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Come Saturday Morning: A Tale of Two Franchise Operations

The respective models of Ian’s Pizza and Baja Sol show how to grow — and how not to grow — a food franchise operation.

First, let’s look at how to do it well. Here’s how Ian’s Pizza, one of the true heroes of the Wisconsin Rebellion, does it:

Ian’s is not like most pizza places. All of its full-time employees receive health care, and 401k benefits. And the brand “franchises” but only from within. Employees of Ian’s grow to propose their own stores and then, if things are right, supported in the endeavor. Today, there are just four Ian’s, one each in Chicago and Milwaukee and two in Madison. No more are currently planned, though Fritz says she certainly sees talented potential franchisees in the current Ian’s team.

Well, look at that. Treat your people well and with respect, make sure they’re properly trained, and be honest with them about franchising and the work it involves, and they help you by ensuring slow yet enduring growth. Very good.

Now let’s look at how not to do it, as shown by Baja Sol, famously run until recently by Tony Sutton for the Cooper banking family, longtime and major Minnesota Republican Party backers (he’s the guy in the photo above):

When Mark Wicks, his son, Terry, and daughter, Shari Wyatt, opened a Baja Sol restaurant in February, their hefty investment was sure to pay dividends.

The chain was the first in a planned roster of similar restaurants across the Chicago area.

Fast forward nine months, and the restaurant’s doors are shuttered, the inside vacant.


Wicks said he expected more marketing help from Baja Sol’s Minnesota-based corporate representatives to combat the sliding sales.

That never happened, he said.


Although the Oak Lawn store remains vacant, the company has been talking with the landlord and plans to send a regional manager to re-open the restaurant, Sutton said. Five more Baja Sols are slated to open in and around Chicago in 2010, she said. [PW notes: This never happened. Since the fall of 2009, the only Baja Sol and Baja Joe’s stores still open have been in Minnesota, the chain’s birthplace.]

Wicks said he’s feeling like the victim of a setup, that the company deliberately left them high and dry so it could shop for new owners.

Of course, one could write this off as one franchisee’s experience. But the implosion of the rest of the once-Midwest-wide Baja Sol chain belies that theory.

The Sutton Sadim Touch extends beyond Baja Sol. His tenure as treasurer for the Republican Party of Minnesota was marked by scandal and screwy mathematics, and as RPM chair he still hasn’t, per Bluestem Prairie’s Sally Jo Sorensen, paid up all the money the party owes the counties for the recount last year.

Who would you rather trust with your money, Ian’s Pizza or Tony Sutton? I know who I’d pick.

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