Atlanta Subway franchisee Chris Williams was just 26 when he purchased his first Subway unit last summer. Less than two years before his store’s grand opening in July, he had been homeless and was living in his car due to financial hardships.

In 2018, though, Williams landed a full-time job in Atlanta, and, soon after, began saving to buy a Subway franchise. Only 10 months later, he had amassed enough cash to buy his own store.

“For the past four years, I’ve wanted to become a Subway franchise owner. I wanted to create additional streams of income for my family and ultimately be my own boss,” Williams says. “I chose Subway because of the brand’s longevity, loyal customer base, solid reputation, and great-tasting food.”

Age-wise, Williams is a rarity in the world of franchising. According to FranDATA, the average age of franchise owners ranges from 45 to 54 years old, with under 12 percent of franchisees aged 34 or younger.

While Williams’ tale may seem like a happily-ever-after story, buying his first unit was just the beginning. In addition to adjustments and challenges that every first-time franchisee must face, Williams had to overcome obstacles caused specifically by his age.

“When I opened my restaurant, there were some employees who didn’t want to work for me because I was so young,” he says. “But that motivates me to work even harder and prove that I’m more than capable.”

Husband-and-wife team John and Meggie Schissler were 28 and 29, respectively, when they opened their first Chicken Salad Chick unit and brought the chicken salad chain to their home state of Texas. Neither had previous experience in franchising or foodservice, instead sharing backgrounds in business. Now, they own and operate a total of five units.

Like Williams, their young age brought about a few bumps in their franchising journey. The couple say that others in foodservice were skeptical of their abilities, with some in the industry giving them reasons why their lack of management experience and youth could hinder their success.

The duo’s secret weapon was a love for the Chicken Salad Chick brand—as well as an in-depth knowledge of the chain thanks to Meggie Schissler’s former position in the corporate office. Before getting into franchising, they lived in Alabama near the original Chicken Salad Chick location and regularly dined there, developing a familiarity with not only the product, but also the lifestyle offered by the concept.

“From a financial standpoint, especially with Meggie working at the corporate office, we knew it was a profitable business,” John Schissler says. “Beyond that, we saw a lot of the same values in the brand—we were young at the time and didn’t have children, but we knew this concept would fit us when we had a family someday. The stores are closed on Sundays, and the lunch and dinner hours are reasonable.”

Aside from devoting intensive research to brands of interest, the Schisslers recommend that young, first-time franchisees have a healthy surplus of determination at the ready. Learning the ropes requires perseverance, but, with hard work, new operators can emerge with a stable of prosperous operational practices and a new knowledge of their individual strongpoints.

“Based on our past experiences and our personalities, there were areas we thought we would gravitate to in the store, but then we naturally gravitated towards other areas. You learn how to support your partner and your team in ways that you never would have imagined otherwise in the adjustment process,” Meggie Schissler says.

Millennial franchisee Shairoz Lakhani owns and operates three Wingstop locations in Texas with her husband, Avez Maredia, and one Tin Drum Asian Kitchen store in Houston with Maredia and a college friend, Faizan Momin. She echoes the Schisslers’ advice to young franchisees, adding that those who want to have their own units should begin preparing early, even before they have the means financially to purchase a franchise.

Lakhani, Maredia, and Momin discovered Tin Drum when they were college students in Atlanta, developing an early affinity for the brand. Furthermore, Lakhani grew up around foodservice—her father worked in the industry for his entire life and owned several quick-serve franchises—so even as she pursued a career in the corporate world, she knew to keep an eye on franchising, learning about Tin Drum and her other favorite brands and gleaning knowledge from mentors when she could.

“Take the opportunities to learn, even if you haven’t graduated college yet, or even if you don’t have the financial capacity at the moment,” Lakhani says. “Reach out to franchisees and let them know you’re interested in what they do, work in foodservice part-time, dine at a spot you like, and get the word out—building those relationships early leads to future opportunities and partnerships.”

While it can be intimidating to enter the industry as a young person, Lakhani says embracing one’s youth can be an added edge in franchising. Those on the younger side typically have less managerial experience, but they also tend to have fresher outlooks and the coveted ability to capture the business of similarly aged customers.

“I think brands actually look at younger generations and really breathe in that new perspective, because that’s how they’re going to grow. It’s been refreshing to be a part of Tin Drum and Wingstop, who really ask for our opinions and want direction. It’s a forward step,” Lakhani says.

The biggest perk of entering the industry early in life? The potential for a lifelong career with a favorite brand. Lakhani, Maredia, and Momin have four more Tin Drum restaurants slated for openings in the near future; the Schisslers are continuously building on their Chicken Salad Chick holdings, citing the potential to become “brand specialists” as a central motivator to staying with the poultry-centric chain; and Williams plans to own and operate additional Subway units in the years to come.

“One day I hope that I can leave behind a legacy that my family and future children can be proud of,” Williams says. “I want to inspire people and become a mentor for other young entrepreneurs joining the Subway family, my employees, and my community.”

Business Advice, Franchising, Story, Chicken Salad Chick, Subway, Tin Drum