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Steven Gardner Steven Gardner is the Co-founder of QSR Franchise Development Group, a team of experts in the step-by-step process of creating, developing, and growing quick-service-restaurant (fast food) franchises. He has over 25 years of franchise development experience and has represented almost 100 brands including Chock Full o’ Nuts and Energy Kitchen. He has helped open over 1,000 franchise locations as an independent development consultant. Steven holds a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Questrom School of Business at Boston University.

Anthony LeoneAnthony Leone is the Co-founder of QSR Franchise Development Group. He is a serial entrepreneur and experienced restaurant executive with a demonstrated history of building brands. Anthony is the Winner of the Torch Award from Florida International University, given to the most distinguished alumnus in their chosen field. Anthony holds a bachelor’s degree in Hospitality Administration and Management from Florida International University.

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Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:

  • Steven Gardner talks about how his history with Franchise Consultants of America prepared him for QSR
  • Anthony Leone discusses how QSR Franchise Development Group develops infrastructure for new and developing franchises
  • How to establish culture in both small and large franchises
  • Anthony retells some of the proudest moments and achievements for their firm
  • Steven and Anthony recommend reading and viewing materials for aspiring entrepreneurs

In this episode…

In this episode of the SpotOn Series, Chad Franzen speaks with Steven Gardner and Anthony Leone about QSR Franchise Development Group. As the founders of the group, Steven and Anthony talk about the processes of developing franchises, expanding locations, and how their team of industry experts can help with every step.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

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Episode Transcript

Intro  0:04  

Welcome to the top business leaders show. Powered by Rise25 Media. We featured top founders, executives and business leaders from all over the world

Chad Franzen  0:20  

Chad Franzen here co host for this show where we feature top restaurant tours, investors and business leaders. This is part of our SpotOn Series. SpotOn has the best in class payment platform for retail and they have a flagship solution called SpotOn Restaurant where they combine marketing software and payments all in one. They’ve served everyone from larger chains like Dairy Queen and Subway to small mom and pop restaurants. To learn more, go to spot This episode is brought to you by Rise25. We help b2b businesses to get ROI clients referrals and strategic partnerships through done for you podcast. If you have a b2b business and want to build a great relationship with clients referral partners and thought leaders in your space. There’s no better way to do it than through podcasts and content marketing. To learn more, go to or email us at Steven Gardner is founder at QSR Franchise Development Group. He has over 25 years of franchise development experience and has represented almost 100 brands including Chock Full O’ Nuts, Original Soup Man, Energy Kitchen, 16 Handles, Stewart’s All American and many others. He has been responsible for over 1000 franchise locations as an independent consultant and outsource director of franchise development. Thanks so much for joining me, Steven. How are you today?

Steven Gardner  1:33  

Oh, very well, Chad. Thanks for having us. Appreciate it.

Chad Franzen  1:37  

Yeah, I’m also pleased to be joined by Anthony Leone. Hey, Anthony. I introduced Steven, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Anthony Leone  1:44  

Absolutely. Chad. name is Anthony Leone. I’ve been arrested in a restaurant field my whole life. Graduated from Florida International University, became a district manager at a very young age at Boston Market. Then I combined my knowledge of quick service restaurants, and my passion for health and fitness. And I was the founder of Energy Kitchen, where we steamed baked and grilled everything. Nothing was fried. Everything was under 500 calories. We got that brand. We built them out through non traditional sites, corporate sites and franchises. I actually we partnered up with Steve and Energy Kitchen for the development piece. About five years ago, Steve and I rolled out QSR Franchise Development Group to help emerging brands, you know, scale, anywhere between, you know, one, two or five locations. That is really a sweet spot.

Chad Franzen  2:37  

Yeah. Steven, how did you get into franchise development?

Steven Gardner  2:40  

Yeah. So about almost 30 years ago, I guess at this point, I worked for a startup company called Franchise Consultants of America was a very successful commercial real estate developer that I had known from a previous life. And he had decided to kind of switch careers. Moving on from commercial real estate was having a lot of difficulty in those years. And he started this company, we, we wound up having 30 consultants, and we represented at that particular time, over 100, franchise brands, both both in the restaurant service world, almost any hotels, anything that you can think of, and I kind of, you know, learned my way through the business at that point, it was only three years that we were active, but he spent a lot of money was a big, big spender and a big player. And we’ve learned a lot it just didn’t survive that the market at that point. And after that, I just continued to do what I had done there independently. So it was great education for me. I also started a franchise resale development program there when I was there. And I continued to do that afterwards as well, which was really ahead of the of the market. There are bigger companies that came after us ran net, ran source, entrepreneurs source rather than our existing today, but we really were the floor runner of all of that there was no we had no competition. At that point.

Chad Franzen  4:11  

Can you give me a broad view of the services that QSR Franchise Development Group provides that help to help develop and successfully manage a franchise?

Steven Gardner  4:21  

Yeah, great question. So we really take the brands pretty much from inception. So any emerging brand, that is going to need resources to develop beyond their one or three or five units. We provide all of the services from operations manuals, training manuals, legal resources, taking them through that documentation process. And then once that’s occurred, we provide a lot of strategic consulting for growth and expansion, taking them through the sales and development marketing cycle and even towards the real stateside selection process. So we’re really, really a full service, outsource resource for emerging brands, in lieu of them having to hire internally until they really have those infrastructures in place to service the growth, we provide that bridge from very efficiently and economically from inception to, to as far as they want to take us and I have many brands that I’ve taken through the whole process and continue to, to sell for many 567 years later, sometimes at that point, they’ll hire internally, and that’s great, too. But we just try to provide that strategic bridge for growth for these emerging brands and a lot of consulting, that Anthony and I provide to make sure they they grow efficiently and successfully and as safely as possible. So

Chad Franzen  5:51  

What are some of the most important elements that go into the franchise development piece? Just that part? And how do you guys help?

Steven Gardner  5:59  

Sure, well, Anthony, want to hit on the viewer side for a minute, and then we’ll, I’ll take it from there,

Anthony Leone  6:05  

I’m sure operationally, you know, a lot of emerging brands, Chad, don’t have the infrastructure to scale, or even know what it takes to scale a brand. So we really go in, we do a full analysis first to see if they’re a franchise, you know, they need to handle this. Yeah, they need to have systems into in place, if they don’t, we can build them. And then we look at them and work with their leaders, operationally, like Steve said before, through manuals to make it a very systematic process. So they could take their units, and, you know, scale them and grow their brand, you know, in the States, and then moving further, you know, internationally sometimes,

Chad Franzen  6:48  

what kind of systems are we talking about?

Steven Gardner  6:51  

Go ahead. So, really, we’re talking about everything from the creation of these manuals, their operations and training programs, we help them to create a discovery day deck presentation will work on their website to provide more more content. On that website, it’s more meaningful for future franchisees, we start to talk about marketing and lead generation and what that’s going to look like we give them a very realistic, help them to provide a realistic budget for for future expansion. A lot of some of our competitors, or some others in the industry are very good at what they do. But the budget isn’t really clearly established. And it becomes kind of sticker shock for some of these emerging brands, once they’ve got the document, you know, the money still has to be spent in order to grow the brand. And one of the major I think reasons that brands don’t develop is because of the capital restrictions and the cash flow that just isn’t there for for that expansion or for a realistic expansion.

Chad Franzen  8:03  

So what kind of goes into branding and marketing when something is just starting? How do you guys, you know, maybe provide an insight that just your average restauranteur wouldn’t be able to have when they’re just getting going on?

Steven Gardner  8:14  

I’ll let Anthony hit on that one.

Anthony Leone  8:16  

Sure. You know, as far as the branding piece, you know, we really look at what their logo is their tagline, really what they want to get out in the marketplace, their message points, Chad, you know, we look at, let’s say, their trademarks, and make sure that they’re legally, you know, up to par with our with, with our lawyers that work with that we work with that QSR Franchise Development Group to make sure that they’re really all set up, you know, to franchise their business.

Chad Franzen  8:45  

What goes into establishing the culture of a franchise, you know, you can kind of feel a certain vibe when you walk into it, even if it’s a large chain, it has a certain vibe compared to another one. What goes into establishing that?

Steven Gardner  8:57  

Yeah, that’s a great question. I’m sure we can both jump in on that. But I think the culture starts at the top right there, you you’re following the the founders, if the founders have a clear mission statement and clear culture, they have franchisees that are going to be good brand partners for them, then that translates all the way down through the company where it should and so we help to stress the importance of having a having that mission statement having a cultural fit for your franchisees and making sure that you do choose the right brand partners because if you don’t, it’s not going to work especially in the beginning. Every every every brand partner has to be a team player and fit the culture so the discovery days are helpful in that respect. Everybody gets to meet each other, feel each other out see if they are right fit as best as possible over those two hours. A discovery day so I find that to be a real deal maker or a deal breaker At the end of the day,

Chad Franzen  10:03  

when you say it starts at the top, what are some qualities or characteristics that the person at the top should have in order to establish a great culture that makes it a great place?

Anthony Leone  10:16  

Chad, I would say, a clear sense of direction, know exactly where they want to go with the brand. You know, so if you, you know, have a tenant’s of the brand. And so every decision that is made, needs to go in that direction, as far as you know, the morals and the values that they want to portray. So as far as let’s say energy, wearable, feel, look, vibe, you know, the type of employee that they’re looking for, it all goes in with those tenants, as the as the founder, and the C Suite leaders look to expand that brand.

Chad Franzen  10:53  

Can one of you give me an example of a brand that really utilized your services? And maybe you can tell me, you know, you probably did the whole put them through the whole process. Tell me what you did for them, and then how they benefited from from your guys’s services.

Steven Gardner  11:08  

Good question, who what example should we give Anthony there are several that were, I mean, there’s several that we’re working with now that are very emerging. So we have a great a great brand out of Long Island, which is vegan base called Plantwise, to great young entrepreneurs that have a really raw that had a really raw product in in development, but we really started from scratch with them. So we’re, we’re just completing working on their on their manuals at this point. And we had a lot of time to consult with them on every aspect of franchising. So over in our programs, usually for a brand like that are run about six months. So during the course of that six months, we review everything, we will review their goals, we review their training, their operations, manuals, their menus, their their their inventory, procedures, their food costs, everything and then we get into into as we move further along, and we refine the document with the attorneys. We’re constantly providing business advice, and all of the items that go into the Franchise Disclosure Document or 50%, legal and 50% business decisions. So we really helped to get through all of those variable choices of business decisions. How much should the franchise fee be? What should the royalty be? Where are you going to target market the brand? What states? Why, right? What’s the budget for marketing moving forward? What’s the expectation for sales as you as you become a franchise, try to align all of that information, listen to what they’re concerned about what their issues are, what they’re concerned about what they’re afraid of, and we really take them step by step through that entire process.

Chad Franzen  13:04  

How much input or advice do you give in terms of location or real estate? And how important is that

Steven Gardner  13:13  

incredibly important, and I am partners in our team are partners with Sabre Real Estate and Long Island so I’m very friendly with the founder there and partners in other businesses, but they traditionally have been the go to, we typically offer or franchise words, a choice from every category from three different attorneys, they pick marketing, they pick real estate, they pick we just we provide great resources for multiple service companies and all of those in all of those avenues. And then together we pick but we do real estate’s incredibly important and I have often been the de outsourced director of real estate for some of these companies as well. I started in commercial real estate and have that experience has helped me enormously and and Sabre provides a great alignment for us and their national now. So we’re able to cover pretty much any any market in the country that we would be servicing for our franchisors

Chad Franzen  14:24  

Can you give us any tips on real estate you know, is it good to be surrounded by a bunch of competitors? Is it good to be out on your own? Do you have any

Steven Gardner  14:33  

great question it really is brand dependent, but it is good to be among competitors and you know it if you’re if you’re a strong brand you want to see that there’s a market they are for you know sit down Italian or for who are for vegan or for Asian Asian food. I have a lot of Asian brands and the Asian brands, you know initially want to live cake in markets that have strong Asian population, which limit the expansion, but then many of them also want to translate into the mainstream. So that’s that that’s, you know, a tight rope in that you can’t just focus on Asian communities, or you’re going to be just that limited Asian brand. But if you want to go mainstream, you have to work your way into markets that at least are familiar with what you’re serving and have, would accept it as a as a product and then and then grow from there. But the the, we identify territory and a roadmap and try to do a market analysis of all of the markets that these brands are most likely to start to expand to when they usually are suggested to be initially within a three or four hour drive time of where their headquarters are, where their landmark locations are, so that they have the ability to service them initially, as well. So if you open, you know, a unit in Las Vegas, and one in Colorado, one in Texas, and one in New York, and as your units, it’s it’s very difficult to get any market penetration tation you suffer from the lack of support from corporate and support is is critical. And we do we do stress that role the consulting that we do if you’re not going to support or be able to support your franchise community, it’s not going to work.

Chad Franzen  16:31  

How has COVID impacted QSR what you guys do

Steven Gardner  16:35  

COVID has been a roller coaster, in my view, I mean, initially on it was just lights out for six months, there really was very little that we could do, you know that every all the brands were struggling to survive. And of course, we have mostly emerging brands. So they didn’t have a lot of resources to to rely on and that their their primary thoughts were keeping the doors open. And as were many, much bigger operators and restaurant tours. So very challenging to COVID we participate in a lot of online events, kind of regrouped ourselves and just tried to provide services that were were geared towards COVID. In in helping restaurant tours, whether it was where what are your resources for funding, you know, how to try to maneuver the PPP loans that were in the restaurant loans that were available to restaurants, you know, what, what, what challenges and time that it would take to do that. And then eventually, you know, helping to, to, in some instances, consult them and how changing that sit down, that they had 5000 square foot sit down restaurants in some cases, or 3000. Those were the hardest hit in many respects and less, they could pivot to pickup and delivery and what is that going to look like or eliminating your alcohol because you couldn’t serve alcohol at a sit down? So how do you how do you push that takeout and delivery to make up for that, and some were hugely successful, and others weren’t. But that’s what you had to do to survive COVID.

Anthony Leone  18:23  

Chad, what we noticed real quick is also to the bigger footprint restaurants, the full service restaurants, were calling us up and asking us to make a smaller QSR footprint. So now we have a whole program that really runs that, you know, they people were looking to sit down in full service restaurants prior, you know, with, with the seating capacities being limited. And so they pivoted a lot of them and wanted to build out quick service concepts based off their full service concept. So we were able to help a number of brands with that.

Chad Franzen  18:55  

So did you guys have to kind of adjust on the fly then in terms of helping them with those specific things?

Anthony Leone  19:00  


Steven Gardner  19:01  

Absolutely. I mean, we had the experience of working with both, you know, separately so now as a matter of helping the larger footprint, restaurant tours, transition, and we have several projects now we’re we’re that’s exactly what we’re we’re doing and even though COVID hopefully is behind us or who knows now, but it apparently will be somewhat behind us and continue to do so the trend now is to move away from those voyage footprints. So anybody out there now that has that four or 5000 square foot model is is going to also offer if they’re small, they’re going to also offer you know, a 2000 square foot scaled down more quick service opportunity because that’s going to be the way of the of the foreseeable future for restaurants. I think

Chad Franzen  19:56  

you both have long histories in terms of franchise development. How has it changed? Steven, since you started Franchise Concepts International in 2000

Steven Gardner  20:08  

Yeah, so it’s the technology is what what what really blows me away beyond anything else is really the technology and all of the how all of that technology has changed from the menu boards to the, you know, the POS systems to the, to the contactless pickups, and, and, and all of the things that the apps as well, and the delivery and the order online apps and all of that technology has been really impressive. If I really think back to what it was like before, and now it is, it’s an incredible change. And Anthony being a little bit younger, would probably agree, but he doesn’t go back as far as I do to remember some of those systems the way they were in those days.

Chad Franzen  21:03  

I know when the when the internet first, you know, restaurants, probably most restaurants probably didn’t have their own websites, I don’t know, until what 10 years into the right before the internet became established, what was life like, then when you know, when the internet was a non factor compared to now?

Steven Gardner  21:21  

Well, I mean, it again, everything changes, even from even from the sales perspective, I mean, you had to, you had to physically drive to your meetings, right, and you had to meet your prospects, wherever they were. So you know, you got to three hour drive to for a meeting could never be done, there was no zoom call at that point. So it was all it was all a matter of face to face networking conventions, and you know, they still play a very important role, and I would miss them. And I still think they’re extremely significant, they haven’t been replaced, I think that, um, and maybe after COVID, they’re gonna be more significant when everything, all the dust settles, because you’re gonna do a lot with a zoom call, you can do a lot with a conference call. But there’s nothing quite like face to face meeting. So at least from my perspective, to really, you know, understand who you’re who you who you’re going to be working with the body language, just you, you don’t get the same feel that you do from a zoom call, as you do in a in a face to face meeting or in a restaurant meeting or at a convention at a bar, it’s just different.

Chad Franzen  22:34  

Is there something that each of you is most proud of in terms of what you guys have been able to do with QSR up to this point, in the lead

Steven Gardner  22:40  

Anthony go first, I have to think about

Anthony Leone  22:44  

just, you know, the overall program, you know, gives us great sense of satisfaction, because I could speak personally, I was there as a founder of a concept and seeing multiple concepts grow throughout my career, you know, just taking entrepreneurs that have a great idea that wants to they want to scale their business and grow their business, but Chad, they just don’t know where to start. So we walk them through the whole program, we’re very accessible, we take them as Steve was saying prior into each category, operations, training, marketing, real estate, you know, any of the aspects, financial, legal, and walk them through it being at be a source of being a mentor towards them. And then we really enjoy going on the journey with them, we just don’t want to, you know, get them set up into franchising and then leave we love as to be a part of as they grow. And then we get into the sales process. And, you know, being an outsource franchise sales person, to walk them through that whole process, as Steve was saying, Before discovery days, meeting, the client vetting the client, having them, you know, having the potential franchisee jumped through a couple of hoops to make before they meet the franchisor to make sure that they’re the right fit for that for that concept.

Steven Gardner  24:03  

And I think for the franchise, for the franchisor is that we find and create. We’re trying to really be transparent with them and honest and and so we’ve made a lot of the mistakes, we’ve seen every mistake, you know, we continue to see them over our careers. So we give them that roadmap that’s going to circumvent a lot of those errors, and that’s going to also be most cost efficient for them and whatever they would need in the in the franchise world even if it was something that we don’t have an immediate answer to. We’re going to find it and we’re going so that it’s a one, a one stop shop and in the true sense that there’s nothing from beginning to end that we really haven’t done or haven’t seen. And if it’s even out of the box, we have the resources to find it. And you know, they they can trust that we’re going to be honest straightforward about it, whatever the costs are and give them options, right? It’s not you have to use this guy, you have to use this service. These this is what’s out there that we have used that we believe in you, we’ll go through with you together, we’ll pick what’s the right fit for you. So it’s a very customized program. It’s not a churn and burn, we’re not in there. To make a quick dollar, we make slow dollars, and we make happy, happy emerging brands for the most part.

Chad Franzen  25:31  

I have one last question for you. But first, tell me how people can find out more about QSR Franchise Development Group?

Steven Gardner  25:38  

Well, Anthony, they could go on our website, right? They could they will see us on social media, they can go to And find us that way they can find our homepage on on LinkedIn as well. Those would probably be the best avenues.

Chad Franzen  25:59  

Okay, last question for both of you. What, if any, are some books that you guys have really found valuable? Or that you’ve enjoyed reading? Or maybe a podcast that you’ve enjoyed listening to?

Steven Gardner  26:11  

Anthony, do you go first, I know you probably have a whole slew of them.

Anthony Leone  26:16  

I mean, there’s so many chat, you know, I’m very big into personal development and love that whole space. Okay, I would say maybe one book that I could recommend that franchisees read, is the E Myth by Michael Gerber. You know, he really walks through an idea of someone having a great recipe of something and trying to franchise that business, or build that business, and how they have sort of, let’s say, animosity, because they just love that one recipe and they don’t know, understand all the aspects of the business, you know, the accounting of it, the stuff that you really dislike doing, you know, so that that is one book that I would definitely highly recommend.

Steven Gardner  26:56  

I like the I like the story, the McDonald’s story. And I think that, you know, it’s a movie now as well, too. But that really takes you through the voyage from, you know, inception of an iconic brand, and all the challenges that that he encountered along the way. And I think that that that’s inspirational for an emerging brand. And of course, they were just, you know, a couple of units, the brand that developed their stories about Subway as well, too, are very compelling. And I got to know that company pretty well. And the founders and, you know, look, they started in their garage making sandwiches. So their true American, true American dreams at that point, and they turned into reality. So I think that that’s something inspirational for for an emerging brand to say what can happen?

Chad Franzen  27:53  

Sure. Okay, well, hey, very nice. Hey, I appreciate both of your guys’s time today. Thank you so much for joining me. It’s been great hearing from you. Great hearing your insights. Thanks so much.

Steven Gardner  28:03  

We appreciate it very much. Thank you.

Chad Franzen  28:05  

Thank you. So long, everybody.

Outro 28:07  

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