Franchisees strive for success as new franchisors of Bagger Dave's, 32 Degrees

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After having spent many years as franchisees of other restaurants, Michael Ansley and Jeff Pizitz are drawing upon their experience to recruit the right operators and grow in the optimal markets as first-time franchisors of proprietary brands.

Both men continue to lead franchise organizations: Ansley’s Diversified Restaurant Holdings runs 22 Buffalo Wild Wings units, while Pizitz Management Group is the largest franchisee of Great American Cookies, with 38 locations. Both also branched out and created their own restaurant concepts a few years ago, with Ansley developing Bagger Dave’s Legendary Burger Tavern and Pizitz founding frozen-yogurt brand 32 Degrees.

Now both operators have begun to expand their proprietary brands through franchising, and although the better burger and frozen yogurt segments explode with franchised-unit growth all around them, Ansley and Pizitz both plan to build their upstart chains as prudently as they did their first businesses. They spoke with Nation’s Restaurant News about how their years as franchisees would help them find ideal operators and real estate sites.

Bagger Dave’s: Understanding their operators

Southfield, Mich.-based Diversified Restaurant Holdings opened the first Bagger Dave’s in 2006 after deciding to compete with “better burger” chains with a new concept rather than become a franchisee of Five Guys Burgers and Fries.

Diversified grew the brand to 10 locations in Michigan, and last week the first franchised Bagger Dave’s opened in Cape Girardeau, Mo. The franchise partners, Bill Zellmer and Lonnie Griggs, also operate Buffalo Wild Wings units like Diversified does. Ansley said that made him confident that they could help grow Bagger Dave’s, which incorporates a full bar into its burger-focused concept.

“We are very understanding of what our franchisees go through, and we want to hold them to an even higher standard than Buffalo Wild Wings holds us to today,” Diversified’s founder and chief executive said. “The type of operator we’re picking are those who are experienced serving alcohol and running a full-service restaurant, and because they got that side of things, it made this easier.”

Diversified will open four company-owned Bagger Dave’s locations this year and probably eight next year, Ansley said, while Zellmer and Griggs will look to open their next franchised Bagger Dave’s in 2013, in Paducah, Ky.

“We want to pick the right operators, and we’re not a typical franchisor that really needs the money to get started,” Ansley said. “We’re still opening company stores, and we’ll open more next year. Franchising may only be 30 percent or 40 percent of our business, which means we can take our time.”

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