In this Franchise Chatter Q&A, we get to learn more about Mrs. Winner’s Chicken & Biscuits from its CEO John Buttolph.
Franchise Chatter (FC): Can you describe the Mrs. Winner’s concept and why it stands apart from other quick-service fried chicken brands?
John Buttolph (JB): Mrs. Winner’s is a legacy Southern brand that prides itself on serving authentic Southern fried chicken and home-style menu items that allow guests to be true to their hunger. Mrs. Winner’s is unique because unlike other concepts in the fried chicken space, the rich, Southern flavors truly become alive in our food.
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We stand apart from other restaurants because our traditional menu is served in a warm, friendly atmosphere where guests are treated as family. Because of our respect for our customers, there’s an incredibly strong affinity for Mrs. Winner’s.
FC: Tell us about the history of Mrs. Winner’s. What happened to the brand during the mid-2000’s and how did you get involved with the company?
JB: Mrs. Winner’s was founded in 1979 by Jack Massey, the former owner of KFC. During the brand’s early years, we surged to 184 restaurants throughout the Southeast and became quite the tradition for Southern families. In the years following, there were multiple ownership transactions and Mrs. Winner’s was frequently neglected by its corporate owners who directed investment into other sister brands.
After struggling through some financial missteps, Mrs. Winner’s closed all of its company-owned stores and filed for bankruptcy in 2010, leaving 10 remaining locations. At that time, I was an attorney and a member of the company’s legal team during the bankruptcy proceedings.
Although the company’s business affairs were in complete disarray, there was something about the connection and emotional bond that people had for Mrs. Winner’s that really struck a chord with me – and I just couldn’t ignore the fact that Mrs. Winner’s customers felt genuine affection for this brand.
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To me, there was immeasurable value to these connections, and at a time when I was looking for my next venture in life, I decided to buy the intellectual property assets, which include the trademarks and the rights to the franchise.
FC: What have you changed since then, and what are your plans for the future of the brand?
JB: My first step was to establish a strong relationship with the remaining franchisees who weathered the storm. I had to let them know that I was going to be there for them and I was going to make the necessary changes to rebuild the health of this company.
Remaining true to my word, I’ve completely restructured our franchising platform to support our franchisees and the growth of the brand, improved our supply chain so that we can have a consistent product across the Southeast, and hired a team of extremely talented and experienced executives who are helping me take Mrs. Winner’s to the next level in terms of development, marketing and operational support of the franchise.
By the end of the year, we plan to have five new stores open and within the next 4-5 years, I expect Mrs. Winner’s to have 100 stores open, primarily in the Southeast.
FC: You have quite a unique story, tell us about your professional background. How did you go from attorney to CEO of a Southern fried chicken chain?
JB: My entire life, I’ve always had an adventurous spirit. After two years in college, I dropped out to backpack through Europe and the Near East, traveling in a theater group through Persia and selling cars in Paris and Amsterdam.
Eventually, I moved back to the United States to finish my undergraduate degree before heading out to Oregon to attend journalism school, and I found work along the way on an offshore oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, a Bourbon Street restaurant, and a cider mill on the eastern slope of the Colorado Rockies.
After deciding journalism wasn’t the best career choice for me, wanderlust set in again and I moved to Hawaii and crewed for several months on a sailboat in Hawaii. Ultimately, I settled down in Oregon, earned a JD from the University of Oregon then moved to California to open my own law practice.
To say that I EVER envisioned myself owning a legacy Southern fried chicken chain would not be close to true! But you know, I’ve always had an aptitude for adventure and I think this is one of the most satisfying yet. I’m excited to be at the helm of this brand loved by so many and can’t wait to bring it to its full potential.
FC: Why would a franchisee want to invest in a Mrs. Winner’s?
JB: Mrs. Winner’s offers an attractive business opportunity with a low cost of entry, high returns, options for store conversions and an easy to operate franchise model. We also have a flexible franchise evaluation process with options for single units, 5-store deals, entire markets and area development agreements.
Mrs. Winner’s is uniquely attractive because it is a proven concept with an extremely passionate and loyal following, and strong brand recognition in Mrs. Winner’s prime markets.
FC: What areas are open for development?
JB: We are currently seeking qualified franchise partners in metropolitan Atlanta, Nashville, Memphis, Birmingham, Chattanooga and other territories throughout Northern Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky and Virginia.
FC: What is the typical investment to open a Mrs. Winner’s?
JB: The total investment to become a Mrs. Winner’s franchisee ranges from $200,000 to $500,000, depending on the real estate.