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George is on the left, McKinley on the right.

Empire Franchise Group launches to grow small, emerging brands

Seven restaurant concepts are under the group’s umbrella

A new Atlanta-based franchising company is looking to grow small, emerging restaurant brands.

Empire Franchise Group is the new entity from the merger of holding companies operated by Dennis McKinley of Detroit Equities and Greg George of Rising Phoenix Group. The deal will pull seven restaurant brands under the Empire umbrella, including Buzzed Bull Creamery, Roll On In Sushi Burritos & Bowls, Mr. Bagel Meister, Berry’s Cheesesteaks, Burrito Shak, Thumbs Up Diner and Peño Grill.

Co-founder McKinley, whose Detroit Equities also runs the restaurant concepts Cru Hookah Lounge and the Original Hot Dog Factory separately, will serve as CEO. McKinley is also somewhat of a celebrity in Atlanta as the fiancé of  “Real Housewives of Atlanta” star Porsha Williams.

George said the goal is to invest in small, emerging brands with fewer than five locations, including possible acquisitions. In addition to growth through franchising, Empire is also considering acquisitions, he said.

“We take brands that are on fire from two locations to 200,” he said. “Our specialty is identifying emerging brands that are not the average sandwich shop or pizza brand.”

Thumbs Up Diner, for example, a 35-year-old Atlanta institution near the Martin Luther King Jr. historic district, has grown over the last year to 10 locations, he said. “They do $750,000 to $1.5 million in sales,” said George.

One goal is to build a franchise company that welcomes diversity among its franchisees, George said. 

“We want to open opportunity to everyone, all races,” said George. “Our passion is to help … maybe someone that someone else wouldn’t talk to, to help them realize the American dream.”

George said the partners look for eight factors in a potential franchise brand: A great name; great food; an aesthetically pleasing/clean design; superior customer service; low food costs; low labor costs; great locations and savage marketers.

“If you leave out any of those eight things, you’re dead,” he said.

Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected]

Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout

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