For almost 70 years, Kelly’s Roast Beef has been a household name in Boston, earning national attention in pop culture and maintaining a loyal following. Pre-pandemic, the brand took over the headlines in Boston after the announcement of its franchise opportunity. This news created excitement amongst Bostonians, some wishing that a new location would open up near them, and others hopeful to open a Kelly’s Roast Beef of their own. While Kelly’s restaurants are adapting to safely serve customers amid COVID-19, the brand’s franchising efforts are adapting as well.
The iconic chain—which proudly lays claim to having invented the modern roast beef sandwich —is looking to bring a taste of its hometown to new communities throughout the Northeast and beyond. While initial plans are focused solely on New England, the brand has received a lot of interest from other markets, including South Florida.
Neil Newcomb, CEO of Kelly’s Roast Beef Franchising, is a nearly 30-year veteran of the franchise industry. He started his franchise career with McAlister’s Deli, which was founded by the Newcomb family, and then served as the head of franchising for Brixx Wood Fired Pizza until 2019. Since spearheading Kelly’s Roast Beef’s franchise opportunity, Neil has been connecting with prospective franchisees and beginning to build relationships, despite in-person limitations.
“When we announced that Kelly’s was franchising, I had never seen anything like it before,” said Newcomb. “It’s very evident that this is a brand people love and feel connected with, whether they are Boston locals or transplants who have moved to new areas. The reaction has been really exciting, and even despite the pandemic, we are building relationships with prospective franchisees who are ready to join the family.”
Since the pandemic hit, business has still been strong. All Kelly’s locations are offering delivery, and some have drive-thru and take-out options available. All staff members are getting paid an extra $2 an hour, and the brand is confident in its ability to continue growth even with social distancing in place. As for Newcomb, he is pursuing conversations with franchisees and is excited to meet with them face to face, once appropriate.
The history of Kelly’s dates back to 1951, when founders Frank McCarthy and Ray Carey first worked together at the Paul Roger House in Revere Beach. The duo decided to go into business together and opened up a hot dog stand next door while continuing to work at the inn’s restaurant. The iconic roast beef sandwich was created on a whim one night after a wedding was cancelled, and the two took the roast beef from the event over to their hot dog stand and served it on a grilled hamburger roll. Since then, the Kelly’s Roast Beef sandwich has become a local legend.
“Kelly’s Roast Beef is an iconic brand that we take a lot of pride in, so we are taking the process of adding franchisees to our family very seriously. We want to form close connections with any new owners coming on board,” added Newcomb. “The virus has made this a little bit more difficult, but I have been fielding a lot of interest and having great phone conversations with people who are interested, and look forward to meeting with them in person once it’s safe to keep things moving.”
A busy location during its peak season can sell upwards of 20,000 roast beef sandwiches a month. Across its multiple locations, Kelly’s estimates a staggering one million sandwiches sold a year. The figures are impressive, but equally impressive is that even in the face of tremendous volume, Kelly’s hasn’t gone towards a commissary set-up. Instead, each location roasts its beef in-house all through the day, ensuring that sandwiches can still be carved to order as they have been for decades. Other beloved menu items include fried clams, lobster rolls, crispy french fries, onion rings, hot dogs, and chicken finger plates.
Including a franchise fee of $40,000, the total initial investment to open a Kelly’s franchise is $900,000-$1.7 million. For the first 10 franchise agreements signed, the royalty will be 3 percent year one, 4 percent year two, and 5 percent for the remainder of the term.