Skip navigation
The Russell family's goal is to own the best Newk's stores in the country.

Father-son franchisee duo bring Newk’s Eatery to their hometown

Skip Russell sold all of his Popeyes restaurants and came out of retirement to start franchising anew with his first Newk’s Eatery restaurant

If founders, chefs and other creatives are the beating heart of the restaurant industry, then franchisees are the veins delivering their ideas to all corners of the globe. Franchising is critical to the success of the industry, allowing brands to quickly scale their big ideas using other people’s capital. And whether it’s a mom-and-pop restaurant owner with one or two franchised restaurants or a seasoned veteran whose influence in the industry is well-known, franchisees — with all their individual attributes, styles and personalities — make a huge impact on the success of a business.

In this week’s installment of Franchisee Spotlight, we spoke with Skip Russell — a franchisee with almost three decades of experience — about coming out of retirement to open his first Newk’s Eatery in his hometown with his son.

Store breakdown

One Newk’s Eatery in Magee, Miss. with more on the way

A career in restaurants

I started working in the restaurant industry when I was 15 years old; my very first job was as a car hop at Sonic Drive-In, and I did that through high school. Then I got away from Sonic, and started doing other jobs, but just kept coming back to the restaurant industry because it was something I really enjoyed… Finally, I got back into the Sonic business and the guy who hired me mentored me and I became a partner with him on another Sonic Drive-In…then I decided to do something on my own, sold my partnership, and got into the Popeyes brand. Over the course of 13 years, I built, opened, and purchased at least 13 restaurants. Just up until last year, I had a pretty aggressive growth plan… but then I agreed to sell to them.

Coming out of retirement

I was thinking that’s what I wanted, but I’m only 50 years old, and I wasn’t ready to retire. My son is 20 years old, and he’s been in the business with me since he was 15, so I wanted to do something to continue to help him develop, follow in my footsteps, and then set his own path. That’s when we got to looking at the Newk’s brand: It’s a Mississippi-based brand, and it’s a household name here. Everybody knows and loves Newk’s… So, I reached out to the new franchise team, and was welcomed with open arms.

November 5th is when I sold all of my Popeyes. I make the joke that I sold them all to retire, and I retired for about 20 minutes and then went right back to work. It just worked out timing-wise. When I sold the Popeyes stores, within a month, we had the Newk’s brands ready to open.

Why Newk’s Eatery

I’ve known Newk’s ever since it was first around: I knew McAlister’s Deli, which was the first brand that the Newcomb family founded, so when they came out with the Newk’s brand, it really appealed to me. It’s a step above, and it’s great food, great leadership, management, service, and a great reputation in Mississippi… It’s a good bit above the fast food industry, which I’ve always been in, and that’s why I wanted to get involved with it, and be able to offer something a little nicer, and a little more family-friendly.

First father-son business

This is our first business venture together. My son just graduated college in May of this year from University of Southern Mississippi with his bachelor's degree in restaurant management and business management… He’s loved the restaurant brand ever since he started working, and he's always wanted to follow along behind me and try to have the same successes that I've had. I’m mentoring him and I’m guiding him to try to be as successful as he can be. Our agreement is to build six new restaurants together, and the more he gets to know about the business, the more he can start handling things himself.

Small-town restaurant opening

The response [by the community] been overwhelming. It's a small town of only about 5,000 people, but we have a main thoroughfare through town that funnels people… if you live North or just a bit east or west of the Mississippi River, you have to come through Magee to get there….There are people from all over: Missouri, Chicago, Illinois, Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, on their way traveling and on vacation… So when we talk about how the store has been received, with only 5,000 people in our town, it’s been an overwhelming response and has exceeded our expectations…. For those people just passing through, we always say if we can get them to stop one time, and eat our food and enjoy our service, we’ll get them when they come back, and we’ll catch them every year. I’m not just marketing to people in our town, I’m marketing to travelers from all over the country.

Expansion goals

We agreed to open one Newk’s a year for six years. With my son coming into the business, I don't want to over push and grow faster than he’s capable of. The next ones will be in McComb, Mississippi, and then we’ll get into Louisiana.

2024 New Year’s resolution

Next year, we want to be the number one franchisee in the company. I told the franchisors for a year before we got to this restaurant that we are going to be the best new franchise in the company: We will have the best numbers, the best operations, guest surveys, etc. My son and our management team shares that same goal, nad we won’t quit trying until we’ve achieved that.

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.