These groups include: Southwest Deli Group (1 location), Southern Rock Restaurants (4 locations) and The Saxton Group (3 locations).

Other awards include as follows:
2016 Highest AUV for a single location; Highest Opening week sales; Developer of the year: Saxton Group
2016 Rookie of the Year: Dave’s Deli.
2016 Highest Average AUV for Franchise Group (11+ Restaurants): Southwest Deli Group
2016 Highest Average AUV for Franchise Group (1-10 Restaurants): LLD Investments
2016 Highest Comp Percentage for Franchise Group (11+ Restaurants): DMAC81
2016 Highest Comp Percentage for Franchise Group (1-10 Restaurants): McKnotts Enterprise
2016 Highest Catering Percentage of Sales: AliMax Enterprises
2016 Food Safety Award (11+ Restaurants) (Tie): DMAC81 and Southwest Deli Group
2016 Food Safety Award (1-10 Restaurants) (Tie): MCA Geneva and McFoods ML
2016 Genuine Hospitality Award: Columbus MC Deli
2016 Overall Satisfaction Award (11+ Restaurants): DMAC81
2016 Overall Satisfaction Award (1-10 Restaurants): Columbus MC Deli

“I couldn’t be more proud of our franchisees. They have worked hard to represent our brand, and they are the reason for our success. Without them, McAlister’s wouldn’t be where it is today,” McAlister’s Deli® President Paul Macaluso said.

McAlister’s Deli® has over 400 restaurants in 28 states.

5 Reasons to Invest in McAlister’s Deli®

When it comes to being positioned as the fast-casual brand to beat, there’s one franchising opportunity that consistently stands out from the crowd: McAlister’s Deli®.


Here are the top 5 reasons to invest:


1. Brand Reputation

With a diverse menu and an unwavering focus on service and hospitality, McAlister’s Deli® has a long history of raising the bar in the fast-casual restaurant segment. By offering a simple, yet elevated menu of sandwiches, spuds, soups, salads, desserts and McAlister’s Famous Sweet Tea™ Tea, the brand is able to reach and attract a wide base of customers, and with dine-in and off-premise service options, guests are able to enjoy McAlister’s Deli® how and when they want. Furthermore, McAlister’s Deli® is able to maintain such a strong connection with every customer that walks through its doors because of its attention to detail. Each menu item is made to order and then delivered to guests with a smile.

“Our philosophy is to offer “a little something extra” to each of our guests, and for that reason, McAlister’s Deli® has developed a large and loyal following of customers and happy and satisfied franchisees.”, according to Jeff Sturgis, Vice President of Franchise Development.


Franchisee feedback:

“At McAlister’s Deli®, the doors open by 11a.m., and we’ll immediately have guests coming through our doors for that first glass of sweet tea. You won’t find more loyal guests than those that come to McAlister’s Deli® —some are even here two or three times a day. The reason for that is simple —our expanded menu sets us apart. But the effort and energy we put into the hospitality is something special. We deliver your meals to your table. We refill your drinks. And we take care of our guests. You don’t get that kind of service at a sandwich shop. It’s our true differentiator. And that’s why I chose McAlister’s Deli® over any other brand.” – David Blackburn

“Growing up in the South, you come to realize that good service and heart-warming hospitality are just as important as the food being served. I fell in love with the way food could bring people together and lift someone’s mood, and I found that in McAlister’s Deli®. McAlister’s Deli® is different from other restaurant brands out there and is definitely not a sandwich shop. This is a restaurant fueled by great service and simple —yet elevated—food. It’s the kind of place that feels like a second home.” – Yaron Goldman

2. System and Financial Performance

Earlier this year, McAlister’s Deli® announced it has climbed 123 spots to No. 23 on Entrepreneur Magazine’s 38th Annual Franchise 500® ranking. The magazine recognizes the role that big data, social media, cloud tools and powerful customer management systems have all played in dramatically changing the way franchise systems tackle operations, customer communication and franchisee education – all key factors in determining the Franchise 500® rankings. Additional factors that go into Entrepreneur’s evaluation include costs and fees, size and growth, support, brand strength, and financial strength and stability.

Entrepreneur isn’t the only third-party analyst who has ranked McAlister’s Deli® as a good value. Using proprietary data collected by Restaurant Business and its sister research firm Technomic® from 2016, Business Insider looked at nearly 100 of the largest U.S. chains and rated them on three criteria: financial performance, customer satisfaction and overall value. Out of the 25 brands that were ranked, McAlister’s Deli® came in at No. 17.

“Being recognized by some of the leading business and industry publications, is a great achievement,” said Paul Macaluso, President of McAlister’s Deli®. “We’re truly humbled and honored, and attribute our success as a brand in large part to our dedicated franchisees and loyal guests across the country. We’re looking forward to leading McAlister’s Deli® to continued growth and brand innovation.”

The financial performance of a McAlister’s Deli® restaurant is another reason for its on-going industry recognition and growth. According to their current FDD, McAlister’s Deli® enjoys some of the best unit-level metrics in the fast-casual restaurant space – average unit volumes exceeding $1,600,000 and growth in top line sales since 2012. All from a relatively simple operating platform that utilizes no grills or fryers.

Franchisee feedback:

“We’ve had very strong same store sales growth over the last eight years or so. That brand has been really thriving for us.” – Sean Conway, The Bistro Group, Multi-Unit Franchisee

3. Growth Potential

Unique positioning within the fast-casual industry is what makes McAlister’s Deli® stand out from the competition as it continues to expand — but it’s not the only thing. In addition to offering an elevated fast-casual dining experience, McAlister’s Deli® offers extensive corporate support and gives prospective franchisees the opportunity to be a part of a rapidly growing brand and benefit from being under the umbrella of its parent company, FOCUS Brands®.

There’s a reason why franchisees of multiple brands, including Wendy’s®, Denny’s®, Long John Silver’s®, Dunkin Donuts®, Five Guys®, Taco Bell® and Wingstop®, have recently decided to develop a McAlister’s Deli® alongside their current portfolio of brands. As experienced multi-unit operators, they all shared a desire to grow their respective brand portfolios and came to the same conclusion – adding McAlister’s Deli® to their portfolio would be a smart investment decision.

Franchisee feedback:

“Going from one to two units was huge for us, especially when you’re used to being there six days a week. But with the help of McAlister’s support team, we learned how to put the right team and systems in place to help us sustainably grow to eleven units and beyond. Without guidance from McAlister’s Deli®, we wouldn’t be where we are today,” – Jeff Shawl, multi-unit franchisee

4. Operations Simplicity

McAlister’s business model is incredibly simple. By focusing on what it does best and eliminating the need for major restaurant equipment like fryers and grills, the brand gives prospective business owners the opportunity to grow alongside the booming fast-casual industry without breaking the bank. That simplicity is present in everything McAlister’s Deli® does — at its core, the brand serves great food with exceptional customer service in a welcoming and comfortable environment.

“Behind the scenes, McAlister’s works to help ensure that every franchisee is set up for success. Operational efficiency and simplicity, superior products with a broad menu, differentiated guest experience and exceptional customer satisfaction are only some of the ways McAlister’s Deli® has long set itself apart,” Macaluso said “As we celebrate the 400th restaurant in the brand’s growing system, it’s clear we have a recipe for success that — quite simply — works.”

Franchisee feedback:
“Whenever I come across someone who has visited a McAlister’s Deli®, their reaction is enthusiastic. People don’t just like to visit us, they love the entire experience. McAlister’s Deli® has given me all of the tools and resources that I need to be successful. Its business model is simple and easy to adapt to our market, which makes us excited about the possibilities for growth with the brand going forward.” – Jim Gillenwater Jr., multi-unit franchisee

5. Trusted Leadership and Management

Franchisees who enter McAlister’s Deli® franchise system gain access to a long list of benefits. From support throughout the grand opening process that includes real estate selection and marketing tactics to a strong network of more than 400 existing restaurants, the brand’s local owners are able to rely on a corporate team of experts when getting their businesses off the ground. However, the competitive advantages of being a franchisee of McAlister’s Deli® do not stop there — the brand adds another layer of support to its system by being a part of FOCUS Brands®.

FOCUS Brands® is a leading developer of global, multi-channel, food service brands. In addition to McAlister’s Deli®, its portfolio includes Moe’s Southwest Grill®, Schlotzsky’s®, Auntie Anne’s®, Cinnabon® and Carvel®. One of the main areas of synergy for McAlister’s Deli® is in the supply chain needed to support all stores. The combination of these six brands provides FOCUS Brands® with considerable clout and leverage when working with the vendor and distribution marketplace.

“Instead of going to market as McAlister’s Deli® with 400 stores, we’re going into the vendor community as FOCUS Brands®, which works on behalf of 4,600 locations,” said Rich Kamph, Senior Vice President of Global Supply Chain for FOCUS Brands®. “What that means for franchisees is they participate in a much larger buying organization and are the recipient of the increased value this larger organization delivers. We’re able to leverage our size and scale with vendors to negotiate superior supply agreements on high quality products and ingredients.”

Franchisee feedback:
“If you’re interested in franchising, you should take a very serious look at McAlister’s Deli®. One, obviously, it’s financially successful. Two, I think it’s a brand that has growth opportunities from a geography standpoint. Three, I think within our segment we’re really having fast paced growth which is exciting. I think one important thing that sets McAlister’s Deli® apart today in how the system’s operated today is that senior management is listening to franchisees.” – Kelly Saxton of the Saxton Group, which owns over 70 McAlister’s locations across four different states.

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