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Big Whiskey’s ramps up franchising plans

Ozark-based company targets 8 new stores in next year in multiple states

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Officials with Ozark-based Big Whiskey’s LLC say the company is back in franchising mode after a quiet period amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The company, which opened its first store in downtown Springfield in 2006, recently expanded its presence in Alabama through a new franchise deal. It’s part of a concerted effort by Big Whiskey’s to grow its footprint, which currently reaches four states, said Paul Sundy, co-founder and co-CEO.

While the company added three franchise restaurants in 2020, Sundy said those ventures were in progress before the pandemic. He said additional franchising efforts were paused for nearly two years.

“Coming into COVID, we put the brakes on. Not a lot of people wanted to invest money in restaurant concepts – not just ours but any of them,” he said. “Probably about a year ago is when we decided we were going to make a conscious decision to really get back after it in the franchising side of the game again. Now, we’re starting to fire on all cylinders.”

The company recently signed a franchise agreement with restaurant veterans Terry and Aimee Sims to open three Big Whiskey’s restaurants in the Huntsville, Alabama, metro area.

The Simses are adding Big Whiskey’s to their portfolio of 13 Dairy Queen restaurant franchises.

“We are so excited about working with a high-potential brand like Big Whiskey’s,” Terry Sims said in a news release. “We love the passion of the organization, the modern menu and the growth vision of the company. We can’t wait to get things rolling to maximize the potential.”

Sundy said Big Whiskey’s currently has 14 restaurants open with five under construction. Of the existing eateries, half are corporate owned.

Franchise focus
According to past Springfield Business Journal reporting, Big Whiskey’s started franchising in 2016 upon signing Shane Miller as franchisee of a store in Bentonville, Arkansas, which remains part of the company’s portfolio.

“We’re a fresh concept that is coming out of the Midwest, and that makes us appealing to a lot of places. What we’re realizing is there’s not a lot of concepts that are like us,” Sundy said. “We’re a restaurant that celebrates sports but not a sports bar. We’re a restaurant that celebrates their bar but is not a bar. There’s just not a lot of concepts that are in our category that are new and as far along in the franchising process.”

Opening a Big Whiskey’s store can range $700,000 to $3 million, depending on whether the building is owned or leased, according to the company’s website. In addition to a one-time franchise fee of $50,000, Sundy said franchisees agree to pay annual royalties of 5% of gross sales with 1% of that amount going toward a national marketing fund for all stores.

“Our areas of interest are primarily in the middle part of the country,” he said.

That’s not to say Big Whiskey’s won’t look outside the Midwest. Davie, Florida, west of Fort Lauderdale, is among locations soon to open a restaurant, Sundy said, adding an early 2024 launch is expected. It will be the company’s first in Florida.

The company also has previously looked near the West Coast to open restaurants, as franchisee Anthony DePasquale and his Henderson, Nevada-based Calant Capital LLC opened a franchise store in early 2019, according to past reporting. However, it was a short-lived venture, as the restaurant closed later that same year, Sundy said, declining to discuss details. While Big Whiskey’s initially expressed interest in finding a new Las Vegas-area franchisee after the store closed, the company remains without a new location in Sin City.

As for the stores’ food menu, which includes burgers, wings, sandwiches, pastas and steaks, Sundy said consistency is key.

“Every single menu is the exact same across the entire country. The only thing that is different is pricing,” he said, noting franchisees can pick among three price tiers based on their markets. “We give them a little bit of guidance on what we think is appropriate for pricing.”

Store growth
Sundy said Big Whiskey’s sales last year were largely on par with the prior year, finishing at roughly $35.1 million. He said year-to-date sales are tracking ahead of 2022, and pending store openings as scheduled, this year’s revenue should surpass $36 million.

The company’s forecast growth this year is in line with U.S. food service industry sales data, according to the National Restaurant Association. The industry is projected to reach $997 billion in sales in 2023, up 6% from last year, driven in part by higher menu prices. Big Whiskey’s officials say there should be eight locations opening within the next 12 months, including one in Poplar Bluff through franchisee BLV Whiskey’s LLC. That restaurant should open by October, Sundy said, adding another store will open in an undisclosed location next year in the Show Me State. The company is partnering with a franchisee in the unidentified market, but he said a pending land deal must close before the new store can be announced.

Additional contracts are in negotiations, Sundy said, noting it can take up to six months to close deals with franchisees.

“There are people that are almost 90% of the way there, but we can’t really say those out loud until it’s on the dotted line. We’ve got a lot of irons in the fire, and the fire is getting hot,” he said. “That process can be 12-18 months from the day they reach out to us about being a franchisee to the day that they’re serving product.”

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