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.

Today's top stories

1
Like any kitchen tool, a protective glove is only as good as the skills of the person using it. I know chefs who swear by cut-resistant gloves and others who do not allow them in their kitchens,...
2
After boasting for years that America runs on Dunkin’ , the franchise powerhouse is fundamentally changing to keep up. A menu that reverses years of pushing beyond doughnuts will be in place within...
3
A shutdown of all the Joe’s Crab Shacks in Michigan has raised the tally of units closed by bankrupt operator Ignite Restaurant Group to more than 40, from a base of 113 stores, according to internet...
4
The portion of restaurants’ sales coming from delivery could top 40% by 2020, roughly a sevenfold increase from current levels, according to a recent study from Morgan Stanley. Demand for off-premise...
5
As LSRs battle it out at breakfast, they’re pulling no punches when it comes to innovation. Taco Bell’s Naked Breakfast Taco spring LTO used a fried egg as a “shell” to hold diced potatoes, cheese...
6
The Fast staff took a break from putting this issue to bed for our Restaurant Trends & Directions conference . One of the keynoters was Jonah Berger, author of “Contagious” and “Invisible...
7
Whether seasonal, regional or simply unique, limited-time offers are not only a way to test possible new products, but also a great marketing tool to get consumers excited about a brand and in the...
8
In its U.K. home base, Pret A Manger met customers’ calls for more vegan and vegetarian options in a big way—by launching a veggie-only location in London last year. Its success spawned a second veg-...
9
Transforming a 50-year-old, 50,000-square-foot full-service restaurant into a food hall is neither cheap nor easy. But The Proud Bird’s owner, John Tallichet—whose father built and opened the...
10
The only thing scarier than watching a diplomatic meeting between Dennis Rodman and Kim Jong Un is being sucked into a discussion of what immigrants are doing to or for the United States. In the...