Michael Guiffre, a former Dunkin’ franchisee, plans to open 30 Qdoba restaurants in South Florida after signing the biggest development deal in the company’s history.
“He’s developed restaurants in one of the most complicated markets in the country,” Jim Sullivan, Qdoba’s chief development officer, said of Guiffre’s qualifications. Guiffre owned 10 Dunkin’ locations in Manhattan until 2018, when he sold the business to escape New York’s high rents and high taxes.
“I always knew I loved quick service restaurants and wanted to get back into it,” Guiffre said. He praised the work of Qdoba’s executive chef, Katy Velazquez, and said Mexican cuisine “is a very popular taste with the younger generation”.
The 30-unit deal “is a big bite” to take, he acknowledged, but Guiffre has plenty of time to get there. By contract, he has 10 years to build all 30 restaurants. It aims to do so in seven years. He cited his construction experience and his experience building and renovating several Dunkin’ restaurants as proof that he can achieve this goal.
But it is still early days for the deal, announced in February. Guiffre said he was in negotiations for at least one location and was in the process of hiring an architect and general contractor. He looks for locations on major roads and near large concentrations of young people, such as college campuses. Its agreement covers North Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.
With approximately 740 restaurants, Qdoba is the largest franchised Mexican fast food chain in the country by number of units. But it lags Chipotle, the non-franchise industry leader, by more than 2,000 locations. Sullivan said the brand was on a mission to close the gap and hit 2,000 units.
Qdoba has been stuck around the 700 unit mark for years, although that number has increased slightly since 2017 when Jack in the Box sold Qdoba to private equity firm Apollo Global Management. Sullivan said 2022 will be the first year Qdoba has shown net unit growth in “multiple years”.
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In pursuit of growth, he said the company has identified 2,800 “seed market opportunities” — territories that have the right traffic and demographic mix to support a Qdoba — in the United States. The company takes a two-pronged approach, as it encourages existing operators to develop new units and strives to recruit new franchisees.
Sullivan said the brand prefers to sign multi-unit development deals with new franchisees, “but it’s not a knockout blow” if they don’t commit to a significant deal. Qdoba “wants to put the right partners in the right markets”, he said, and is not afraid to add a small territory of one unit if the ‘zee suits him. It’s not a situation he encounters often, however. The company does well among multi-brand franchisees looking to add a Mexican concept to their portfolio, he said.
The rationale for signing such an important deal in Florida is simple. The brand “fits in well anywhere,” Sullivan said, and Guiffre, tired of living and working in the New York area, was moving to Florida.
With only 13 Qdoba in the state, according to the company’s website, the market is far from saturated and has a large transplant population from the North, where the concept has a much stronger presence. These transplants “give us instant brand awareness,” Sullivan said.
Qdoba was founded in Denver, and with more than 70 restaurants in the state, Colorado remains the company’s largest market. Sullivan described Qdoba’s geographic presence as “dispersed but focused” and identified Boston, Seattle and Wisconsin as areas where the company has a significant presence.
The spirit of going everywhere extends to the company’s real estate strategy. Sullivan highlighted Qdoba’s real estate flexibility as a differentiator for the brand. “If you come to me and say I have 1,600 square feet of unique space, we’ll make it work for Qdoba,” he said. The first step in evaluating an unorthodox location is the feasibility study, a litmus test of whether all the required storage, equipment, manufacturing lines and catering space can fit in one location. given.
For his part, Guiffre is delighted to partner with Qdoba because it pushes for growth. “We got into it late,” he said of his business Dunkin’. “We intervene early on this subject.”