When Nader Masadeh’s family moved to Cincinnati from Jordan when he was a child, most of his relatives worked in restaurants. “When you come to the United States as an immigrant, skills don’t always transfer,” he says. “Restaurants provide accessible work.”
Masadeh was no exception: He put in time at Taco Bell and Burger King. But after graduating high school, he took a different path. He studied engineering and business, worked for auto parts manufacturers and then Procter & Gamble. In 2004, he purchased a Buffalo Wings & Rings franchise. He’d planned at first for his father to operate the franchise, but he soon fell for the business more broadly.
“I loved the brand, the niche it’s in, the food it serves,” he says. “I didn’t understand why it hadn’t taken off.” He was certain that with some additional systemization and professionalism, he’d have a hit. In 2005, he made an offer to buy the brand from the current owner, and she accepted.
After the purchase, Masadeh brought on two partners, and identified their first big problem. “The other store owners had licensing agreements, so they weren’t paying royalties, and they weren’t getting any corporate support,” he says. That meant he had no money coming in and would have to get creative about fixing the company. The solution would take almost five years and a lot of changes — rethinking the company’s relationship with franchisees, where they’d open new locations, and even what the restaurants looked like.
Now Masadeh has some tough advice for franchisees looking to become franchisors: “A great franchisee isn’t always a great franchisor, and vice versa,” he says. “Know your skills, know where you need help, and hire people to help you make the transition.”
What He Learned
1: Take inventory.
Masadeh and his partners took stock of what they had: some old uniforms and equipment in a warehouse, and a very out-of-date Franchise Disclosure Document. Then they spent the next 18 months cleaning up the operation — creating a new manual, a marketing plan, brochures for prospective franchisees, and a unified menu. “There hadn’t been any corporate support before,” he says. “We had to build that in.”
2: Start fresh.
The brand had a bad reputation in Cincinnati, thanks to the poorly run restaurants of the past. That made it hard to find new franchisees locally. But when Masadeh ran some ads online, he received inquiries from California, Texas, and Florida. So he decided to go where the opportunity was and rebuild the brand where it could be introduced fresh. “Those development agreements were a big win,” he says. (Today, there are 12 stores — nine are franchises — open in Cincinnati.)
3: Expand the audience.
The original Buffalo Wings & Rings model felt like most sports bars: dark, masculine, and loud. “We realized that if we made it more family- and female-friendly, we’d have a bigger opportunity,” Masadeh says. They added a dining room that was brighter and not so loud. They made the restrooms more accessible from the dining room with no need to walk through the bar. And they updated furniture to make the space more inviting.
4: Listen to your markets.
Both Masadeh and one of his partners are originally from Jordan, and they believed they could bring the brand back home. But they failed on their first three attempts. “We tried to adapt our model to the local culture but quickly realized that’s not what they wanted,” he says. “They wanted the Americanized experience — the wings, the menu in English, the sports, the bar.” They opened stores with their U.S. model, and sales skyrocketed.