Into Midtown and Beyond

For years the intersection at 21st Street and Yale Avenue has been starving for good restaurants.
A 36-year veteran of the local restaurant business has answered the call. Craig Bothwell, president of Bothwell-Saxton Restaurants, headquartered at 4739 E. 91st St., Ste. 150, has nearly completed construction on a new McAlister’s Deli at the location.
“If you look at a map, it’s a part of the market that’s just not covered or represented,” Bothwell said. “We have only two stores in Tulsa – one is at 81st Street and one is at 91st Street. We don’t have anything north of 81st Street.”
Tulsa’s existing restaurants are at 8955 S. Memorial Drive and 8102-B S. Lewis Ave.
Business has been good for Bothwell and his partner, Jackson, Miss.-based restaurateur Kelly Saxton. This new McAlister’s Deli is Bothwell’s 13th in three states. The 135-seat location, forecasted to bring $1.5 million in revenue during its first year, will employ 50. It opens June 9.
Bothwell spent more than three decades as a franchisor when he served as president at Tulsa-based Mazzio’s Corp., an Italian eatery and pizza chain founded and owned by Ken Selby since the late 1960s. But by early this decade, not only was Bothwell ready to run his own ship, but he was also craving a change in focus.
“[As a franchisee,] You get to concentrate 100 percent on running your restaurant,” he said. “That’s what I enjoy most about business – the growth and development of new stores, and the development of the people.”
Don’t count on approving looks when leaving a corporate job for a start-up at age 55, Bothwell said.
“There were some people who thought I needed my head examined,” he said. “I kind of did it backwards. Most people do it when they’re young and can afford to fall on their face and get up and go do something else.”
Though it was a long-time dream, life as a franchisee took some getting used to.
“I came from the corporate situation where we were a $125 million revenue company with 4,000 employees, and I started with one [McAlister’s] store in Wichita with 50 employees,” Bothwell said. “That was just the opposite of what I was used to.”
Bothwell mitigated his risk by choosing to associate with a brand that he said is established, proven and appeals to a large audience.
The site at 21st and Yale is forecasted to yield annual revenue 10 percent above the McAlister’s Deli franchise system average.
System wide, average annual sales for a McAlister’s Deli location is $1.3 million. Each of Bothwell’s 12 open stores in Kansas and Oklahoma average $1.5 million. McAlister’s Deli operates in 22 states. The chain recently opened its 300th restaurant, with 40-50 new McAlister’s locations opening each year.
The McAlister’s brand impressed Bothwell on several points: It is perceived as a healthful alternative to fast food and as a family-friendly dining option and it falls within the popular fast-casual market. He was sold on the McAlister’s brand when he realized the broad demographic to which it appeals.
“I had daughters in college when I was looking at doing McAlister’s. They ate at the McAlister’s where they were and loved it, and my in-laws, who were in their late-70s, early-80s, and they ate at the one near them and loved it. I thought, ‘This has something going for it, if my teenage daughters and my 80-year-old in-laws like it.’”
Bothwell opened his first McAlister’s location two years ago in Wichita. Bothwell has since built two more stores in Kansas and purchased the nine Oklahoma McAlister’s locations.
The sudden growth gave the Bothwell-Saxton partnership the platform upon which to expand, he said. The partnership is now building four new restaurants — in Shawnee; Lawrence, Kan.; Joplin and in Tulsa at 21st and Yale, with plans to add 3-4 each year.
“We’re way ahead of our development schedule,” Bothwell said. “This is a big, big test – to take on four new stores in a four-month period is a big leap.”
Careful site selection is a huge piece of the puzzle in building a successful franchise operation, he said.
“Having had a lot of experience in the past with site selection, I have some good instincts as to what a good location is. Also, I’ve been in Tulsa for 40 years, and I know a little bit about the market.”
The biggest challenge that comes with expansion isn’t scouting locations, finding financing or working with contractors, Bothwell said. Instead, it’s finding the right managers that weighs most on his mind.
Since each store requires 3-4 managers, Bothwell needs to find and hire 12-16 managers. With the lean labor market, Bothwell said, “if anything were to limit our growth, that would be it.”



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