McAlister Deli®’s Simple and Proven Business Model Helps First Time Franchisee Become a Successful Multi-Unit Owner

Jim Gillenwater Jr. has been growing alongside the McAlister’s Deli® brand since becoming a franchisee in Louisville, Kentucky back in 2003.

Jim Gillenwater Jr. and his wife enjoyed dining at their local McAlister’s Deli® as hungry customers. But it wasn’t until 2003—when they joined Bill and Lora Robertson, the brand’s existing franchisee in Louisville who opened two restaurants in 2001—that they realized the brand had the potential to become much more than their go-to fast casual spot.

“Before I became a McAlister’s Deli® franchisee, I fell in love with the concept as a customer. My wife and I always enjoyed the brand’s food, so when she suggested that I look into it as a business opportunity, I jumped at the chance,” said Gillenwater Jr. “The more I studied the business behind the McAlister’s brand, the more I realized that this concept has the potential to reach every type of demographic in the market. It doesn’t matter if you’re old or young, male or female or what budget you’re operating with, McAlister’s Deli® has something for everyone.”

To say that Gillenwater Jr. has been successful as a McAlister’s Deli® owner would be an understatement—after taking the leap and becoming a franchisee for the first time over a decade ago, the Gillenwaters and Robertsons now owns nine locations that are thriving in the Louisville, Kentucky area. They have even received numerous awards from the McAlister’s Deli® corporate team over the years at the brand’s annual banquet, including the Corporate Developer of the Year Award

Gillenwater Jr. credits that success to McAlister’s simple and proven franchise system. Their business was able to rapidly grow from one unit to nine without any prior experience as a restaurant owner, ultimately allowing him them to realize their potential as entrepreneurs.  And Gillenwater Jr. says they are not done growing alongside the brand yet—they are currently in the process of pursuing plans to open several more McAlister’s Deli® restaurants down the line.

“Franchisees like Jim and Bill perfectly exemplify the numerous opportunities for growth that McAlister’s Deli® has to offer. Even if you’ve never owned and operated a restaurant before, our strong support system and proven model can set you up for long-term success,” said Jeff Sturgis, vice president of franchise development for McAlister’s Deli®. “Our number one priority as a franchisor is making sure that our local owners are poised for growth, and we’re eager to continue this trend as we continue expanding across the country.”

The Louisville market isn’t the only one primed for growth in the U.S.—McAlister’s Deli® currently has its sights set on expanding in key areas like Tampa, Florida; Atlanta, Georgia; Cleveland, Ohio and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. And with more than 400 restaurants operating in a wide variety of communities, it’s clear that numerous franchisees are capitalizing on McAlister’s Deli®’s position at the forefront of the fast casual industry.

Between its top quality menu, fresh ingredients and McAlister’s Famous Sweet Tea™, the brand is appealing to a large group of customers. And through its commitment to serving its products in a positive environment with exceptional customer service, McAlister’s Deli® is actively setting itself apart from the competition.

“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,” said Gillenwater Jr. “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.”

If you’re like Jim Gillenwater Jr. and looking for a franchise opportunity that you can be passionate about, fill out the form to get started.

QSR Magazine: How FOCUS Brands® is Blazing a Path for the Future

With new tech-inspired digs, a collaborative mindset and combined resources, FOCUS Brands® is sprinting toward success. 

Over the past few years, FOCUS Brands®, whose portfolio includes Moe’s Southwest Grill®, McAlister’s Deli®, Schlotzsky’s®, Auntie Anne’s®, Cinnabon® and Carvel®, has emerged as a leader within the franchise industry.

This is due, in large part, to a series of changes the company has gone through over the years—changes that were spearheaded by CEO Steve DeSutter.

“Technology and other factors are going to change things, and however we think about change today, it’s going to come faster and harder than we’ve ever experienced before,” DeSutter said. “For us to be a real winner, we were going to have to do certain things that were going to take our very solid brands … to the next level or position them to be able to win in this rapidly changing environment. And that was going to mean change.”

One of these changes includes boosting the company’s digital presence. Today, all six brands have deep roots in various social media platforms. Beyond the standard notifications triggered by a user mentioning the brand or using its hashtag, FOCUS Brands® can identify brand advocates, answer questions that aren’t directed to the brand handles, and home in on opportunities for engagement that might otherwise be overlooked.

“Fans don’t expect us to be there, and then we engage them in a meaningful way,” says Paul Macaluso, president of McAlister’s Deli® and previously FOCUS Brands’® senior vice president of brand marketing strategy.

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