In this exclusive Q&A, we learn about the Celebrity’s Soul Food franchise opportunity from the company’s CEO, Dr. Frederick Jacobs.
Franchise Chatter (FC): Tell us about the Celebrity’s Soul Food concept? Why soul food?
Dr. Frederick Jacobs (FJ): Actually, we consider soul food to have a much broader appeal than regional cuisine. That’s because it’s authentically American, and although it’s deeply rooted in the Southern food space, soul food is a tradition that celebrates our shared history and experiences.
At the same time, soul food is a deeply cultural experience. It evokes memories of comfort and togetherness, all anchored by food that is lovingly prepared from scratch, with time, care, and attention. We like to say it isn’t just soul food; it’s food for the soul.
At Celebrity’s Soul Food, we’ve elevated that experience to also include a sophisticated dining environment – gathering around rich flavors, sharing positive moments, receiving exceptional service, and doing so in a way that isn’t unnecessarily expensive. Our restaurants offer the finest in soul food while also meeting the real-world budgets of the at-large communities we serve.
FC: Celebrity’s Soul Food is not only the first soul food restaurant franchise, but now also the largest and fastest-growing in the country – with more than 200 locations planned across the United States by 2025. How has that happened so quickly?
FJ: We took a different approach than most restaurants when it came to starting up our business. Celebrity’s Soul Food has always had a growth mindset in place. So, we didn’t have to reinvent things when the concept caught on and people wanted to franchise. Our culinary approach is tailor made to be authentic, yet profitable.
We have also had a complete management team in place, almost since Day 1, and we’ve backed that up with a management program that sets our franchisees up for success. It’s called the Headstart program and it includes everything from financing and funding support, to training, vendor set up, a grand opening team, checklists for nearly every operational task imaginable, and plenty more.
We have also embraced the very necessary role of technology in our restaurant operations, especially now, when off-premise has become so prevalent. Giving franchisees everything they need to succeed in today’s market is at the heart of our brand – no matter what “today” may bring.
An annual “Spring Training” program helps keep everyone at best-in-class levels throughout any restaurant’s years in the community. The end result is that Celebrity’s Soul Food restaurants are quicker and easier to open than most establishments in the upscale dining space, and they start turning profits faster, too.
FC: How does Celebrity’s Soul Food balance “authentic” tastes while also staying out in front of contemporary food trends?
FJ: It is a misconception that soul food needs to be heavy or meat forward. Sure, there are iconic dishes that fit that description, however elevating our soul food breaks this boundary. We have vegetarian-friendly dishes, seafood dishes, and even innovative vegan alternatives like our Pimiento rubbed Corn Ribs, which are completely plant based.
We also believe in seasonality and locally produced ingredients, not just because it is popular with consumers, but because of its sustainability all the while delivering streamlining costs to our franchisees. If root vegetables are in season, they are incorporated into our restaurants. In areas where unique and exotic proteins like venison and antelope are available, our inspired chefs craft them into our menu.
That’s the great thing about our elevated soul food – it’s all about quality ingredients and their masterful preparation. This is what guests taste when they dine with us. It is the reason they come back to experience more repeatedly.
FC: Who is the ideal franchisee for Celebrity’s Soul Food?
FJ: We want people who live and breathe working in restaurants. Celebrity’s Soul Food is a great fit for anyone who likes being hands-on in front of house and back of house, and who wants to bring a much-needed culinary concept to their communities. Usually, we find that happens with those who have had direct management experience in a restaurant environment for 10 years or more.
Beyond that, the Celebrity’s Soul Food family is exactly that – a family. We’re a tight-knit bunch who believes in giving back to the community in order to receive. Soul food isn’t something that can be rushed or squeezed for every last dime. You really do have to care about what it means to serve people with gratitude and hospitality. So, we do have a vetting process to make sure potential franchisees have business objectives and mindsets that reflect the characteristics needed for positive, memorable soul food experiences.
We also ask that our franchisees take part in philanthropic initiatives and organizations in their community through donations of their time, finances, or other means. We have found that entrepreneurs who embrace our same spirit of doing things “the right way” simply because it’s the honorable thing to do find owning a Celebrity’s Soul Food restaurant richly rewarding (not to mention delicious).