Tom O'Keefe Featured on 1851Franchise.com

February 14, 2024

Meet Tom O'Keefe, The Franchise-Lawyer-Turned-Executive Who’s Growing Southern Classic Chicken

Tom O'Keefe, a veteran of the franchise industry with a rich history of steering companies towards remarkable growth, has turned his attention to a new concept: Southern Classic Chicken. With O'Keefe's endorsement and leadership, the emerging fried chicken franchise is brimming with potential and is looking for qualified franchisees to help it embark on a new chapter of expansion and innovation.

A Storied Career in Franchising

O'Keefe's journey into the heart of the franchising world began in the late '80s when he transitioned from private legal practice to in-house counsel for the parent company of Popeyes, right after its acquisition of Church's Chicken. This role marked O'Keefe's initial foray into franchising, setting the stage for a career exclusively tied to franchise companies. 

"From that point until now, I have been associated with franchise companies exclusively — either as internal counsel, external counsel, internal executive — and was also president of a franchise company," O'Keefe said. “I also separately own restaurants and have been a franchisee myself. I’ve really seen the franchise industry from all angles.”

In addition to Popeyes, O'Keefe has held leadership roles with companies like Smoothie King (where he most recently served as president), Anytime Fitness and Ruth’s Chris Steak House, all of which have equipped him with invaluable insights into the growth and operational challenges faced by franchise brands across various stages of their development.

A New Chapter with Southern Classic Chicken

So, with so much franchising prowess, how did O'Keefe decide upon his next franchising adventure? 

Enter Southern Classic Chicken, the Shreveport, Louisiana-based franchise that serves up home-style fried chicken. The brand was started by Leon Fanning, who entered the industry with his first fried chicken restaurant in 1976. Leon then connected with his brother Howard Fanning, as well as his son Brandon Fanning, to continue that family legacy, and transitioned their business to what became Southern Classic Chicken. 

When starting Southern Classic Chicken, the family wanted the foundation to be based on four things: quality, the absolute best fried chicken, classic southern sides and cajun seasoned french fries. And they wanted to do it through a simple drive-thru and walk-up model. The concept proved to be a hit. Over the years, the company has built a cult-like following, expanding in the southern U.S. and now includes 17 corporate locations. 

A few years ago, O’Keefe was introduced to Southern Classic Chicken through a professional referral. The Fannings were looking to further expand their operations through franchising. They retained O'Keefe as a managing director to help format and launch their growth plans.

"They asked me to come in and put together the franchise,” O'Keefe said. “This included drafting of the [franchise disclosure document], outlining the franchise agreements, determining how to sell franchises, focusing on the support system, etc.”

Over time, O’Keefe says he fell in love with the brand's ethos.

"In engaging with Southern Classic Chicken, I was deeply impressed by the concept and the Fanning family's approach,” said O’Keefe. “Their professionalism and integrity, both in business and personally, truly resonated with me. The brand's 35-year legacy of success and resilience, coupled with its strong following in northwest Louisiana and outstanding Average Unit Volumes (AUVs) of $3.9 million, checked all my boxes for scaling a franchise brand."

So, never one to let a great franchising opportunity pass him by, O’Keefe joined the team full-time. Now, as managing director and general counsel, he plays a pivotal role in both the legal and business strategies of Southern Classic Chicken, signaling his commitment to the brand's growth and his belief in its potential. 

Vision for Growth and Expansion

Looking ahead, O'Keefe says he hopes to build a legacy brand with a solid southeastern presence, stretching from Texas to Florida to Arkansas to Louisiana. 

But O’Keefe says that, rather than resting on its laurels, the brand is going through a systemwide refresh that includes a new store prototype recently unveiled in Bossier City, Louisiana. Operational efficiency has been increased through elements such as a new floor plan and a dual lane to fit more cars (up to 30) in each lot, which keeps people out of the street. And by shrinking the footprint of the building, the company has found that it has a much higher throughput. O'Keefe says all new stores, whether company-owned or franchised, will be built under the new prototype. Existing stores will also see elements of the new design incorporated gradually.

With plans to open new franchise locations in 2024 and a focus on multi-unit development, he aims to leverage the brand's compelling AUV, new revamped design and proven business model to attract potential investors. 

“Right now is the chance to get your foot in the door early, and there are a lot of markets available for franchising,” said O’Keefe. “The unique combination of our founding team, product quality and AUVs offers a remarkable opportunity. We have all the ingredients to take this franchise to the next level and we’ve honed it to become a very unique and attractive franchise opportunity in today’s market."

Source: https://1851franchise.com/southernclassicchicken/meet-tom-okeefe-of-southern-classic-chicken-2725209#stories


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