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Leo Nolan of MBN Brands, franchisor of IHOP, speaks with Ron Ruggless about franchisee challenges during COVID-19.

Franchise group leans on parent IHOP brand in dining-room reopenings

MBN Brands also applying standards to Jimmy John’s, Burger King units, partner Leo Nolan says

Franchisees of multiple brands in multiple states face heightened hurdles in reopening restaurants in the coronavirus pandemic, but MBN Brands has leaned on the expertise of the parent companies to help it navigate the challenges.

“IHOP has been great. The [parent] Dine Brand guys have been great,” said Leo Nolan, a partner in New York-based MBN Brands, whose two IHOP unit will be re-opening in Augusta, Ga., on May 1.

MBN Brands, founded by Kevin Mulcahy, Michael Mulcahy, Wyatt Batchelor and Nolan, acquired its first restaurants last March and has grown to also include 23 Jimmy John’s and 11 Burger King units in California, Colorado, Georgia, Missouri and Utah.

While rolling waves of states and cities imposed restrictions on dine-in service to stem the spread of the deadly COVID-19 virus in March, they also staggered the re-openings with different rules for different local jurisdictions.

The rules, Nolan said during a Zoom interview on Monday, changed seemingly by the hour.

Fortunately, he added, the corporate teams for each of the brands had been working on re-opening plans for weeks. Jimmy John’s is owned by Atlanta-based Inspire Brands, Burger King by Toronto-based Restaurant Brands International and IHOP by Glendale, Calif.-based Dine Brands Global Inc.

“They have been more or less ready for this since about two weeks into this slowdown,” Nolan said. “They have been working really, really hard on making sure everyone is ready.”

For example, the IHOP dining rooms will re-open with six-foot distances between tables, reduced food offerings and paper menus instead of the plastic-covered ones typical before the coronavirus closures.

“There’s been a lot of work in the past 10 days to two weeks getting ready for that with the focus on the health and safety of our guests and our team members,” Nolan said.

In addition, the IHOP units will have nothing on the tables, including the traditional selection of syrups and the coffee servers for customers to serve themselves.

“It’s all to keep people healthy,” Nolan said.

MBN Brands has kept its Burger King units, with drive-thru capacity, and Jimmy John’s units open.

Jimmy John’s has its own cadre of drivers. “That’s been a strong aspect,” Nolan said. About a third of the Jimmy John’s units also have drive-thru areas.

The challenge, Nolan said, has “been making sure people know we are open.” That has been through arterial signage as well as a program to help medical teams at Veteran’s Administration hospitals.

Nolan said his partner Batchelor is a former Army Ranger, so he had a special connection to the veterans’ hospitals.

MBN brand’s Jimmy John’s units offered the #WeGotYour6 campaign to provide meals to workers at VA hospitals in Arkansas, Colorado, Missouri and Utah.

Partnering with Legacies Alive, a non-profit organization that supports Gold Star Military Families, the GoFundMe effort so far has raised $13,000 for meals at the VA Hospitals.

Check out the remainder of Nation’s Restaurant News’ interview with Nolan in the Zoom video below.


For our most up-to-date coverage, visit the coronavirus homepage.

Learn lessons in leadership during a crisis from our panel of experts on Friday, May 1.

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected]

Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless


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