Franchisee of the Month: Richard Batley

In his 45 years in the industry, Rich Batley has had the rug pulled out from under him more than once. Early on, he’d worked his way up to top positions at hotel and restaurant companies only to have them closed or sold. Then, after 21 years at a local hotel group where he’d ascended to general manager, a surprise sale again left him out of a job. He was 48, fed up and ready to take control of his destiny. Scanning a trade magazine, he spotted an ad for Ground Round franchises, invested $2 million and built a unit in Neenah, Wisconsin.

Six months after his grand opening, it happened again. On Friday, Feb. 13, 2004, Batley got word that Ground Round had declared bankruptcy, with corporate stores closing immediately. “I was in the dining room working a busy Friday night,” he recalls. “One of the servers came up to me and said, ‘Rich, did you know Ground Round just went bankrupt?’ I said, ‘I don’t know, but we’re doing pretty good, so let’s keep working.’”

Along with Jack Crawford and others on the Ground Round franchisee advisory board, Batley quickly became a key player on the team of franchisees that banded together to buy the company. Serving on the chain’s board since 2007, he’s become a risk taker, continually working to keep his business and the brand moving forward. He was the first to develop two new stores after the buyout was completed. A third, opening early next year in nearby Oshkosh, Wisconsin, will debut design elements that Batley helped develop.

While his original Neenah restaurant is just eight years old, he’s also moving ahead with a full remodel. “We’ve been developing new prototypes now because we’re starting to grow again and need an updated look,” Batley says. “I’m taking a leap and remodeling early so that we can use our store as a test site for new fabrics, seating, flooring, etc. It will help other owners get a hands-on feel for what the new Ground Round will look like.”

“His efforts have spearheaded our chain to develop a toolkit for designs and options that our other operators can follow,” notes Crawford, who is now president and ceo of Ground Round Independent Operators Cooperative.

In fact, Batley’s Neenah restaurant, which abuts a Best Western Premier hotel that he also franchises, is an ongoing test location for menu and marketing initiatives. “They’re always out front, taking risks and leading the way,” adds Crawford. “And they always follow through with execution and valuable feedback.”

Sales in Neenah have grown steadily, and in late June the unit posted a record week. That’s thanks in part to the success of the restaurant’s Pattie Shack, an outdoor dining area that Batley has turned into a popular stand-alone attraction. “We didn’t just want to call it ‘the patio,’” he says. “We wanted it to have its own name and theme. The menu is the same as inside, but the staff uniforms are distinctive and we have live entertainment. It’s a lot of fun.”

On his role as a pacesetter for Ground Round, Batley says it’s a part he’s happy to play. “We’re always looking for the next thing that can help set us apart,” he says. “Someone has to step forward to keep us moving forward.”

Richard Batley
President, RB Hospitality
Neenah, WI
Franchises: 1 Ground Round Grill & Bar, 1 Best Western
No. of Associates: 230
www.rbhospitality.com

Today's top stories

1
In what could be the test of a potent argument against eliminating the tip credit , an employees’ group in Minneapolis is circulating a study that shows servers’ income could be lowered if a $15 wage...
2
The New York City landmark Le Cirque has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection , saying it owes between $500,000 and $1 million to at least 100 creditors. The fine-dining restaurant’s owners,...
3
Chick-fil-A narrowly beat out Chipotle and Hardee’s to be named by consumers as the best service provider among the nation’s limited-service restaurant chains. Subway and Arby’s also ranked among the...
4
Most operators have probably never stopped to think about how essential hot water is to a foodservice operation. In the kitchen, it’s used to boil pasta and eggs, blanch vegetables, proof dough and...
5
Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group has agreed to pay $695,000 to settle a class-action lawsuit alleging the fine-dining operation illegally shared certain tipped employees’ gratuities with...
6
No longer are location, price or convenience the only factors when consumers decide which eating establishment to patronize. Instead, diners are looking for ways to make their meals their own...
7
Trade groups are cheering the Supreme Court’s refusal yesterday to hear an appeal of a lower court decision that hampered credit card companies’ ability to raise processing fees. Hearing the appeal...
8
The parent of Olive Garden and Capital Grille has agreed to buy the Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen chain for $780 million in cash from the private-equity firms L Catterton and Oak Investment Partners. The...
9
Sometime between investors’ yelps for better returns and franchisors’ admission they were cooked without the support of rank-and-file operators, franchisees realized they no longer had to ask for...
10
Clay Dover has resigned as CMO of Pei Wei to become the first president of Velvet Taco, the fast-casual Tex-Mex venture of Randy Dewitt’s Front Burner Restaurants. “I really had no intention of...