MRM Franchise Feed: More Slapfish and Wahlburgers’ Top Performers

Modern Restaurant Management (MRM) magazine's Franchise Feed offers a glimpse at what's new in the restaurant franchise  and MUFSO environment. 

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Making Education a Habit

The Habit Burger Restaurants wants to help twenty people reach their learning goals. In celebration of its 50th anniversary, the company will award scholarships to twenty deserving students who are either Habit team members or guests. The deadline to apply for one of the $2,500 scholarships is October 31, 2019 and the scholarships will be awarded at a local Habit Burger restaurant between Nov. 15 and Dec. 15.

“At The Habit, we believe in taking care of our local community and as we mark our 50th year, we want to give extra attention to the next generation. That’s why this scholarship effort is so important to us,” said Charlotte Lucich, director of marketing at The Habit Burger Grill. “We are proud to offer these scholarships that invest in the future of both, our team members and guests, and will foster the growth of our future community leaders.”

To apply for the scholarships, applicants can either create a 60-second video or write a 250-word essay that explains their career and educational goals and how the scholarship will help them make a positive impact on their community.

To go with the video or essay, applicants need to submit a ‘Habit selfie’ that shows just how much they enjoy The Habit Burger Grill.

“A picture is worth a thousand words, and we are excited to see these photos and the creativity of our fans,” added Lucich.

Winners will be selected based on eligibility criteria and the creativity of their application. To apply for the scholarship programs, the community should visit and team members will also apply online at

Slapfish Plots Growth

​Slapfish​, the ​fast-casual ​award-winning ​seafood franchise, ​announces their alliance with the Restaurants division of MAC HAIK ENTERPRISES LTD (MHE) ​a Houston-based diversified investment company​, ​who has purchased the rights to develop at least 30 Slapfish locations in Texas and Arkansas and become key partner in the parent company. The company plans to develop and open Slapfish restaurants throughout both states and help drive the strategic growth of the brand nationally and internationally. ​Mac Haik became an investment partner with the First Watch company and secured a development.

Andrew Gruel, Chef and Founder of the Huntington Beach, California-based seafood franchise, currently has 23 locations nationwide and four additional locations opening by the end of 2019, including an international outpost in London. New locations also include the first Midwest location in Carmel, Indiana; Pooler, Georgia; and Hilton Head, South Carolina. In addition, Slapfish has over 50 locations at various stages of development both in the U.S. and around the globe. 

Slapfish’s newest investor and franchisee, MH SLAPFISH CAPITAL LLC , is a wholly owned subsidiary of MHE whose founder and CEO is Houston businessman, Mac Haik, former wide receiver for the Houston Oilers. A MHE subsidiary was formerly The Egg & I’s largest franchisee and shareholder when the company sold its 30-stores to First Watch in May 2015. MH(FW) RESTAURANTS LLC presently owns and operates eleven First Watch locations in Austin, the greater Houston area and College Station. 

“Slapfish is truly a unique restaurant brand delivering outstanding chef driven seafood in a fast casual model. They fit our profile of brands that are relevant for today’s informed consumer and stand out from the crowd,” said Blake Randolph, CFO of (MHE) who works with MHE’s restaurants. 

Make it Starworthy

Wahlburgers, the casual dining burger and bar restaurant founded by brothers Mark, Donnie and Chef Paul Wahlberg, hosted its first annual General Managers Conference in Orlando, recognizing top performing franchise partners and general managers from across the organization.  The theme of the conference, “Make it Starworthy” shined the light on the company’s mission to provide a starworthy experience to its guests while awarding key players for doing just that. 

“We wouldn’t be here today without our franchise partners and it’s our general managers across the organization that make Wahlburgers so special,” said Chef Paul Wahlberg. “I never dreamed that we’d have over 30 restaurants with so much growth ahead.  It’s incredibly important to me that we recognize and celebrate the people who truly make my dream a reality day in and day out.” 


Wahlburgers named Hy-Vee its Franchise Partner of the Year, while Jared Lewis of Hy-Vee’s West Des Moines Wahlburgers location received the Franchise GM Operator of the Year recognition.  With the opening of its newest Brookfield, Wisconsin location, Hy-Vee currently owns and operates four Wahlburgers Restaurants which also include Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota; Olathe, Kansas; and West Des Moines, Iowa, with plans to build, own and operate 26 Wahlburgers restaurants.


The brand announced the “Chef Paul Award of Excellence” for back of house recognition presented by Paul Wahlberg himself.  That honor went to the team at Wahlburgers Foley Alabama, owned and operated by Davgar Group.  Since opening in October of 2017, the restaurant has set the example for operations and teamwork behind the scenes to deliver an exceptional experience to its guests.

Wahlburgers also awarded Laura Scotina of its corporately owned Lynnfield, MA restaurant General Manager Operator of the Year. Laura’s contributions to the organization have helped shape many of the programs, initiatives and trainings that now set the standard chain wide.

“We are grateful for the incredible team of people that are helping us to grow the Wahlburgers brand both nationally and internationally,” said Patrick Renna, President of Wahlburgers. “It’s an exciting time to be a part of this organization and its important to celebrate the achievements of this group – we look forward to what the future has in store for all of us at Wahlburgers.”

 Fazoli's Inks Deal for Missouri

 Fazoli’s, the brand known for serving up premium Italian recipes at a great value, is continuing its commitment to record-breaking expansion. President and CEO Carl Howard announced today that the company has executed an area development agreement with Franchisee Joshua Kroeger of Kroeger Enterprises, LLC, to bring two new Fazoli’s restaurants to Missouri, starting with a location in Sedalia. The agreement anticipates that it will open in early 2020. 

“We can’t wait to bring Fazoli’s to the area,” Kroeger said. “Sedalia is on the verge of major growth and expansion and I’m proud to be a business owner helping the town grow. It’s the perfect time to introduce Fazoli’s to the community. There’s nothing else like it in the area. Its fresh, innovative menu items and great value can’t be beat. We are looking forward to sharing Fazoli’s delicious food and signature breadsticks with new fans in the area. Fazoli’s is exactly what Sedalia needs right now.”

Kroeger’s business partner, Allison Bauml, grew up going to Fazoli’s and was a huge fan of the brand’s fresh take on the classic Italian favorites, and of course, their signature breadsticks. Fazoli’s innovative menu is what first attracted the duo to franchise with the brand. Bauml will be the key operator of the new Fazoli’s location.

“We’re excited to expand our brand footprint to Sedalia, especially with Kroeger leading the way,” Howard said. “We can’t wait to introduce Fazoli’s premium menu and unparalleled service to the community. We have no doubt the amazing people of Sedalia will be avid Fazoli’s fans. We are excited to welcome them to the Fazoli’s family.”

Black Bear Diner Names New CFO

Black Bear Diner, the fast-growing, family dining concept that offers a one-of-a-kind experience and home-style comfort food classics in a friendly, bear-themed atmosphere, has announced the appointment of Steve Sparks as its new Chief Financial Officer (CFO), a move that will continue to strengthen the growing chain’s executive leadership team. Sparks will report directly to Black Bear Diner President Anita Adams, who previously served as CFO in addition to her role as President.

Steve Sparks

“Drawing from more than two decades of restaurant experience, including franchisor operations, Steve will be a trusted advisor and strategic partner on our executive team, and we look forward to his leadership at Black Bear Diner,” said Adams. “As Black Bear Diner continues to execute on its growth strategy, drive same store sales and deliver industry leading returns, having Steve on our team expands our leadership capabilities and brings a level of performance insight to ensure our continued success.” 

As CFO, Sparks will be responsible for leading Black Bear Diner’s accounting, finance, treasury and risk functions, as well as play active roles in franchise sales, real estate development and supply chain management.

“Black Bear Diner provides a best-in-class restaurant experience and is clearly focused on smart, strategic growth and operations,” said Sparks. “I am thrilled to join this excellent company and contribute to its already strong brand, leadership team and people-first culture.” 

Sparks has more than 20 years of extensive finance and administration experience in the restaurant industry. His most recent position was CFO at American Blue Ribbon Holdings, a more than $1 billion restaurant holding company. There, he led the accounting, treasury, payroll and tax departments for the holding company’s four restaurant brands and bakery operation. His previous experience includes a progression of financial planning and analysis roles with both American Blue Ribbon Holdings and O’Charley’s Inc., where he has worked with restaurant brands including O’Charley’s, Ninety Nine, Village Inn, Bakers Square, Max & Erma’s and Stoney River. 

WKS Acquires Denny's Portfolio

WKS Restaurant Group announced their recent acquisition of 94 Denny’s locations previously owned by QK Holdings, LLC, making WKS the largest franchisee in the Denny’s system with 127 locations across 10 states.

In addition to QK Holdings’ 94 Denny’s locations, WKS also purchased both support centers located in Arizona, and each of its 4,500 employees across its system are welcomed into the WKS family. Founded by Roland Spongberg in 1987, WKS Restaurant Group began with one El Pollo Loco location and 25 team members in Long Beach, Calif. Today, WKS employs over 10,000 people with 4,500 coming from the recent acquisition. 

 “We are excited to welcome our friends from QK into the WKS family. Denny’s is an iconic brand with a great heritage, and we are looking forward to building upon QK’s success,” said WKS Founder and Chief Executive Officer Roland Spongberg. “This is a great business and opportunity, and we are fortunate to be gaining so many great people with this merger, because it’s the people that make all the difference in creating a momentous experience in the restaurant industry.” 

WKS attributes their rapid growth to hiring people who share their company values of integrity, loyalty, winning, service, and teamwork. The company is committed to making sure that employees are successful, empowered and impactful. Spongberg, who was recently named an EY Orange County Entrepreneur Of The Year, said “I’ve enjoyed watching the success of many, many team members who grow their careers and families through this business. I look forward to seeing even more with this acquisition.”

Wayback Giving Back

Wayback Burgers was recognized by the International Franchise Association (IFA) at the recent Franchising Gives Back Awards. Wayback received the Silver Award in the Innovation & Impact category for the continued partnership with Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

Wayback Burgers’ partnership with Boys & Girls Clubs of America initially launched in July 2018 and has benefited the national Boys & Girls Clubs of America organization as well as local chapters throughout the U.S. Wayback Burgers and their franchisees have pledged to make an annual donation of up to $150,000 with a minimum of $100,000 for two years from the launch date. Boys & Girls Clubs of America is dedicated to helping young people reach their full potential as productive, caring and responsible citizens.

“We are thrilled to receive this award,” says Patrick Conlin, President of Wayback Burgers. “it feels great to be recognized for our charity partnership with Boys & Girls Clubs of America. Not only did we receive this exciting award, but Boys & Girls Clubs received a $1,000 donation from the IFA Foundation! It was a great event, and we are happy to have been a part of it.”

Accenting the 'Holy Trio'

Roy Rogers personnel, officials from the City of Frederick, Md., and other invited guests gathered earlier this month for the official unveiling of the renovated Roy Rogers Restaurant at Ballenger Creek in Frederick County, Md., top photo. The updated site features new outdoor signage highlighting the Roy Rogers “Holy Trio” of roast beef, burgers and chicken, stone towers accentuating the rustic yet modern look and feel of the restaurant, enhanced exterior lighting, and a completely renovated dining room with new flooring, more varied seating, updated artwork, electronic charging stations, a large community table, and a new digital menu board. The Ballenger Creek restaurant serves as the test kitchen and training site for the Frederick-based chain and is the second restaurant to be outfitted with these new features. Renovations to additional sites are planned. 

In celebration of the milestone, Roy Rogers donated $500 to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation during the ribbon cutting event, and held a fundraiser for the foundation later that day. Family-friendly activities including face painting, balloon art and magic acts were offered at the restaurant throughout the week, as were specials on items from the Roy Rogers menu and fundraisers for different local organizations each day. Pictured in the image found at the link below are (from left): Robbie Willis, General Manager – Training Store & Test Kitchen, Roy Rogers, Ballenger Creek, Frederick, Md.; Al Jones, Director of Operations, Roy Rogers Restaurants; John Fieseler, Executive Director, Visit Frederick; Jeremy Biser, Executive Vice President, Roy Rogers Restaurants; Pete Plamondon Jr., Co-Owner, Roy Rogers Restaurants; Jim Plamondon, Co-Owner, Roy Rogers Restaurants; Michael O’Connor, Mayor, Frederick, Md.; Sean Commander, Commercial Relationship Manager/Vice President, PNC Bank; Roger Wilson, Alderman, City of Frederick. Md.; Rick Weldon, President/CEO Frederick County Chamber of Commerce.

Chicken Salad Chick Expands in Ohio

Chicken Salad Chick will be expanding in Ohio with its newest location in Mason. Following the recent debut in Anderson Township, the Mason restaurant continues a string of development in the Cincinnati area with a third location slated to open in Oakley later this year, which will be company-owned. Located at 6209 Snider Road in the Snider Commons shopping center, the Mason restaurant will celebrate its grand opening on October 8 and will be owned and operated by first-time franchise owners Beth and Mike Heydt of Ready To Serve, LLC.

With professional backgrounds focused on enriching lives and serving others, the Heydts knew Chicken Salad Chick was a natural fit. Mike has worked the past 30 years, and continues to, for Procter & Gamble working in both manufacturing and human resources. Beth served as a teacher for 16 years and as a stay-at-home mother to the couple’s three daughters, who will also be part of the family’s Chicken Salad Chick business. Kendall Grant will serve as general manager, while Courtney Ammon and Kristen Vander Hulst will serve as assistant managers and lead the restaurant’s catering and marketing efforts.

 “Opening the Mason Chicken Salad Chick this October is a dream come true for us. We are excited to create special and memorable dining experiences for our community and are thrilled that we can bring this to life as a family,” said Beth Heydt. “We will have outdoor seating available to our guests, a drive-thru to better accommodate our customers with busy lifestyles and to-go options such as Quick Chicks for a touch of added convenience.”

The Chicken Salad Chick concept was established in 2008 by founder, Stacy Brown. With more than a dozen original chicken salad flavors as well as fresh side salads, gourmet soups, signature sandwiches and delicious desserts, Chicken Salad Chick's robust menu offers a variety of options suitable for any guest. In 2015, Eagle Merchant Partners purchased a majority stake in Chicken Salad Chick, and under the leadership of CEO Scott Deviney and team, the company now has more than 130 restaurants currently open in 16 states and remains a standout brand within the fast casual segment.

Winery Franchise Teams with Site Selection

Waters Edge Wineries® is partnering with LocateAI to enhance site selection capabilities nationwide. As part of this new relationship, entrepreneurs signing a franchise development agreement with Waters Edge Wineries will now have access to the finest tools for success, including technology to help them select the ideal location for their new wineries. 

“Over the past year, our brand has gained incredible momentum, and we are seeing a higher level of interest in our unique concept than ever before,” said Ken Lineberger, President and CEO of Waters Edge Wineries.  “Aspiring winery owners are taking notice of Waters Edge an as we continue to expand nationwide, we are deepening our portfolio of services and offerings.  We are pleased to now offer our owners innovative partners to work with, such as LocateAI, who specializes in site selection.  Identifying the right location can mean everything – it plays a significant role in the success of a Waters Edge Winery & Bistro – and LocateAI has the ability to revolutionize that process.”

LocateAI relies on proprietary artificial intelligence technology to pinpoint prime real estate locations for concepts. Founded in 2014 by three Stanford Computer Science graduates with professional experience in Big Data, LocateAI innovates the way retail locations are selected by helping clients like Waters Edge Wineries be more analytical in their approach.                                                                 

Traditionally, franchisors and owners within their network rely on a commercial broker to find them the best options on the market. LocateAI improves this process by first identifying Waters Edge Wineries’ key customer segments and determining where they generally live, work, and shop. LocateAI does this through licensed anonymized mobile GPS data that is then evaluated with artificial intelligence along with 160,000 other variables including demographics, psychographics, employment, weather, crime, vehicle traffic and more. This insight helps guide franchisees through the site selection process, honing in on the ideal location.

“Our team is confident that through innovative technology, our carefully developed machine learning algorithms and our principal deal experience, the site selection process will be more efficient and strategic to help owners make well-informed decisions when launching their winery business,” said Jeremy Shartar, LocateAI’s Director of Real Estate. “All this helps franchisees save time, but most importantly we reduce or eliminate the likelihood of opening a bad location." 

Waters Edge Wineries currently operates ten locations in California, Colorado, Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas. This brand currently has franchise agreements signed to expand and open new wineries in California, Kentucky, Montana, Ohio and Texas.