Franchising is often about what’s trendy, hip, and hot. The best franchises, though, go beyond being trendy: They not only span the nation but are beloved by customers, employees, and franchisees alike. More than that, they leave behind a cultural imprint that lasts for generations. Whether the food franchises on this list are at that point yet, it’s hard to say. What’s clear is that they’re all well on their way.
We selected these five franchises based not only on their growth performance at the beginning of 2022, but on their reputations as franchisors and employers, and transparency with franchisees. These five franchises enrich the lives not only of the franchisor, but the franchisees and communities they open in.
Without further ado, let’s get started:
5. Marco’s Pizza
Marco’s Pizza isn’t just about serving any old pizza — it’s about serving quality pizza. Founded in 1978 by Italian Pat Giammarco, Marco’s Pizza has opened more that 125 new locations in two years and is now present in more than 34 states.
They don’t plan to stop there, however. By piloting and leveraging new technologies, Marco’s hopes to open 500 new locations by 2023, and is even looking into international expansion.
Marco’s is special in that many of its executive leadership team are also Marco’s franchisees. They understand what franchisees need to succeed, and have put considerable time into creating a supportive franchisee experience. There’s a reason that Stephanie Moseley, a Marco’s franchisee, was the International Franchise Association’s Franchisee of the Year Award recipient.
But they don’t only treat their franchisees well, they treat their customers well, too. “Our customers share an inordinate amount of love towards Marco’s compared to the customers of our competitors,” says Steve Seyferth, Marco’s Pizza SVP & Chief Experience Officer. It’s not just talk, either. Marcos was the No. 3 pizza chain in America’s Best Customer Service Report by Newsweek.
They credit this success to staff performance, which has risen year over year in response to improved coaching, training, and employee satisfaction feedback.
This is how Marcos became No. 2 in the Pizza category on Entrepreneur Magazine’s 2020 “Franchise 500” ranking, and why they’re made it to our top 5 list this year.
According to Franchise Grade, Marco’s Pizza has an Initial Franchise Fee of $25,000 and recommends a total investment of between $225,000 and $587,000 with $15,000 – $45,000 of working capital. Their royalty fee is 5.5%. Their Franchise Grade is A.
4. Tropical Smoothie Cafe
With a name like Tropical Smoothie, it’s no surprise the franchise started in Destin, Florida in 1993. Besides being the home of smoothies so yummy you can’t stop, it’s notable for being the first nationwide franchise chain to debut plant-based proteins on its menu.
2019 was Tropical Smoothie’s 8th consecutive year of same-store sales growth, and they also managed to open more than 124 new cafes. As of 2021 they now have more than 1000 locations, and are positioned to hit 1,500 by the end of 2024.
They’re also notable for their contributions to local causes. The franchise has a 13-year relationship with Camp Sunshine, a camp in Casco, Maine that provides memorable experiences for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families. Not to be deterred by the pandemic, they also donated $100,000 to the American Nurses Foundation’s Coronavirus Response Fund on top of donating hundreds of thousands of smoothies to front-line workers.
Tropical Smoothie Cafe can be relied on in good times, and bad. Even when faced with a challenging health litigation, Tropical Smoothie’s leadership immediately took responsibility and corrected their mistake. With such responsible leadership, the brand has, naturally, recovered well. “We’re the biggest brand you’ve never heard of,” says CEO Charles Watson.
According to Franchise Grade, Tropical Smoothie Cafe has an Initial Franchise Fee of $30,000 and recommends a total investment of between roughly $200,000 and $550,000 with $5,000 – $41,500 of working capital. Their royalty fee is 6.0%. Their Franchise Grade is A.
3. Scooter’s Coffee
Scooter’s Coffee is a drive-thru coffee chain founded in 1998 by Dan and Linda Eckles, and its past few years have been big. Now at more than 400 stores nationwide as of February 2022, it’s far outgrown its origins as a single drive-thru coffee shop in Bellevue, Nebraska. For reference, their 2020 Franchise Disclosure Document listed only 238. This year, Dan Eckles thinks they can add another 200 locations.
What’s with the growth?
To explain their success, Eckles points to their focus on their core values: integrity, love, humility, and courage. “We hire people based on those core values, we sell franchises to people who believe in those core values, and I think that just having good people around us all the time is what’s helped us grow the business,” Eckles said in a recent Omaha World-Herald interview.
To strengthen that success and better support franchisees, they’ve spent time strengthening the core team at the corporate level. In addition to augmenting their HR, marketing, and operations teams, they’ve taken steps to become experts at every part of the business from distribution to baking. It’s all part of their commitment to their original business principle: “Amazing People, Amazing Drinks. . . Amazingly Fast!”
Bill Black, Scooter’s CMO, takes this commitment to the next level. In a recent interview with Franchising.com, he notes: “Coffee is unlike any other consumer product… Sometimes we are the first human interaction they see in the morning on their way to work, school, etc. That first morning connection is so important, and getting that connection right builds loyalty. We know that our audience is extremely loyal and we want to get to know them.” With that kind of serious customer commitment, it would be hard NOT to see growth.
According to Franchise Grade, Scooter’s Coffee has an Initial Franchise Fee of $40,000 and recommends a total investment of between $390,000 and $685,000 with $10,000 – $30,000 of working capital. Their royalty fee is 6.0%. Their Franchise Grade is A.
2. Biggby Coffee
Biggby is a 280-unit chain based out of Michigan that was founded in 1995. They began franchising in 1999 when several interested parties mistook them for a larger national chain. Given the founders’ love of coaching, franchising seemed like a great fit.
The past couple of years have been good for Biggby’s. In 2021 alone, they grew 29%, 20% of which was from additional unit sales. Given that Biggby’s does not sell multiple units to first-time franchisees, the growth is both a positive sign about their franchisor-franchisee relationship, and their commitment to healthy (as opposed to runaway) growth.
Despite being in an industry with heavy competition, CEO Bob Fish is confident that the brand will thrive through iteration and innovation. “Both from a product perspective, from a marketing perspective, and frankly from a cultural perspective,” Fish said recently on the podcast A Deeper Dive. “We were a company that always had a sort of lighthearted, have fun, be happy kind of culture. Today our culture really rests in this idea that we exist to support you in building a life you love– whether we’re talking about our consumer, our baristas, our owner/operators, that is a fundamental component to who we are.”
Biggby’s walks their talk. The brand recently chose to transition to farm-direct coffee instead of purchasing their coffee through brokers. And not just any farm can join — according to Michelle Fish, wife of CEO Bob Fish, “We’re interested in how they treat their workers — what housing is like, whether they have running water, whether they have meals and food provided. Then there’s the planet component — how they’re treating the soil, is there soil conservation, are they composting? The third criteria is simply, ‘Are they investing in the community they live in?'” By cutting out the middleman and buying farm direct, Biggby doesn’t only aim to save on costs. Instead, it’s passing some of those savings onto the farmers themselves.
According to Franchise Grade, Biggby Coffee has an Initial Franchise Fee of $20,000 and recommends a total investment of between $290,000 and $380,000 with $5,000 – $40,000 of working capital. Their royalty fee is 6.0%. Their Franchise Grade is A.
Who can say no to a delicious, fresh-baked cookie? That’s what founders Jason McGowan and Sawyer Hemsley figured when they began Crumbl as a side-hustle in 2017. Referred to as “The Apple Store of cookies,” Crumbl is a boutique cookie store featuring a regularly rotating menu — all available in-store, for delivery, takeout, and more. They’ve opened more than 300 bakeries across the United States and attracted more than 4.3 million followers on TikTok.
Their key to success?
Their commitment to their mission statement and focus on building scalable systems.
Crumbl’s mission is to bring friends and family together over the world’s best box of cookies. With that in mind, they intentionally made their cookies oversized — in other words, the perfect size for sharing. They even sell a cookie cutter, an accessory for frequent buyers to cut their delivered cookies into four equal quarters.
This focus on their central mission has allowed them to create a flawless customer experience both in store and out.
There’s a reason Crumbl has grown hand over fist in five years. When building systems, they weren’t only thinking about making it easy for customers to get as many delicious cookies as possible. They were also thinking about systems that help their employees, systems that would scale not just into next year, but into the future.
“We’re not just a bakery,” said Hemsley. “We’re a tech-driven bakery.”
That’s why Hemsley made sure they created a store experience that excited not only customers, but franchising partners, too. “All of our processes, whether it’s marketing or technology… we thought about differently.” This included their recipe-delivery methods, their open floor plans, and their training processes. As a result, Crumbl has the lowest franchisee turnover rate of this year’s featured franchises.
According to Franchise Grade, Crumbl has an Initial Franchise Fee of $25,000 and recommends a total investment of between $230,000 and $575,000 with $10,000 of working capital. Their royalty fee is 8.0%. Their Franchise Grade is A.
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