Greg Flynn: The modern franchisee

The size of his operations dwarfs all other franchises. Yet Flynn relishes his role as franchising’s poster boy—and he’s the best in the business at it.
greg flynn
Photo credit: Jeff Singer

If you’re unfamiliar with the name Greg Flynn, you’re almost certainly not a part of Applebee’s (he operates roughly a quarter of the chain) or Panera Bread (last year he became the first franchisee to join the system in nearly a decade).

It’s an even safer bet you’re not a student of franchising and how radically that path to success has changed since the days McDonald’s Ray Kroc and Subway’s Fred DeLuca were peddling one restaurant at a time. Those legends were the storybook examples of how fortunes and empires were built in the industry’s simpler days, when franchisors were the kings and franchisees hoped for a piece of the fiefdom.

What they set in motion has enabled Flynn, a franchisee, to build his own kingdom, one likely to be envied by both franchisors and franchisees alike. Although his Flynn Restaurant Group does not own any brand, it runs a big enough piece of three major ones to enjoy $1.7 billion in annual revenues—or more than the intake of Applebee’s parent company, and not far behind the revenues of Panera’s franchisor. If all 729 restaurants under his charge were converted to a concept called Flynn’s, it would rank as the industry’s 37th largest chain in systemwide sales, neck and neck with The Cheesecake Factory

But that’s not about to happen. “I like being a franchisee,” Flynn says, and there’s no doubt he’s good at it. 

So good, in fact, that FRG has emerged as a model of the modern-day franchise—diversified, well-capitalized, sophisticated in its growth strategy, deep in talent, definitely large in scale yet still hyperfocused on local-market dynamics. Through what Flynn describes as a form of federalism, the group functions as a holding company of local operations nurtured with home-office support—a structure not unlike the traditional franchisor-franchisee relationship.

That blend of big-business sensibilities and the entrepreneurial underpinnings of restaurant franchising is why Flynn was chosen by the editors of Restaurant Business as the 2016 Restaurant Leader of the Year.

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