Why Noodles & Co. Joined Black Franchise Ownership Program | Franchise News

Noodles & Company, a fast-casual pasta concept with about 450 locations, signed on along with Saladworks parent company WOWorks to join the Pathways to Black Franchise Ownership, a program designed to create 100 Black-owned franchise restaurants by the end of 2023. The development training program was launched in October 2020 by the Multicultural Foodservice & Hospitality Alliance and 4thMVMT with a $2.5 million commitment from PepsiCo.

“Often, when you try to combine franchising and a diversity initiative, the typical solution is, well, we’ll just lower the initial fee to franchisees of color or veterans or some other underrepresented group, which historically has never really worked or been impactful to communities of color as a whole,” said John Ramsay, who joined Noodles & Co. in November 2020 as the vice president of franchise sales.

The Pathways program connects franchise brands that sign on with Black leaders in the restaurant industry who haven’t had the opportunity or resources to own a franchise before.

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John Ramsay joined Noodles & Co. in November of 2020 as vice president of franchise sales.

“We’re not just tapping into somebody who already has 20 restaurants, for example, but really it’s about if we’re able to put together a team for a franchise group,” Ramsay said, which could include “somebody with operations experience but doesn’t have access to capital, then another partner that does have access to capital, and another partner actively involved in real estate. It’s creating those partnerships, identifying within these communities who these folks are with a level of interest and putting them together.”

Noodles & Co. slowed down franchise development initiatives for many years to focus on fundamentals such as menu innovation, operations and repositioning the brand for takeout and delivery, Ramsay said. That led to improved profit margins at the restaurant level, and now Noodles has large territories open and is ready to scale, hopefully with multi-unit operators who will develop entire markets, he continued.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that this is going to be a big part of our growth moving forward,” Ramsay said, because the new markets Noodles has identified to develop align perfectly with MFHA’s program, such as Atlanta and Houston.

Though the team at Noodles has not spoken directly with any prospective franchisees yet, MFHA is in talks with candidates. However, “we’ve met with several folks in the lending communities, the college university systems and vendors who want to partner and be part of this initiative,” Ramsay added. “It’s a collaborative effort, and we’re looking at multiple avenues to talk to people, then I think we’ll learn from those as we start to build the model.”

Ramsay, a 30-year franchising veteran, was introduced to Noodles & Co. 20 years ago when one of his coworkers at the time became the first franchisee in California. Throughout his career, Ramsay worked with MFHA founder and president Gerry Fernandez on franchise diversity programs and stayed in touch. The HR team at Noodles & Co. coincidentally formed a relationship with Fernandez about two years ago to help with diversity and inclusion efforts, and the pieces were put together after Ramsay joined the team last year.

“Franchising is a good way to get into business, and the most successful format for business development. No sector has made more minority billionaires than franchising, but we don’t tell that story,” Fernandez told Franchise Times for the 2021 June/July cover story detailing how the franchise industry is tackling diversity and inclusion.

Ramsay recognizes this is a long-term partnership, he added, because it will take time to build a franchisee pipeline. The program takes into account that the way most people get into franchising is through family/generational wealth, which is lacking in Black communities because of the impacts of Jim Crow era laws and opportunities being withheld.

“Knowing that, we then have to change our mindset of recruitment efforts,” Ramsay said. “We’re not just going out to recruit people who have capital, but recognizing this is a longer-term initiative.”

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