In this exclusive Q&A, we get to learn about operating a franchise business with family from Bryce Kelley Sr., who operates his McAlister’s Deli franchise in Orlando with his wife Stacey, son Bryce Jr., and daughter Leah.
Franchise Chatter (FC): What is your background in the franchising world?
Bryce Kelley Sr. (BK): We didn’t have restaurant industry experience before McAlister’s. We started researching franchises and restaurants and contemplated it for about 10 years, but wanted to wait for our kids to get out of high school before jumping into franchising.
After looking at a dozen or more restaurants, what really stuck out to us was the menu at McAlister’s Deli. We were eating there three to four times a week and McAlister’s kept coming to the top every time we discussed opportunities.
FC: Why did you start a McAlister’s Deli business? What opportunities stood out?
BK: We love the fast-casual concept and the focus on hospitality really resonated with us because it’s in line with our style. We like to entertain and host and that’s what McAlister’s does. If you want to spend 15 minutes or an hour and a half with us, it doesn’t matter in our concept and we welcome it.
FC: Why come together as a team, and a family team at that?
BK: My wife, Stacey, and I wanted to do something together and we had a passion for running a restaurant – running a family business was always our plan. We enjoy the business and the time we spend together.
My son started working in the restaurant industry in California and loved it, and so did my daughter. Once my son, Bryce Jr., got married and came back to Florida, he wanted to work with us and we knew that would be the plan.
We are a pretty close family and like to do a lot together. Luckily, each of our strengths have come together nicely in the restaurant business.
FC: How do you weave two different, generational leadership styles into your business or have you just found your combined style organically?
BK: Our styles of working all came together naturally. The benefit to a family business is that we know each other so well and are familiar with each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
When Bryce Jr. and Leah jumped in, we knew they would do whatever it took to get the job done for the success of the business. Both of my kids wanted to start like any other employee and work their way up to earn the job and the respect from fellow teammates, which has carried them a long way with the teams they lead.
FC: Are there any lessons your children have learned from you early on that they still apply today?
BK: Leah has said to me that she has learned people don’t realize the sacrifices you make to start your own business. She has taken away that you won’t get handed things and have to make the opportunities for yourself in order to grow. She has seen the work we have put in to everything, and I’m glad to be that example for her.
FC: What practices and business skills do you bring best to the table operating your McAlister’s business?
BK: For me, I wear multiple hats. I have a background in managing large projects so I take on the role of moving the business forward through site development, project management and building us from the ground up.
Bryce Jr. is very strong in the back-of-house and kitchen. He excels when it comes to managing people, and watching our day-to-day operations and numbers across sales, labor and food cost.
Leah rounds us out with strong front-of-house abilities. She is confident and can give great direction, which is very helpful when she handles marketing and our catering business.
Luckily, our family has come together in a way that our guests notice and it sets us apart from other restaurants. I know for a fact that our guests love that a family runs the business. A lot of frequent guests had no idea it was a franchise.
By each family member touching every aspect of the business, our guests see the care we take and are encouraging and supportive of our journey.
FC: What sets the McAlister’s brand apart from other fast casual restaurants you could have started and an attractive opportunity for potential franchisees?
BK: When we came to Atlanta to meet with the corporate team, we saw a lot of energy and a focus on growth and research and development. The excitement the corporate team had made us excited. We liked what they presented on the business side of things which complemented the welcoming feel we got each time we walked in to a McAlister’s.
FC: Can you describe the work-life balance benefits that a career in franchising offers when juggling a business and a family?
BK: Juggling the work-life balance has become a conscious effort for us. We don’t want the business to take over our family and be the only thing we talk about. Holiday, birthdays, vacations – they aren’t all business.
We have a daughter-in-law that doesn’t work in our restaurant, so we want to be well rounded for her as well. It is something you have to make an effort to do and it’s always top of mind for us.
FC: What do you like to do together when not running the business?
BK: We love to be outdoors. If we aren’t in the restaurant, we are fishing, on our boat or heading to the local rivers and springs.