Michael Guiffre, a former Dunkin’ franchisee, plans to open 30 Qdoba restaurants in south Florida after signing the largest development deal in the company’s history.
“He’s developed restaurants in one of the most complicated markets in the country,” said Qdoba Chief Development Officer Jim Sullivan of Guiffre’s qualifications. Guiffre owned 10 Dunkin’ locations in Manhattan until 2018, when he sold the business to escape the high rents and high taxes of New York City.
“I always knew I loved quick-service restaurants and wanted to get back into it,” said Guiffre. He praised the work of Qdoba’s executive chef, Katy Velazquez, and said Mexican food “is a very popular taste with the younger generation.”
The 30-unit deal “is a big bite” to take, he acknowledged, but Guiffre has plenty of time to make it happen. By contract, he has 10 years to build all 30 restaurants. He aims to do it in seven. He cited his background in construction and his experience building and remodeling several Dunkin’ restaurants as evidence he can hit that goal.
But it’s still early days for the deal, announced in February. Guiffre said he’s in negotiations for at least one location and is in the process of hiring an architect and general contractor. He’s looking for locations on main roads and nearby large concentrations of young people, such as college campuses. His agreement covers North Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.
With roughly 740 restaurants, Qdoba is the largest franchised quick-service Mexican chain in the country by unit count. But it lags Chipotle, the unfranchised industry leader, by more than 2,000 locations. Sullivan said the brand is on a mission to narrow the gap and reach 2,000 units.
Qdoba has been stuck around the 700-unit mark for years, although that number has edged upwards since 2017 when Jack in the Box sold Qdoba to private equity firm Apollo Global Management. Sullivan said 2022 would be the first year Qdoba posts net unit growth in “several years.”
In pursuit of growth, he said the company identified 2,800 “seed market opportunities”—territories that have the proper traffic and demographic mix to support a Qdoba—in the United States. The company is taking a two-pronged approach as it encourages existing operators to develop new units and works to sign new franchisees.
Sullivan said the brand prefers to sign multi-unit development deals with new franchisees, “but it’s not a knockout” if they don’t commit to a large agreement. Qdoba “wants to put the right partners in the right markets,” he said, and isn’t afraid to add a small, one-unit territory if the ‘zee is a good fit. It’s not a situation he often encounters, though. The company does well among multi-brand franchisees looking to add a Mexican concept to their portfolio, he said.
The rationale behind signing such a large deal in Florida is simple. The brand “is a good fit anywhere,” said Sullivan, and Guiffre, tired of living and working in the New York City area, was moving to Florida.
With just 13 Qdoba’s in the state, according to the company’s website, the market is far from saturated, and it has a significant population of transplants from up North, where the concept has a much stronger presence. Those transplants “give us instant brand awareness,” said Sullivan.
Qdoba was founded in Denver, and with more than 70 restaurants in the state, Colorado remains the company’s largest market. Sullivan described Qdoba’s geographic presence as “scattered but concentrated,” and identified Boston, Seattle and Wisconsin as areas where the company has a significant presence.
The go-anywhere ethos extends to the company’s real estate strategy. Sullivan emphasized Qdoba’s real estate flexibility as a differentiator for the brand. “If you come to me and say, I‘ve got 1,600 square feet of unique space, we’ll make that work for Qdoba,” he said. The first step in evaluating an unorthodox location is the feasibility study, an acid test for whether or not all the required storage, equipment, make lines and dining space can fit in a given location.
For his part, Guiffre is excited about partnering with Qdoba as it pushes for growth. “We got into it late,” he said of his Dunkin’ venture. “We’re getting in early on this.”