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’re speaking with Emily Krouse, who was inspired to become a franchisee of one of Korea’s most famous fried chicken chains after reconnecting with her birth mother over a meal at Bb.q Chicken. Now, Krouse has brought the concept to new audiences in Minneapolis with plans for more locations in the works.
Store count: One in Uptown Minneapolis, with a second store opening in St. Paul in June, and a third in the Twin Cities area within the next 18 months.
A background in restaurants leading up to franchising
The first 11 years of my professional career was spent at food manufacturing companies around the Twin Cities. Then I really tied back into my hospitality background and worked for Blue Plate Restaurant Group. Then I went to a company called Rise Baking Company. In all of those roles, I was in a human resources function. I realized after doing this for 11 years that I really liked being in the day-to-day portion of the business world, and while I was moving up a corporate ladder, I never felt really fulfilled. Then, my ex-husband and I invested in a bubble tea company here in the Twin Cities called Sencha Tea Bar, and I left my corporate career and started working in stores with a small investment in ownership in this bubble tea organization. I did that for five years. Then after the pandemic, I realized that I needed to put my talent, time, and energy into something scalable and more sustainable, so I started looking at different franchise organizations and waiting tables in between. Full circle, my jobs have always revolved around food.
A fateful meetup at Bb.q
[I was adopted] and eight years ago, I met my biological mother in Korea. I had Bb.q with her at our reunion meal. I also avidly watched K-dramas and Bb.q is always an integral part of the food [in the shows]. It’s a very well-known brand. I had the food for a second time on a girls’ trip in California and I was like, ‘Wow-- This is the company I had when I met my birth mother’ and the food was delicious. I wasn’t looking to make a career move at the time, but I always had it in the back of my mind that this is something I'd want to do at some point. After getting my entrepreneurial feet wet with the bubble tea company, I realized I not only had the business acumen but I had the gumption to do something more independently. So, I started looking into Bb.q’s analytics and the success of the brand.
Her first store experience
When I first inquired with the franchise, they were extremely knowledgeable and supportive of giving me as much information as I needed. They never gloated about the company saying anyone can do it. They wanted me to know that owning a restaurant has its challenges. I definitely went in very critical and skeptical because I was not only going to be changing careers, but also investing a lot of capital into this brand. They were just there to give as many facts as I needed so that I could make the right decision for myself personally and professionally. Then, the real estate was honestly the hardest hurdle to clear. Commercial real estate is really hard to find. It took me over 11 months to find a store, but once I found the right space, the franchise brought representatives to Minneapolis to approve the space, and they created this beautiful design.
Why franchisor support is necessary
Bb.q negotiated with my general contractor to get the right aesthetic and the right end result. They are very hands-on, through everything from recipes to point of sale system, and from right when I opened, they were there side-by-side with me, almost acting as employees with my new staff to ensure that we were successful, and they stayed an additional week beyond my grand opening. I truly felt like before anyone from the franchise left Minnesota, that I had the tools and resources to do this on my own.
Connecting with her Korean roots
As a Korean-American and as somebody who grew up in the Twin Cities, I'm so proud. I have been raised and loved and cared for by an incredible adoptive family who happen to be Caucasian. I feel that this has truly been a great opportunity for me as a woman of color to be here in Minneapolis representing a Korean company. It’s the best of both worlds. So, when customers come into my restaurant, they oftentimes will ask if I'm the owner, and I proudly say “yes,” and I think some people are asking because I happen to be a Korean running a Korean restaurant, but I also know Minnesota so well. It really allows me to tie into all these different identifiers and characteristics that make me me.
Introducing Minnesotans to Korean fried chicken
At first, the lion's share of customers that came in were Korean, whether they were other adoptees who knew this brand, international or just other Koreans who had chosen Minnesota as their home base. Then, because of the positive response that we had from that initial demographic and target market that came in, we now on a day-to-day basis, have a hugely diverse customer base. The majority of my customers aren’t Asian anymore; they really do represent Minneapolis. The food translates into everyone's palate. I am glad to have this opportunity to share this company with as many people as I can.
I have been given the really generous, humbling opportunity to open three stores with Bb.q in the next 18 months. I'm very grateful that the franchise sees me as someone that they want to put their trust in. They want me to take the brand as far as I can in Minnesota. I'm excited to see how far I can take this organization. So, there will for sure be three stores, but in my perfect world, I would do more like eight. I would love to take the brand to as many suburbs as I can within the Twin Cities. I am hoping that I can continue to scale and grow the brand with as many locations as I can, knowing full-well that I will have to outsource some of the talent with managers and continue to grow my village of professional support.