Only three people in the world know the dessert brand’s beloved frozen custard recipe. But it’s developed a recipe for franchise success that is equally potent.

There are a lot of franchise brands that talk the talk when it comes to being a family business, but Abbott’s Frozen Custard walks the walk. Founded by Arthur Abbott in 1902 and headquartered in Rochester, New York, the frozen dessert brand has been family-owned—and serving up delicious treats—ever since.

Brenden Drew knows the story better than anyone. Now the vice president of business development, his mother, Gail Drew, is the company’s president, while the COO of the company, Robert Amico, has been with Abbott’s Frozen Custard for over 45 years. About six years ago, Drew was a CPA in a separate industry, building a path toward becoming a CFO at a company somewhere. That’s when he started to get the itch to join the family business and help build up Abbott’s franchising partnerships—he believed the brand was a sleeping giant that could grow in a massive way.

That belief has proved prescient: after signing franchise agreements with eight new owners during his first couple of years on the job, Drew has recently signed seven more multi-unit franchise owners. One of them is a former executive of brands such as Dickey’s BBQ and Papa John’s, who inked a deal to open 100 Abbott’s Frozen Custard stands. Even that relationship was born out of family ties—the leader of the franchisee group had known somebody at Abbott’s for over two decades.

“You find so many people within this brand who have been here for 15-plus years,” Drew says. “Most of them don’t share our last name but they’re all truly family to us. There’s not a thing we won’t do for them, and in return there’s not a thing they won’t do for the brand. We all bleed Abbott’s blue.”

But Drew knows deep family ties alone do not make a successful franchise. He was bullish on the opportunity to build the brand from its current 36-unit status into something much bigger for a variety of reasons. First, the product: the brand is built around a secret recipe that only three people in the world know. How well-guarded is that recipe? Drew himself doesn’t even know it, but he can relay that it’s based on “some of the most wholesome natural dairy—we love our cows so much,” Drew says. “They’re something we also treat like family.”

Drew and his team all believe Abbott’s has the best frozen custard in the category. With tried and true favorites like Black Raspberry, Salty Caramel, or the famous Chocolate Almond, the menu also boasts everything from a traditional Hot Fudge Sundae to Root Beer Milkshakes. The brand’s signature novelty item, however, is its Turtle. Invented by Drew’s grandmother in the 1960s, the Turtle features a chocolate-covered treat full of Spanish peanuts, fudge, and chocolate or vanilla custard.

A second reason Drew believes the franchising model will take off is due to the brand’s takeout-ready products. In a world where third-party delivery and off-premises sales have begun to dominate the headlines, Abbott’s Frozen Custard has a variety of frozen treats all made in house that sell as retail items—including pints of custard, chipwheels, and cakes—that help pad the bottom line. Finally, Drew says Abbott’s Frozen Custard is on the verge of something big due to the segment’s potential.

“Frozen custard has been around for more than 100 years but it’s still a growing niche in the market,” Drew says. “We’re as old as apple pie and baseball—obviously frozen custard is not a fad, it has staying power, yet there’s so much white space in the industry right now. You might have four or five true frozen-custard-only brands and we’re all a little different. But there’s only one that’s been around since 1902 and has a secret family recipe.”

Now the brand is looking to grow with franchisees throughout the country who want to be a part of the Abbott’s Frozen Custard family. Every franchisee can expect a full five days of hands-on immersive training at the brand’s headquarters in Rochester. Once construction is complete on a franchisee’s store, onsite training takes place with owners and their new crew members being personally trained by some of the most seasoned experts in the industry for two weeks prior to and through the grand opening.

But more to the point, Drew highlights that franchisees can expect a visit from members of the C-suite once every 60 days, in addition to scheduled calls, and various other communications from the corporate team. There’s an annual owner’s meeting each franchisee is invited to, while the CEO through the entire franchise support team make themselves available via phone at a moment’s notice.

“From our perspective, we really believe this brand can grow to more than 500 stands someday,” Drew says. “We want to grow it the right way, though. We are finding the right people to open stands in the right place, at the right time, in a way that makes sense for everybody.”

For more on franchising with Abbott’s Frozen Custard, visit the company’s franchising site.

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