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A Franchisee Who Grew Up at a Mall Food Court Mohammad Mansour worked summers at the Illinois mall. Today, he's the employer, giving back to his community in the form of jobs for youth.

By Joan Oleck

Zoup | Facebook

Franchise Players is Entrepreneur's Q&A interview column that puts the spotlight on franchisees. If you're a franchisee with advice and tips to share, email

Mohammad Mansour remembers pedalling his bike to the Orland Park Mall, in the Illinois town of the same name, where he worked in the mall's food court every summer during high school. Today, Mansour -- along with his business partner -- is the employer, no longer the employee. And chances are that the kids he hires can identify with the food fare he offers from his two ---soon to be three -- franchises at the mall: all healthy snacks, sold by kids who likely appreciate the jobs the grown-up Mansour can now offer.

Name: Mohammad Mansour and Faris Ballouta

Franchise owned: a Doc Popcorn, a Zoup! location and (soon to come) a co-branded Smoothie Factory Juice Bar/ Red Mango Yogurt Café, all in Orland Park, Illinois.

How long have you owned a franchise?

We have been franchise owners for two years now.

Related: Can Fast Food Be Healthy? One Franchise Is Proving the Point and Profiting.

Why franchising?

It was a familiar business format for me. When I was 16, I began working at the food court at Orland Square Mall in Orland Park. And I had a knack for business and customer service. Through franchising, I had a vehicle to become an owner of exciting brands in that same food court, and now I've become the employer for the next generation. Plus, the franchising industry places a heavy emphasis on offering owners like me the best assistance and experience possible, along with a supporting team to create a successful operation.

In addition, the franchising industry is constantly evolving, allowing me to continue learning new and different ways to grow my businesses.

What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?

Before becoming a franchise owner, I was a full-time college student.

Why did you choose this particular franchise?

Every franchise brand we own offers our community healthy and unique menu items, using only high-quality ingredients. For example, our new Smoothie Factory will serve fresh cold-squeezed juices made to order right in front of customers so they know that the product they are getting is as fresh as possible.

There was also a high demand for fast-casual concepts in the mall food court where all of our concepts are currently located. Having grown up in the community, I was able to build relationships with many of the business owners and mall employees over time. I listened to what the community members wanted in their mall dining experience and then decided to take the lead. We also have a great relationship with the corporate teams for our franchise brands, which helps us take care of business quickly and gives us more time to be present in in the daily business functions of each franchise to continue to build those customer relationships.

How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?

I would estimate that my business partner and I spent $350,000 for Zoup! and $200,000 for Doc Popcorn. We are currently in the process of creating the location for our new Smoothie Factory Juice Bar and Red Mango Yogurt Café and will be opening that location in the fall.

Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?

I've had on-the-job training since I was a teenager, watching firsthand how franchising worked and, more specifically, how it worked at the food court at the mall. Having grown up there, I had a vast amount of experience with the location and the community members. That really helped when it was time to research and invest in my own franchise concepts.

I focused on concepts I liked and what I thought customers would want to have at the mall. The corporate teams at each brand really helped out too, as far as site survey and marketing. When we decided to invest in a frozen yogurt opportunity, the team at BRIX Holdings helped us see greater potential in our intended location.

From there we decided to create a side-by-side location with Smoothie Factory and Red Mango to help increase the menu variety and bring even more healthy treats to Orland Park. Foot traffic and performance evaluation over the years is also helpful when you're researching what you're doing correctly and where improvements need to be made or where more experience is required.

Related: Why I Left My Fast-Food Operations Job to Open a Franchise of My Own

What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?

I did not expect that being the boss and running a few franchises would take such a mental toll. I want for all of our locations to be an important part of the community and to make sure my presence is seen at all of the locations to help foster relationships. It can be overwhelming at times. But at the end of the day, I love what I do.

What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?

I recommend controlling your passions for success, to create a work/life balance. It can be so consuming running your own franchise that sometimes you can forget to just take some time for yourself to help your body recharge. However, it is essential to rest for the sake of the business. Because if you get run down, you will not be running the franchise as efficiently as possible and it will show.

What's next for you and your business?

The new Smoothie Factory Juice Bar and Red Mango Yogurt Café is our next project, set to open later this year. Of course, we always continue to be opportunistic and keep our eyes open for new opportunities.

Related: Freshii's CEO Says McDonald's Franchisees Want to Open Healthy Shops Inside Fast-Food Restaurants

Joan Oleck

Entrepreneur Staff

Associate Editor

Joan Oleck is an associate contributors editor at Entrepreneur. She has previously worked for Business Week, Newsday and the trade magazine Restaurant Business, where a cover story she wrote won the Jesse Neal Award.

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