Inspirational stories of how restaurant brands came to be abound in the foodservice industry, but Ellianos Coffee may have one of the most unique. Though the drive-thru coffee franchise now boasts multi-million dollar sales, with 23 locations open and over 80 more in development, it all started with just $100.
The Ellianos story began over 40 years ago when now-Ellianos-president and founder Scott Stewart received a $100 savings bond gifted to him by his grandmother. Inspired by a trip to the Pacific Northwest in the early 2000s, Stewart and his wife Pam returned home to Lake City, Florida, and decided to take that savings bond he had received 20 years prior and turn it into a coffee chain focused on serving “Italian Quality at America’s Pace.”
Having owned several of his own businesses, combined with his experience as a franchisee with a major national pizza chain, Stewart knew the ins and outs of the foodservice business. Thanks to his industry knowledge, the brand’s dedication to thoughtful growth, and its emphasis on hiring the right people, Ellianos is now a steadily growing chain. Yet while the brand is seeking new franchisees, the company hasn’t lost sight of its roots and is committed to maintaining the same thoughtful growth plans it has since its inception.
“We don’t want to grow just to grow; we want to grow the right way,” Stewart says. “My wife and I said 20 years ago that we’re going to do it right and take our time. We started that journey and built the framework, and while we want to expand, we’re prioritizing strong growth over just growing for the sake of growing.”
Rather than setting aggressive growth targets like other brands, the Ellianos team is committed to finding the right people first.
“More than past experience, we’re looking for genuine people with the right kind of fuel,” Stewart says. “We always start by asking people why they want to franchise. Some people’s fuel is helping others, to be busy, to make a difference, to feel successful, to take care of their family—this is all good fuel. Bad fuel is jealousy, pride, or arrogance. We don’t want people who just want to make money at all costs. Past experience is helpful, and the financial ability to get a loan and have enough equity is important, but it really all comes down to fuel.”
When a person has the right fuel, Stewart says, the goal is to find their passions and get out of their way so they can develop new skills and take on new challenges while still offering support programs to help them in their journey. These strong support programs have, in part, resulted in very satisfied franchisees. In fact, in a recent survey of Ellianos’ franchisees conducted by a third party, over 90 percent said they would recommend franchising with the brand to a friend.
The second most important factor for a potential Ellianos franchisee is location. Though the brand has received interest from potential investors across the country, the coffee chain’s leadership team is committed to offering each of its franchisees one-on-one support, including in-person assistance. This means a new territory must be close enough to be supported by the existing Ellianos network, and potential franchisees must live close enough to their proposed stores to offer their own support to store staff.
Greg Pruitt, vice president of marketing at Ellianos, says the right franchisee is also community-oriented.
“We want to pick the right franchisees in the right locations,” Pruitt says. “A lot of our franchisees are very involved in their stores. In every organization, employees look from the top down to understand a brand’s goals and priorities. When you have friendly bosses who are enjoying work, you also have happy employees. We want to be a light in each community and help that community feel like they’ve got something special.”
-By Peggy Carouthers
To learn more, visit ellianos.com