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Ex-Caribou CEO joins Boardwalk franchisee

ATLANTA Michael J. Coles, the founder of Great American Cookie Co. and the former chief executive of Caribou Coffee, has become a franchisee of Boardwalk Fresh Burgers and Fries, a six-unit fast-casual chain based in Ocean City, Md.

Coles said Monday that he has bought into Boardwalk Investment Group LLC, which owns the master franchise agreement for Georgia and plans to build more than 50 Boardwalk restaurants in that state. The group will open two units in the Atlanta metropolitan area by February, including one at the Hammond Springs Shopping Center in Roswell, Ga., and another on Hammond Drive in Sandy Springs, Ga.

“Atlanta is a young, vibrant city, and Boardwalk Fresh Burgers & Fries is a great fit for people looking for a more authentic burger experience in the better-burger segment of fast-casual dining,” Coles said.

Boardwalk has partnered with franchise development company Fransmart to expand the brand beyond its three units in Maryland and single locations in Alexandria, Va.; Stroudsburg, Pa.; and Costa Mesa, Calif. Another 50-plus-unit master franchise agreement — for Virginia, North Carolina and the District of Columbia — had been inked recently with an investor group led by Kert Gennings, former chief operating officer of Jersey Mike’s Subs.

“Boardwalk partnering with Fransmart makes me feel even stronger about the brand, as it was Fransmart that launched Five Guys’ franchising and created the foundation that has put Five Guys on the map,” Coles said.

Lately Five Guys has seen several competitors breaking into the better-burger category, and like Boardwalk, the upstart brands have experienced operators at the helm.

The Habit Burger Grill in Southern California, for instance, lured former Cheesecake Factory president Russ Bendel to be its chief executive and take it to new markets. In Chicago, former Potbelly Sandwich Works chief development officer Tom Jednorowicz founded his own fast-casual burger chain, Meatheads Burgers and Fries. The company is on pace to have about $4 million in annual sales with three suburban locations, Jednorowicz said.

Despite all the competition on the block, Coles said, “there has never been a better time to be a tenant looking for locations in the Atlanta metro area.” Opportunities for top real estate sites and conversions of existing restaurants are plentiful, Coles added.

“We couldn’t be happier to have an industry veteran like Michael Coles involved with our concept,” said Boardwalk chief executive David DiFerdinando, who co-founded the chain with his brother Fran in 2007. “This is clearly a sign that we are doing things right. I’m excited to see our brand develop in Georgia with Michael’s guidance.”

Contact Mark Brandau at [email protected].

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