There's a sign on the wall in Charles Haney's Burger 21 restaurant in Voorhees, N.J., that he believes lists all the best ways to succeed. One, he says, defines who he is: "B-different."
"When I was thinking about franchising, I'd looked at several systems, but when I went into a Melting Pot restaurant in California, everything--the food and non-food features--felt right. It was different from anything else out there. It spoke to me," he says. "When I went down to see the franchisor in Florida, that felt right too, because we shared the same passion and enthusiasm for the brand."
In 2007, Haney, a Boston native who sold his RainSoft water treatment company in Rhode Island after 10 years, opened a Melting Pot fondue restaurant in Atlantic City--and, along with his wife Wendy and their children, moved to New Jersey, her home state.
Haney, who describes himself as a people person who believes that human capital is the key to success in business, was not deterred by the economic downturn that hit just as he was starting his new venture. Combining his energy and natural salesmanship with a great location, a reliable staff, and a strong brand, his business has improved each year.
With administrative help from his wife, Haney spends much of his time finding and developing a great staff. He interviewed 800 people before handpicking a crew of 60 for his Melting Pot restaurant. In 2010, he was named Franchisee of the Year and had become a die-hard advocate for franchising.
"I'm all about systems," says Haney. "A company like Front Burner Brands puts a system into place with checks and balances, training manuals, and marketing for you. I'm able then to put my strength--growing people and building teams--in there."
Outside of franchising, he adds, "You're trying to wear too many hats. With the franchises I've chosen so far, they've taken the guesswork out and let me do what I do best." He plans to open another restaurant as soon as he finds one different enough to suit him.
One year, his Melting Pot restaurant raised $35,000 in nine weeks for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, making it the top fundraiser in the system for the hospital. From there, Haney was named co-chair of the national St. Jude fundraiser for The Melting Pot. "I have three children, so this cause really meant a lot to me. I've been to the hospital several times, donating blood and platelets. We continue to support them," he says, adding that philanthropy is consistent with his beliefs about life and people.
When Mark Johnston, president and chief concept officer at Front Burner Brands told him about a new burger concept that he and his brother Bob, the company's CEO, were planning, Haney wasn't very interested. "I thought that burgers didn't sound unique. It wasn't for me, and we didn't speak of it again until I visited the first one they opened in Tampa," he says. "I walked in and I was blown away. They had nailed it--from the atmosphere to the décor to the energy--and I hadn't even tried the food yet."
Once he'd tried the gourmet burgers, he began to "beg" for a franchise--even before Front Burner began franchising, he says. Earlier this year, he opened a Burger 21 in Voorhees, N.J., the first outside of Florida, on the same site as his third brand, Rodizio Grill, a Brazilian steakhouse based in Sandy, Utah.
Haney plans to open more Burger 21 restaurants in New Jersey, in tandem with new Rodizios, if he can. "By the end of the year, I expect to have two more locations. My four-year plan for Burger 21 is to open 15 new restaurants," he says.
Haney has no immediate plans to open additional Melting Pots. "The Melting Pot is such a specialty restaurant that you want to strategically place them, not build one on every street corner. There's one in Philly and another 90 minutes north of here. We are doing well financially with our restaurant and have no plans right now to grow."
Haney considers himself a motivator and visionary and makes no apologies for doing things his way. "I get advice from lawyers and accountants and am willing to pay people that know more than I do, but at the end of the day I'm going to go with my instincts," he says. "I march to my own beat."
That's also his advice for would-be franchisees. "Big risk, big rewards," he says, admitting that he makes some people--especially his in-laws--nervous with his approach to business and life. "Once they see there's a method to my madness, most people relax."
The family man says his fondest wish is to someday work with his children. "That would be the ultimate reward. They already know what I do. I bring one of them with me for manager's meetings sometimes," he says.
That wish just could come true. One of Haney's proudest moments came when his son Adam was graduating from kindergarten. During the ceremony, Adam stepped forward on his tiptoes, as instructed, to the microphone to say his name and what he wanted to be when he grew up. "Most of the kids said things like policeman or superhero," Haney says. "Adam said, 'I'm Adam Haney and when I grow up I want to work with my daddy at The Melting Pot.'"
Name: Charles Haney
Company: ABL Brands Inc.
No. of units: 1 The Melting Pot, 1 Burger 21, 1 Rodizio Grill
Family: Wife Wendy; children Adam, Brandon, and Leah (as in ABL Brands)
Years in franchising: 6
Years in current position: 6