Big Dealer: 3 brands, 500+ locations, and adding more
Name: Amin Dhanani
Company: Z&H Foods, HZ Coffee Group, HZ LM Casual Foods
No. of units: 375 Popeyes, 105 Dunkin’, 42 la Madeleine French Bakery & Cafe
Family: Wife and two kids, one daughter, one son
Years in franchising: 25
Years in current position: 15
Amin Dhanani has been on the grow since we last spoke with the Houston-based multi-brand operator back in 2017. Not only has he added more than 100 Popeyes locations to his portfolio while nearly doubling his la Madeleine stores, he’s also added more than 100 Dunkin’ locations. That puts him well over 500 locations in an $800 million operation.
That’s a pretty amazing feat from any perspective, even more so considering the impact of Covid on business during the past couple of years. Staffing was a challenge and now he says commodity price increases are putting a drag on his financial sheets. But he also experienced the same silver lining many other food franchisees did, as takeout, drive-thru, and delivery business soared during the pandemic, ringing all kinds of revenue bells for his operation. “New QSR customers are here to stay, and so are third-party delivery and mobile app conveniences,” says the 44-year-old.
Dhanani’s achievements in franchising are well recognized. He turned heads a few years ago by becoming the largest Popeyes franchisee in just 5 years. He’s a proven leader in all of his brands, turning in consistently high numbers and spreading his risk through diversification.
“I’m a firm believer in the idea that it’s good to diversify your portfolio when it comes to brands and markets,” he says. “I have Popeyes restaurants in eight states ranging from Arizona to Texas and Missouri, la Madeleine stores in Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Atlanta, and Dunkin’ stores in Texas and Florida.”
So what’s next for a mega-franchisee with three brands and more than 500 locations? Adding another brand, of course. “We will be opening restaurants with Arby's very soon,” he says.
First job: Working on the Whopper line at Burger King.
Formative influences/events: I come from a family of business owners. As the 11th child, I knew that I also wanted to leave my mark on the world as an entrepreneur the way my older brothers and father did. I had the work ethic and all the other tools needed financially, so I challenged myself to see how far I could go. Tom Brady has also been an important figure in my life. His love and passion for what he does, along with his competitiveness and drive to constantly be better has helped me and my business succeed. At this point, I don’t do what I do for the money, but because it’s what I love.
Key accomplishments: Becoming the largest franchisee in the Popeyes system within the span of 5 years and branching out from my family to achieve all of this all by myself.
Biggest current challenge: Staffing my stores.
Next big goal: I’d like to get to 1,000 stores in the next 5 years and/or own my own brand.
First turning point in your career: Without a doubt, buying my first Popeyes in my hometown of Houston.
Best business decision: Treating employees and people well, while fostering a competitive and friendly atmosphere.
Hardest lesson learned: I’d say managing my work/life balance. There’s so much I want to do throughout the day—working, spending time with my family, exercising, praying, and having personal time for myself. It’s something I’ve continued to work on. As a result, I am in a much better place because I found my routine and set up the right structure in my life.
Work week: I probably work about 55 to 60 hours. I try to keep my weekends free to be with my family.
Exercise/workout: I generally try to work out three times a week. I usually like to get some cardio in and go for a run or play basketball. I’m a big sports fan, especially when it comes to basketball and football!
Best advice you ever got: To this day, I carry around what my father always told me: “Work from your heart and passion, and success will follow. But always stay humble.”
What’s your passion in business? I love opening new stores from the ground up.
How do you balance life and work? When I’m at work, I try to make that my only focus. But when I’m at home, I turn that part of me off to have quality time with my wife and kids. We’ve also made it a point to try to vacation about four to five times a year to get away and disconnect.
Guilty pleasure: I love to eat delicious food! I enjoy everything from Indian to Chinese food, burgers, and Popeyes. I allow myself to eat some of these foods only in moderation though, because I need to stay in shape.
Favorite book: To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee.
Favorite movie: “Rocky,” starring Sylvester Stallone.
What do most people not know about you? That I’m actually a funny guy with a great sense of humor!
Pet peeve: Lying and laziness.
What did you want to be when you grew up? It was always my dreams to be the CEO of a big corporation.
Last vacation: My family and I went to Cabo last December.
Person I’d most like to have lunch with: Warren Buffet.
Business philosophy: Work harder and smarter, but always treat your people with the respect they deserve.
Management method or style: I’m very hands-on when it comes to running my businesses. I know the majority of my managers by name, and they know that they can always contact me at any time.
Greatest challenge: Working with different kinds of people and personality types. For me to succeed, I need my teams to get work done and be successful.
How do others describe you? They’d probably say I’m strict and hard-working, yet disciplined.
One thing I’m looking to do better: To delegate more work to the higher-ups that I trust in my organization.
How I give my team room to innovate and experiment: I give my teams the freedom to explore and be creative. They know that I still expect to see positive results. As long as their methods are working and they’re holding people accountable, I basically let them experiment as they please.
How close are you to operations? As I mentioned, I like to take a hands-on approach when it comes to my businesses. I speak to my VPs and directors daily and keep a close eye on operations.
What are the two most important things you rely on from your franchisor? Marketing and operations coaching with managers at the stores.
What I need from vendors: Consistency in terms of pricing, delivery times, and having product available.
Have you changed your marketing strategy in response to the economy? How? Definitely. There have been more third-party delivery aggregators, such as DoorDash and Uber Eats. Mobile apps have also become really important today for customers to help streamline their pickup and drive-thru orders.
How is social media affecting your business? Social media has really helped drive delivery orders and app downloads. That said, you also need to be much more careful with what you post nowadays and make sure that it’s not wrong in the customer’s eyes or offensive.
How do you hire and fire? I hire based on the qualifications and level of experience I’m looking for. In terms of firing, I tell my employees that the results are always going to be on paper. If the right numbers aren’t on paper, then something isn’t being done right.
How do you train and retain? We train them fully on what they need to know about the brands operationally and admin-wise. We retain by offering competitive salaries and bonus structures. We have a long-term plan in place, so we take care of the employees who deliver because we want them to stay with us.
How do you deal with problem employees? I typically see if there are any reasons from their personal lives that could be affecting their work and see how I can help them work through these issues best.
Fastest way into my doghouse: Through my pet peeves: lying and being lazy!
How did Covid-19 affect your business? Covid actually had a great impact on business in 2020 because customers, especially at Popeyes, were ordering large meals to take home for dinner with their families. Delivery driven by social media helped drive customers to all QSRs, and we’ve managed to retain a lot of them. The more negative aspect of the pandemic has been staffing, which has been really challenging the past year. Commodity and price increases between last year and this year have also been an industry-wide concern.
How have you responded? In terms of staffing, we’ve increased pay rates to retain and hire people. With commodities, we’ve had to increase some retail pricing and get smarter and tougher on the controllable costs with food.
What changes do you think will be permanent? I think the newer customers to QSR are definitely here to stay, along with the boost in popularity with third-party delivery and mobile app conveniences. I’m not sure if drive-thru will continue to be as prevalent in the long term, but it’s certainly something we’ll keep with customers not going into dining rooms as much.
Annual revenue: Approximately $800 million.
2022 goals: To retain as many of the crew and managers as possible and get all my restaurants 100% staffed up like they were pre-Covid. I’d also like to get food costs with better commodity pricing and build more restaurants.
Growth meter: How do you measure your growth? By comparing sales and traffic numbers from the previous year. We rely on organic growth to help keep these numbers up.
Vision meter: Where do you want to be in 5 years? 10 years? In 5 years, my kids will be going to college, so hopefully I’ll be living in a house in Malibu. In 10 years, I’d like to be doing more social activities and charity work to give back to our communities.
Do you have brands in different segments? Why/why not? I have brands that span chicken to coffee to sandwiches. It’s just good to diversify your portfolio.
How is the economy in your regions affecting you, your employees, your customers? Employee-wise, it’s getting tougher. In Texas and Florida, businesses are growing so everybody is currently trying to pull more employees. Both states are also attracting a lot of new people from other states, which translates to new customers and more business for our restaurants.
Are you experiencing economic growth in your market? Yes. As I said, business is booming in places like Texas and Florida.
How do changes in the economy affect the way you do business? I find that customers tend to seek out more discount deals when the economy is down.
How do you forecast for your business? I get together with my teams to budget every quarter and at the end of the year.
What are the best sources for capital expansion? Building great relationships with a variety of lenders.
Experience with private equity, local banks, national banks, other institutions? Why/why not? Yes, I’ve had experience dealing with all of the above and they’ve all been good in their own ways. Each one has their unique set of pros and cons when it comes to what they’re willing to offer, like better rates, more money, and more funds.
What are you doing to take care of your employees? I offer paid vacation time and a 401(k), in addition to various bonuses and annual merits.
How are you handling rising employee costs (payroll, minimum wage, healthcare, etc.)? We’ve been committed to raising salaries and offering more benefits.
What laws and regulations are affecting your business and how are you dealing with them? Minimum wage rates going up in various states have been affecting our business and bottom line.
How do you reward/recognize top-performing employees? We like to recognize their accomplishments at our annual meetings in front of their teams. We also offer some of them a paid vacation for two from the company, as well as other benefits.
What kind of exit strategy do you have in place? Hopefully, for my kids to take over and keep the business going, but we’ll see!
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