With his business partner, Flynn can’t wait for the next Huddle House franchise opportunity
You never know where old friendships will lead you. Matthew Flynn, 33, and Cody Harrell were once fraternity brothers at Ole Miss, where Matthew earned an undergraduate degree in accounting and a master’s degree in taxation. Now, the two men are business partners with 12 Huddle House restaurants in Arkansas, Tennessee and Missouri. Matthew and his wife, Lolly, live in Memphis with their 4-year-old daughter, Ann Dawson, and 6-month-old son, Thomas. When he’s not busy running his 12 restaurants and spending time with his family, Matthew enjoys small-game hunting with his black Labrador retriever and dreams about getting more time to play golf.
How long have you been a Huddle House franchisee?
We started the first franchises in 2010.
What brought you to the Huddle House brand?
My partner, Cody Harrell, was involved as a silent partner in a couple of restaurants. I was looking to do something on my own, trying to get into business for myself, and he and I getting into business together was an opportunity that became available. In talking to Huddle House, there were more opportunities available, so we decided that was a good time to try to make a profitable business.
What did you do before Huddle House?
I was in orthopedic trauma sales. I sold medical devices.
Why did you decide to get into franchising?
I can’t say for the monetary reasons, because the compensation was good in the medical device world. But quality of life — I was on call 24/7 — was an issue. Cody and I were doing both corporate jobs for two years while we did this until we went full-time last August. It was occupying a lot of our time, and it grew to a point where it made sense for us to devote full time to this.
What’s your favorite part of the job?
It’s the part I don’t get to do as much — getting into the restaurants, talking to the guests and interacting with our team members.
What was your introduction to Huddle House?
I went to Huddle House in college; that was probably my first experience. I ate there a few times. It was fine; it was breakfast food. After not being a loyal Huddle House customer and then getting into it, the food quality has improved dramatically from what I remember to where I am today. The capital to enter was very minimal, and so we figured if we got the right people in place, we could do well. We’ve been fortunate to have the first employee we had to follow what we told her on day one. We said we want to grow as much as we possibly can. She’s been with us as an operations-type person.
Why do customers choose Huddle House over the competition?
It’s a dining experience and a value, and I think with the economy and what we experienced in the ’08 crash, people are looking for more value, as evidenced by all brands going to a value menu. That is one reason. I think the dining experience in the community is another. We try to be as involved in the communities as we possibly can. In the restaurant business, there’s a lot of turnover, and being able to come in and see the same faces is what we strive to achieve. I think that’s another reason guests come in — the familiarity of the faces. We support the Chamber of Commerce and get involved in the community, work with the local schools and their athletics programs like football. From time to time, we get fundraisers where small community organizations are raising money and want us to donate.
Why did you decide to do multiple units?
We actually did start out with one unit; most people do. We had a plan to do multiple units initially — three. Those three we opened within three months. For the fourth unit, we pursued another franchisee who was a single-unit operator. We ended up buying his business as well as real estate from him. The next two came out of the blue; they pursued us … and wanted us to take them over. We saw that was an opportunity with renegotiating the lease and things of that sort. In the meantime, we were trying to close on two more restaurants that we had worked out an agreed upon price for. We had another operator contact us about closing his doors for other reasons; he had one closed and wanted to get some money out of the second one that was still open. Unfortunately, the other restaurant got closed down. We had been in talks already, so a month later we opened those two units.
Did you have any food or retail experience? How important is that?
I had some retail experience but not in restaurants. My father-in-law had 30-plus years in the food business. He and some partners were multi-unit Wendy’s® operators. They sold them back in 2001. I had a great source of developing information as far as learning about the business. I was able to talk over things with him and learn from him about the restaurant business … I think it’s important to have at least someone to be able to learn from. Yes, having restaurant experience is a good thing, but it’s OK not to have it. If you don’t have it, it’s still a good idea to have someone that you know and can trust who can give you advice.
How large is the opportunity to grow with Huddle House?
We are definitely looking at some other opportunities within Huddle House. We’re looking for opportunities that make sense financially for us and growing more restaurants. I think we’ll continue to grow; it’s just a matter of when.
Who are Huddle House’s competitors?
As far as direct competition in the broad sweep of our market, Waffle House®, IHOP®, Denny’s®, Cracker Barrel® and Shoney’s®. Then, of course, your mom-and-pops.
How do you set Huddle House apart from competitors?
We’re actually doing an initiative now where we’re promoting a plate lunch … to try to draw in lunch business. We get some marketing support from Huddle House corporate. Another thing we’re going to do this year is to provide the cups for the high school football games. The school and the booster clubs won’t have to bear the cost, and it will be really good advertising for everyone in the stands to have a Huddle House cup.
Who is the Huddle House customer?
I hope everybody. We definitely have an older generation customer base that comes into the restaurants, and I’m seeing a shift, with menu items and the re-imaging and rebranding of Huddle House, that’s bringing in the younger generation.
What is a secret to thrive?
I don’t think it’s a secret. It’s good food at a good price and good service in a clean restaurant. It isn’t anything new.
What kind of person do you think would enjoy owning a Huddle House franchise?
Definitely this person would have to be very goal-oriented and results-driven, and I think the days of the single operator are not feasible anymore. I don’t think they work, but that all depends on what someone wants. Generally speaking, I think it’s better owning multiple units and spreading the costs among multiple restaurants. As far as the type of person who would enjoy it, that would be someone who likes business, who likes service, who understands business and how money works.
What are some of the personal benefits of franchise ownership?
You get the support of corporate. You get into a franchise because of that; it improves your marketing, it provides the brand recognition, it has the procedures in place and the structure — all of those things are reasons to go into franchise ownership.
Would you recommend a Huddle House franchise to someone else? Why?
I would say, based on my experience, the timing of everything is a lot of it, but I think we have something very favorable in the new corporate leadership. They are definitely very supportive in trying to understand some of our concerns from the past and trying to be a partner with us. For somebody who doesn’t have a huge outlay of capital, that opportunity is different. It brings a whole new mix to the bag. It’s just a great opportunity for someone who wants to own multiple units. The cost of entry is relatively low compared to other available franchises. It’s a good brand, the new look is positive and the new leadership is moving in a positive direction.