Over a 17-year career, Greg Flynn built the nation’s largest franchisee empire: Flynn Restaurant Group LP, a business that spans the country with three different brands — Applebee’s, Panera Bread and Taco Bell.
With so many restaurant chains selling locations, franchisees have become increasingly powerful in the business of selling food to customers. And Flynn is foremost among them.
This year, he was the first franchisee to ever win Nation’s Restaurant News’ prestigious Operator of the Year award.
Flynn started the business with the acquisition of eight Applebee’s locations in Seattle in the late 1990s. Today, it has more than 850 locations. Flynn Restaurant Group was the first franchisee to ever hit the $1 billion mark in revenues and today is nearing the $2 billion mark.
Flynn has grown his business largely by taking advantage of franchisors selling stores to franchisees. The company has bought hundreds of Applebee’s units, many of them during the recession. It then bought Taco Bell locations when it had grown too big for that system. And then it became the first new franchisee of the Panera Bread system in 2015.
But the company has also used strategic acquisitions of other franchisees to amass its holdings, such as the 2011 purchase of 99-unit Applebee’s franchisee AmRest and the 2013 purchase of 76-unit Taco Bell operator Southern Bells Inc.
To fund this growth, Flynn has helped pioneer financing mechanisms. The company was among the first franchisees to use private-equity financing when it received an equity investment from Goldman Sachs in 2001.
In 2014, the company broke out of the private-equity invest-and-divest cycle with a $300 million investment from the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan — one of the first such investments of its kind in a franchisee.
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