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    Behind the Brand

  • Quick-serves strongest franchise-holding companies

    Boddie-Noell Enterprises, Inc.

    • Founded: 1962
    • HQ: Rocky Mount, North Carolina
    • CEO/Senior Executives: Mayo Boddie, Senior Chairman; Nick Boddie, Vice Chairman; Bill Boddie, President/CEO; Mike Boddie, President– Restaurant Operations
    • Concepts: Hardee’s, Moe’s Southwest Grill, Café Carolina and Bakery, Texas Steakhouse & Saloon
    • Revenues: $320 million1
    • Total Units: Hardee’s—308; Moe’s Southwest Grill—8; Café Carolina and Bakery—6; Texas Steakhouse & Saloon—32
    • AUV: N/A


    For family-owned Boddie-Noell Enterprises, the largest franchise operator of Hardee’s restaurants in the U.S., the Southeast is home.

    The company owns 308 Hardee’s franchises in North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, and Virginia, controlling as much as 99 percent of the market for the chain in that state. Its holdings also include eight Moe’s Southwest Grill franchises in North Carolina and Virginia, and six of its own Café Carolina and Bakery specialty café concepts in North Carolina.

    “We’re very comfortable in the Southeast,” says Mike Boddie, president of restaurant operations.

    And Boddie-Noell plans to continue settling into its home territory, setting up to build at least eight more Hardee’s and five Moe’s Southwest Grill restaurants in 2007. Boddie says the company initially signed on to build 25 Moe’s locations, and when they’ve reached that mark they hope to keep rolling.

    “We want to be able to grow this thing,” he says.

    But despite the company’s aspirations for Moe’s Southwest Grill and its other concepts, Boddie says Hardee’s is their bread and butter.

    “Our flagship is Hardee’s, it always has been,” he says.

    To maintain that focus, Boddie-Noell plans to concentrate on a bit of housekeeping for the brand. Boddie says CKE is coming out with a new remodel program his company will implement in a number of its stores. They are also testing self-service ordering kiosks in at least three Hardee’s locations in an effort to set their restaurants apart through innovation.

    “You’ve got to be different from the guy down the street to be successful these days,” Boddie says.

    Mason-Harrison-Ratliff Enterprises, LLC

    • Founded: 1974
    • HQ: Oklahoma City
    • CEO/Senior Executives: Ralph Mason, CEO/Senior Partner; Chuck Harrison, Vice President/Director of Operations/Partner; Reeder Ratliff, Vice President/ General Counsel/Partner
    • Concepts: Sonic Drive-In
    • Revenues: $337.2 million
    • Total Units: 266
    • AUV: $1.26 million


    Mason-Harrison-Ratliff Enterprises, the Sonic Drive-In franchisee group formerly known as Mason-Harrison-Jarrard, knows how to go with the flow. The company has steadily built its base of 266 restaurants—mostly in the South and Southwest—over the course of 43 years, but CEO Ralph Mason says their strategy is more about taking advantage of opportunities at hand than adhering to a master plan.

    Over the past few years, the company sold both its San Antonio, and Tulsa, Oklahoma, markets to Sonic Industries—moves Mason says were the results of offers his company simply couldn’t refuse.

    “We’re really not that conscious of store numbers,” he says. “We just had an opportunity we couldn’t turn down.”

    That opportunistic strategy that has worked well in the past continues to be the company’s plan of action.

    “We’re expanding into all markets as opportunities arise with good locations and people,” Mason says.

    And for Mason-Harrison-Ratliff, people are a large part of the equation. The company, which is Sonic’s largest franchisee group with multiple owners, co-owns many of its franchises with operators and other key partners, some of whom have been with the company for as long as 35 years.

    “Whatever success that we have is really due to our partners in the field,” Mason says. “Our real backbone, long-term, is people who have been here a long time.”

    Mason says his company has also maintained success by fostering a strong relationship with its franchisor, an assertion seconded by Nancy Love Robertson, senior vice president of franchise people development for Sonic Industries, Inc.

    “They’re one of the longest standing franchisees, and certainly our most successful,” she says. 

    Heartland Food Corp.

    • Founded: 2003
    • HQ: Downers Grove, Illinois
    • CEO/Senior Executives: Steve Wiborg, President/ CEO; Dave Dixon, COO; Joel Aaseby, CFO
    • Concepts: Burger King
    • Revenues: >$270 million
    • Total Units: 258
    • AUV: N/A


    Heartland Food Corp. made headlines in December 2003 when the company, then owned by Core Value Partners, purchased 120 Chicago-area Burger King restaurants from floundering franchisee AmeriKing, Inc. Within five weeks the restaurants, which had been operating in the red for four years, were back in the black.

    Heartland continued to acquire troubled franchises in the chain over the next couple years, boasting growth rates of 30 percent and 40 percent for 2004 and 2005, respectively. The growth slowed to 11 percent in 2006, when the company was sold to hedge fund GSO Capital Partners, but CEO Steve Wiborg says his company is back on track. With the purchase of as many as 20 stores by this past June, the company’s growth rate should again approach 30–40 percent for 2007.

    While Heartland’s growth was previously based on acquiring faltering restaurants from other franchisees, Wiborg says the future will see the company building more stores of its own.

    “Most of our growth rate going forward will be in new store development,” he says, adding that Heartland is ramping up to add around 6–8 new stores per year.

    But don’t expect to see Heartland Burger Kings popping up in your neighborhood unless you’re located in their established territories of Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, North Carolina, and South Carolina. Wiborg says the company plans to continue growing in existing markets, with primary focus on the Carolinas.