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Franchises bring new flavors, new names to area

September 28, 2012
photo - Barbara and Bob Rusnak, married for 21 years and both recently retired from the Air Force, opened the doors in mid-September to their first restaurant, a Dickey's Barbecue Pit, located on Garden of the Gods Road in Colorado Springs. Photo by MICHAEL CIAGLO, THE GAZETTE
Barbara and Bob Rusnak, married for 21 years and both recently retired from the Air Force, opened the doors in mid-September to their first restaurant, a Dickey's Barbecue Pit, located on Garden of the Gods Road in Colorado Springs. Photo by MICHAEL CIAGLO, THE GAZETTE 

New names — and new tastes — keep popping up in the Colorado Springs area.

From sandwich shops to pizza joints, many of the newcomers on the dining scene are franchises. The muscle and knowledge of the home office can ease the way for someone looking to the franchise model in having their own business. But having a familiar name or a proven track record elsewhere doesn’t guarantee success in the local market. For example, Golden-based Good Times Burgers & Frozen Custard, which had a mix of corporate and franchised stores in the area, pulled out of the Springs this year.

Here is a look at some food franchises that have entered the local market in the past year:

Dickey’s Barbecue Pit

After careers in the Air Force, Bob and Barbara Rusnak were looking for something else to do — say, running a business.

They looked into several franchises, Barbara Rusnak said, and settled on Dickey’s Barbecue Pit, known for Texas-style barbecue. Travis Dickey opened the first Dickey’s Barbecue Pit in Dallas in 1941; franchising began in 1994 and there are now more than 250 locations nationwide.

“Just finding out what they’re all about and how they do business, it seemed like a good match for us,” Barbara Rusnak said. And the food, she said, is great.

“We thought there was a niche for barbecue down here in the Springs from everyone we talked to,” she said.

After deciding on Dickey’s, the two, as well as their general manager, attended Dickey’s “Barbecue University” in Dallas.

“They taught us everything from how to clean the floors to how to cook the brisket to how to do the paperwork and the marketing,” Barbara Rusnak said.

Dickey’s opened Sept. 13 at 1466 Garden of the Gods Road, Suite 160. Support from the home office continued through the opening and after, Barbara Rusnak said.

“They sent someone up here for 10 days to get us started. He was here like 12, 14 hours a day just training us and our staff, helping us figure out how to run a restaurant.”

The Rusnaks are hands-on owners. “We’re both pretty much full time here,” Barbara Rusnak said. Her husband is the more outgoing of the two, she said, “so he’s been out marketing his tail off, trying to get a folks interested in catering. Catering is a big aspect of this.”

The Rusnaks live north of the Springs, near Monument, and are eying a second location in that area. If they do open a second location, it probably won’t be until next summer, Barbara Rusnak said.

Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers

Freddy’s opened its first location in Wichita, Kan., a decade ago; first franchised in 2004, Freddy’s has grown to more than 70 locations across 10 states.

Local franchisees Kyle Gerstner and Adam Wessley opened the Pikes Peak region’s first Freddy’s in January in Monument on Jackson Creek Parkway; they opened their second location in July at 5825 Stetson Hills Blvd. on the east side of Colorado Springs. They’re looking to open another location by Christmas in a former Del Taco building just west of Interstate 25 and Garden of the Gods Road.

Gerstner didn’t have to go far to research Freddy’s. Before coming to the Springs, he lived in Wichita, where he had a series of businesses, including a landscaping business and a concierge service, and he knew the founders of Freddy’s.

“I’d always kept my eye on Freddy’s, since it was a local concept doing very well and I was addicted to the food,” Gerstner said. When his business took a hit from the economy, he looked into being a Freddy’s franchisee.

“We were offered five different areas that corporate thought would be very good locations for us to get started in,” Gerstner said. Colorado Springs was one of those; for Gerstner, “it boiled down to where I would want to live.”

Gerstner, comparing having his own business to being a franchisee, said, “I like this a lot better. I could not ask for a better home office. They stand behind us 1,000 percent. They’re always working toward our benefit.”

He cited corporate support for a donation drive held by the Monument Freddy’s to help victims and first responders during the Waldo Canyon fire.

“The community gives so much to us, it’s only right that we work to give back,” Gerstner said.

Marco’s Pizza

When Craig Cheatham and his family decided to open a Marco’s Pizza in Colorado Springs, they had more than business in mind.

“I was talking with my extended family about issues and the world and our communities, and we felt like the world has just gotten so disconnected,” Cheatham said. “People disappear into their garages, they don’t know their neighbors, we don’t bump into each other like we did in the good old days; we stare at the TV or our computers,”

They felt a need, he said, “to create a place where people could connect, or re-connect, break bread together, be a staging area for good works, community events.”

They decided on an enterprise that would serve food, since “food would facilitate all those activities,” Cheatham said. What food wasn’t clear at first. But they eventually decided on pizza — and then on Marco’s Pizza, “because of their reputation for having a higher-quality product and the flexibility they were granting us in pursuing our community goals.”

Marco’s, headquartered in Toledo, Ohio, has more than 300 stores in 24 states and the Bahamas; it’s on track to open more than 60 new stores this year, twice last year’s number.

The Cheatham family opened Colorado Springs’ first Marco’s about a year ago at 9420 Briar Village Point and recently opened a second location at 4492 Austin Bluffs Parkway; they’re looking at the possibility of more stores in Monument, Rockrimmon and downtown. The timing of that expansion, Cheatham said, will depend on “how the economy plays out and what the environment is for small business owners going forward.”

Meanwhile, you’ll find three generations of the family working at the Briargate location. And they continue to carry out their community mission.

“We do a variety of things,” Cheatham said. “We provide food for a variety of entities that serve the needy. We have a private dining room where we provide space for free, and fundraisers are something we do, it seems, like more than once a week, from something small like a school sports team all the way up to the Waldo Canyon fundraiser that brought 600 people to our front yard and everything in between.”

Firehouse Subs

Marty Rossing worked in commercial construction for about 20 years. When the economy slowed and business took a hit, he looked into franchises and he and wife, Tana, settled on Firehouse Subs.

Firehouse Subs, founded in Jacksonville, Fla., by brothers and former firefighters Chris and Robin Sorensen, has more than 500 locations. Tana Rossing said she and her husband were drawn to Firehouse Subs because of the quality of the food and were also intrigued by the community service piece: the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation is dedicated to better equipping, educating and funding public safety entities.

The Rossings, who live in Parker, opened their first Firehouse Subs in Highlands Ranch 2 1/2 years ago. In August, they opened a Springs location at 7543 N. Academy Blvd.

“We liked the traffic counts on North Academy,” Rossing said. “We had done quite a bit of research.”

They’re eyeing another store in the area of Garden of the Gods Road and I-25. While nothing’s certain, “we’d love to get something going in the next 12 months,” Tana Rossing said.

Firehouse Subs ranked No. 1 in a recent rating of franchisee satisfaction by Franchise Business Review, a national market research firm. Marty Rossing said he’s not surprised.

“How they’ve been able to support us on every level has been outstanding,” he said.

A son of one of the founders came to the Springs and worked with them on the opening of that store, Tana Rossing said. “They feel really vested.”

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