Triple Threat

Think franchising is all burgers and maid services? These three franchisees will prove you wrong with their quirky companies.
Magazine Contributor
5 min read

This story appears in the January 2002 issue of Entrepreneurs Start-Ups magazine. Subscribe »

Karen & Kevin Push, Franchisees of Bad Ass Coffee Co.
It all started after a chance encounter with a little coffee shop with big dreams and a spunky name. In 1994, Bad Ass Coffee Co. in Kona, Hawaii, caught the eye of Karen Push's husband, Kevin, as he strolled through town. Amused by the name, he went in. Five days later, the Pushes bought the location as licensees. With Kevin, 46, taking care of the books and Karen, 52, behind the counter, they eventually became the company's first franchisees.

Karen attributes the chain's success to its name, which honors the donkeys that hauled loads of coffee beans along Kona's mountains, the only place in America that grows coffee. "It's what makes us who we are," she says. "We're Bad Ass, as opposed to something boring like Karen's Coffee."

Check out Bad Ass Coffee Co. in our franchise directory, or visit our Franchise 500®.

Aside from paying royalty fees and acquiring new merchandise, the transition was smooth for the Pushes. The move was also smart for Bad Ass. With profit margins benefiting from sales of both coffee and souvenirs, which include plush donkeys stuffed with coffee beans, Bad Ass coffee shops have since sprung up nationwide. And after seven years in the business, Karen has become a sort of guru for franchisees seeking guidance.

With their first-franchisee status, the Pushes feel a special relationship with the corporate office, as though their store is the favorite child of the Bad Ass family. "I feel pretty special, and they treat me pretty well," Karen says.

And while other coffee shops have come and gone in Kona, the Pushes' is living up to its attitudinal name. Although Karen works hard to keep Bad Ass going, she has fun with it, too.

"It's pretty funny when I answer the phone, especially with wrong numbers," Karen says, laughing "On the whole, I think people who come in get a kick out of it."

John Nastav, Franchisee of Crescent City Beignets

To New Orleans natives, a beignet is more than a square fried piece of dough coated with powdered sugar-it's culture and history. So how does this Southern favorite make it in urban Chicago?

It's the challenge John Nastav was prepared to face when he bought a Crescent City Beignets franchise in the Chicago area. When Nastav, 55, opened his doors a few months ago in Lincoln Park, he figured customers would come in and say, "You're selling beig-whats?" Instead, he discovered that Chicagoans are big beignet fans. "We're shocked," he says. "The majority of people know what they are."

Though Nastav figures these instant customers have visited New Orleans, he also markets the product to reach those who aren't in the know. His direct advertising, consisting mostly of fliers and mailers, targets the local hospital, colleges and schools. Plus, he's got a publicist on the case.

Nastav first patronized Crescent City Beignets while visiting Texas, where the franchise was born in July 1997. CEO of a construction company specializing in large plants, oil refineries and steel mills, Nastav jumped into the restaurant business without any prior experience. "It somehow struck me as something the people of Chicago would like," says Nastav, "so I thought I'd give it a whirl."

Surprisingly, the biggest obstacle in transporting the concept has been not the cultural factor, but the climate factor. At press time, Nastav expected sales, which were just below the break-even point, to boom as the city cooled down, forecasting between $500,000 and $1 million for 2001.

"We know now not to open stores unless we can get at least three months of cool weather," says Nastav. When it's hot, he explains, "people don't want to leave their house."

Don Swedo & Don Herborn, Franchisees of EagleRider Motorcycle Rental

Don Swedo, 42, calls it his secret squirrel mission. Posing as a customer at EagleRider Motorcycle Rental, which specializes in Harley Davidson rentals and guided tours, Swedo (below left) was able to rate their customer service, appearance and flow of the company before buying his own franchise location. What he saw he liked, but Swedo's covert operation was just the first step he took to making sure EagleRider was the right franchise for him.

"[The franchisor] had done all the hard work," he says. "Their European connections [alone] would take years to establish."

Next Swedo toured all the EagleRider franchises in an effort to get the full flavor of the company, asking specifically about problems and seeking recommendations. He spoke with competing franchises and read all the press material he could get his hands on. He even called customers.

Swedo and partner Don Herborn, 35, opened their first EagleRider franchise in San Diego in April 1999 and now own four units. So what advice would Swedo give to other prospective franchisees just starting their research missions? "It's stupid to learn from your own experiences when you could learn from others. That's not time-conducive," he says. "The idea is to hit the ground running."

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