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From Franchisee to Brand CEO and Chairman: MOOYAH Burgers, Fries & Shakes’ Anand Gala Discusses How He Found Success as a Restaurant Operator

MOOYAH Burgers, Fries & Shakes, the 90-plus-unit fast casual better burger franchise, has made a name for itself in the franchise industry as one of the most owner-friendly food service investments. In recent years, the brand has increasingly attracted more sophisticated multi-unit franchisees, some of whom have signed 10- and even 15-unit development agreements, underlining MOOYAH’s appeal to growth-oriented owners. Much of the brand’s appeal to savvy franchise owners can be attributed to MOOYAH’s dynamic leadership team, which is led by CEO and Chairman Anand Gala, himself a lifelong franchise owner.

“Too many franchisors don’t understand the experience and perspective of the franchisee, and there can be a misalignment of goals as a result,” Gala said. “I draw from my experience as a franchise owner across many brands to make sure that everything we do at MOOYAH is geared towards the success and growth of our owners.”

Gala started restaurant franchising before he had even left elementary school. His mother was an early franchise owner with Jack in the Box in 1982, and Gala helped her out on weekends, vacations and school holidays. 

“I was excited to help in any way I could, but I didn’t realize that I was getting comprehensive training in the business,” he said. “I learned everything from customer service to working the grill, managing shifts, making deposits and just about every other facet of the business.”

With Gala’s help, the family business grew from one to 12 units before he struck out on his own to become a franchisee with Applebee’s and Del Taco. At just 25, Gala was one of the youngest-ever franchise owners for both brands. 

Despite that wealth of early experience, Gala still says he was “a reluctant restaurant operator.” 

“I was originally planning on going to medical school,” he said. “I had taken my entrance exams and was on track, but as I started to look closer at the options I had, I came to the conclusion that I could have more fun and have more control over my life by working in restaurants — especially fixing them and helping them grow.”

As Gala continued to gain experience as a franchise owner, he says he became increasingly aware of the impact franchisors had on his business.

“Taking stock of all of the brands we worked with, including those that we researched but never joined, it became so clear that some franchisors do a great job in supporting their franchise owners and others simply do not,” he said. “The franchisors who really helped us grow were not necessarily the ones who told us what we wanted to hear or the ones who we got along with on a personal level — it was the ones who were honest and transparent with us and who recognized that we, as the franchise owners, were their primary customer. Too many franchisors see the franchise owner as a check in the mail rather than a customer that they need to service and support.”

Gala’s portfolio of restaurant franchises had survived the Great Recession and taken advantage of good opportunities to grow, but as he surveyed the restaurant landscape, he saw that many other operators had not. “I realized that I had an opportunity to help people by investing in small franchisors and supporting their franchise owners,” he said. “I had done well, and I decided it was time to pay it forward, share my experience and help other people succeed in this great industry.”

Over the next few years, Gala sold off the majority of his franchise restaurant holdings, though his franchise group, FD OpCo, still owns nine Famous Dave’s locations in California. Keeping one foot on the franchisee side makes him a stronger franchisor, he says.

“I am still engaged in the overall operations as a franchise owner, so I stay current with the challenges and concerns of that side of the business, which I believe makes me much better at my job on the franchisor side,” he said.

In 2017, Gala invested in MOOYAH, a brand he felt was aligned with his mission to help franchise owners grow.

“We were interested in brands that had a strong product, a great operational model and a focus on franchisee success, and that’s exactly what we found with MOOYAH,” Gala said. “And critically, it had — and still has — tremendous room for growth.”

Over the past five years, Gala says his primary focus at MOOYAH has been helping franchise owners improve their business, grow and make more money.

“As a franchise owner myself, I know that making money is one of the motivating factors to run and grow a great business, so if we want MOOYAH to grow and maintain a consistently great customer experience across markets, we need to be sure our franchise owners are making money,” he said. “We don’t want to be an auditor or tax collector — we’re not just sitting back and collecting royalties. Everyone on the brand leadership team is a resource and support system for franchise owners. We do our best to provide whatever training and support they need to succeed.”

That support includes business learning and development opportunities for franchise owners, something Gala says too many franchisors have allowed to fall by the wayside.

“We offer seminars on food safety, food cost management, recruiting and retaining talented team members, local store marketing, and all sorts of things that can help franchise owners grow as entrepreneurs,” he said. “That kind of thing is a lost art in this industry, unfortunately. But we are bringing it back.”

As MOOYAH continues to attract larger and more experienced franchisee candidates under Gala’s leadership, he says he is equally excited about the growth of existing franchise owners as they also become a big fish.

“The new franchise owners we have joining the system are bringing an incredible amount of experience and validation to our franchise,” he said. “But the fact that our existing franchise owners, those who have been with MOOYAH for years, are still growing and taking on new units is so important. To me, that shows that we have built a system that allows any franchise owner, large or small, new or existing, to thrive so long as they are willing to execute on the playbook we’ve developed.”