Lee’s Famous Recipe Chicken owner LFR Chicken LLC has had a busy start to 2023 with the recent purchase of four units in Fort Wayne, Indiana from retiring, second-generation operators Tim and Carol Hagan. Since the acquisition of the brand in June of 2021, Lee’s parent company has now purchased a total of 16 existing restaurants from transitioning franchisees. Lee’s CEO Ryan Weaver says the brand is continuing to put “skin in the game to create better alignment with franchisees,” keeping their commitment to invest in the brand and drive growth.
Lee’s is an established name with approximately 130 locations in the U.S. and Canada. It was originally founded in 1966 by “the Colonel’s” nephew Lee Cummings and business partner Harold Omer in Lima, Ohio. Coincidentally, the two Lee’s units in Lima were the first units that were reacquired by the brand in 2021 from longtime successful franchisees that were getting out of the business. For Lee’s fans, the sale of the brand two years ago hasn’t impacted the products that are key to the success of the company. But, there have been changes going on behind the scenes that will take Lee’s to new levels for future generations of fans and franchisees.
Seven of these acquired corporate units are in the Miami Valley area of Ohio and were purchased from Scott and Kim Griffith of New Carlisle in 2022. The Griffiths were second-generation Lee’s franchisees who are still active in their community and have family members that have continued with the business. “Lee’s is a brand that allows you to make a difference in your community. The business has been intact here for over 50 years. We had more than 160 employees, many of whom are still with the business, and two of the locations serve as certified training units for new franchisees and operators. We care about our Lee’s family,” Scott says. “It was bittersweet for Kim and me because we met through Lee’s, we worked for my parents’ Lee’s business for 20 years, and it has been our life as operators for the past 30 years.”
Prior to selling, the Griffiths experienced double-digit sales increases and record drive-thru sales, and they say the local units and brand have a positive future. “We believe the recipe and superior products are the foundation of the brand. Lee’s has simplified the process of preparing menu items and kept the product quality high and consistent,” Scott says.
Purchasing stores from successful operators is one of the ways Weaver will keep that high level of quality by testing brand innovations in the company-owned units. They also purchased two Ocala, Florida locations from 47-year Lee’s operators John and Susie Stilwell. John came into the business at the encouragement of founder Lee Cummings who asked him to consider becoming a franchisee in 1985. Stilwell’s work over the years was recognized within the system, and he and his wife worked in the stores until the time of the sale saying they always felt like they were “part of the American dream.”
Weaver says that dream will live on as the system continues to grow both through acquisitions and the opening of new locations. The first of at least 12 new Detroit-area stores recently opened in Livonia, MI as a part of the largest development deal in the history of the Lee’s brand. “The vision and the potential for Lee’s growth is very real. As Scott Griffith would say, we’re ‘building on the backs of those who’ve gone before us,’ and we look forward to continuing to work with talented and engaged franchisees,” Weaver says. “We’re committed to adding new restaurants, continuing to invest in our restaurant and corporate teams, and upgrading the in-store experience. It’s already paying off as Lee’s continues to perform well against our national competitors.” He adds that additional Lee’s growth announcements are expected in the coming months.