A Zee-Zor Dynasty: Sam Askar knows franchising from both sides 
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A Zee-Zor Dynasty: Sam Askar knows franchising from both sides 

A Zee-Zor Dynasty: Sam Askar knows franchising from both sides 

As COO of Askar Brands, Sam Askar oversees the operations of a bourgeoning $200 million multi-brand portfolio of quick-service and fast-casual restaurants, including 75 Dunkin’ and 42 Church’s Texas Chicken locations.

Askar and his older brother and “lifelong mentor” Casey Askar also understand the franchisor’s side of the business. Askar Brands acquired Papa Romano’s in 2006. That was followed by Blackjack Pizza, Papa’s Pizza To Go, and Breadeaux Pizza.

In 2019, the brothers took an accelerated step to become franchisees by buying a multi-state group of existing Church’s Texas Chicken restaurants. That was followed in 2020 by a mammoth 47-store purchase of Dunkin’ locations in top markets throughout southeast Florida.

Casey is Askar Brands’ chairman and CEO. Askar describes him as the ultimate visionary who drives opportunistic growth. Askar’s passion lies in operations and developing the people side of the business. Together, they make a formidable team in franchising.

“Our overall approach, for the most part, is a focus on value,” he says.

Before he was born, his family fled Northern Iraq to escape Christian persecution. They eventually settled in Caro, Michigan, a town of 4,000 north of Detroit, where his parents owned Lucky’s Kountry Korner. For a time, the family of six lived behind the convenience store in a trailer. The 800-square-foot parking pad remains visible today on Google Earth.

“We couldn’t afford to hire any employees, so the family were the employees, and we grew up running the register,” Askar says. “We had a lot of challenges, and I knew that I ultimately wanted to be in business for myself—and in a position of not just buying a job, but growing it.”

Askar is fulfilling that childhood dream. He and his brother now live in Naples, Florida, the base for the Askar Family Office portfolio, which also includes commercial real estate, energy, and construction.

After spending half of 2023 in the field focused on fine-tuning infrastructure and building the team, the 45-year-old father of four is looking toward a bright future. Armed with the dual operational insights as franchisor and franchisee—and a penchant for concepts that “push value”—the Askar brothers aim to grow to more than 500 locations over the next decade.

“Having the ability to work with and develop people is more important than ever in this post-Covid world,” Askar says. “The more we can acquire or build, the more opportunity we have to touch people and grow.”

Name: Sam Askar

Title: COO

Company: Askar Brands

No. of units: 75 Dunkin’, 42 Church’s Chicken; 1 Papa Romano’s, 1 Blackjack Pizza. Askar Brands is also the franchisor of Papa Romano’s, Blackjack Pizza, Papa’s Pizza To Go, and Breadeaux Pizza

Age: 45

Family: 3 sons, Gabriel, 14, Valentino, 14, and Santino, 9; 1 daughter, Francesca, 13

Years in franchising: 18

PERSONAL

First job: I worked at our family-owned convenience store.

Formative influences/events: When we were young, our parents fell on hard times dealing with the challenges of owning a small business. The struggles were real, and we felt them at home.

Key accomplishments: Building, focusing, and growing a solid team.

Biggest current challenge: Work-life balance.

Next big goal: Obtaining my pilot’s license.

First turning point in your career: Entering the pizza business.

Best business decision: Entering the pizza business.

Hardest lesson learned: Allowing the wrong people into my life and/or business.

Work week: I spend 50% of my time in the field and 50% of my time in the office.

Exercise/workout: My weekly routine is typically four days of weight lifting and two days on the Peloton.

Best advice you ever got: Building a team has as much to do with understanding their lives as it does understanding their talents.

What’s your passion in business? Developing a team and taking on new challenges.

How do you balance life and work? I don’t think I do this well; it is something I continue to work on year after year. However, I have also learned that it is not something you have to perfect. Each needs its own attention at different times.

Guilty pleasure: A Dunkin’ Glazed Donut.

Favorite book: Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.

Favorite movie: “Rocky II.”

What do most people not know about you? I come from a small town of 4,000 people, Caro, Michigan, just north of Detroit.

Pet peeve: When information is provided to me and it is not vetted or accurate.

What did you want to be when you grew up? Business owner.

Last vacation: Bahamas.

Person you’d most like to have lunch with: Dana White, CEO and president of UFC.

MANAGEMENT

Business philosophy: Focus on people to improve culture. Also, work to grow an organization to embrace change, innovations, and new opportunities.

Management method or style: Coaching and mentoring is my management style.

Greatest challenge: Wanting more for people than they want for themselves.

How do others describe you? Effective, fair, and caring.

Have you ever been in a mentor-mentee relationship? All of my life, my mentor has been my brother Casey. I have learned the best practices that can be utilized in different aspects of business within different industries. Also, Tony Lutfi has been a mentor of mine. Through Tony, I have learned how to reflect on my thoughts and be diplomatic in my actions.

One thing you’re looking to do better: To listen better and more.

How you give your team room to innovate and experiment: I urge them to think outside the box, and I do not shut down new ideas or thoughts. After evaluating the idea and thought, we provide them with time and/or finances to experiment.

How close are you to operations? I am married to it. To me, it is the most important piece of our business.

What are the two most important things you rely on from your franchisor? Staying ahead of the marketing trends and technology. Consistent supply chain at the best cost.

What you need from vendors: Product consistency and real-time support.

Have you changed your marketing strategy in response to the economy? Yes. We have deployed more value-driven offers.

How is social media affecting your business? Social media is positive for our business as it allows for instant communication with customers and immediate conversion into sales.

How do you hire and fire? We use all forms of hiring: ads, recruiters, and a constant, eye-open approach to recognize talent. The wrong people fire themselves.

How do you train and retain? We train using brand tools and standards.

How do you deal with problem employees? We communicate with team members to understand the problems, then provide solutions, and set expectations.

Fastest way into your doghouse: Simply saying, “I sent an email,” if something fell through the cracks.

BOTTOM LINE

Annual revenue: $200 million

2024 goals: Operational goals are transactions! In this post-Covid world with employment levels headed back to par, we will focus on operational excellence and exceptional customer service to drive traffic. We will target new site developments and keep our eyes open for potential acquisitions.

Growth meter: How do you measure your growth? Typically, sales and new sites. This year, we will be focused on transactions and development.

Vision meter: Where do you want to be in five years? North of 300 locations in five years. In 10 years, north of 500 locations.

Do you have brands in different segments? Why/why not? Yes. Diversification and scalability by brand.

How is the economy in your region(s) affecting you, your employees, your customers? Each region reacts to the economy differently, and the differences today are greater than they have been in the past.

Are you experiencing economic growth in your market? Yes, mostly in the southern region.

How do changes in the economy affect the way you do business? Depending on the change, we will take on more of a regional focus and drive value.

How do you forecast for your business? We use prior years’ information along with brand goals and specific innovative and strategic planning.

What are the best sources for capital expansion? Today, regional banks and equipment financing.

Experience with private equity, local banks, national banks, other institutions? Why/why not? Our relationships have been built over time with both local and national banks that are familiar with the industry, our company, and the brands.

What are you doing to take care of your employees? First and foremost, we know our team. We listen, help them with their challenges, and provide support, competitive wages, and benefits.

How are you handling rising employee costs (payroll, minimum wage, healthcare, etc.)? We increased menu prices and looked at other efficiencies and cost-cutting strategies to handle the rising employee costs.

What laws and regulations are affecting your business, and how are you dealing with them? We effectively absorb minimum wage increases through better training to improve turnover and menu innovations.

How do you reward/recognize top-performing employees? Our top-performing employees have clear goals and real incentives, and they collect their bonuses and system-wide recognition.

What kind of exit strategy do you have in place? IPO.

Published: February 17th, 2024

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