Couple’s community-first attitude drives customers to their Huddle House breakfast franchise.
Hiram and Jeanne Griffin met on a blind date at a Huddle House in Nashville, Ga., a restaurant that Hiram owned at the time. Ten years later, the couple oversees that same breakfast franchise together. The restaurant has grown into one of the most successful individual franchises in the lower Southeast. Hiram works full-time at the restaurant and does everything from making waffles to talking to customers to busing tables. Jeanne, a fourth-grade school teacher, jumps in to help on the weekends.
Hiram describes Nashville — a town of 4,800 — as “off the beaten track.”
“The only reason why most people come to Nashville is to see someone they know or because they are lost,” he jokes.
The Griffins have worked hard to earn the loyalty of residents, creating a community gathering spot where some customers come three or four times a day. Jeanne’s relationships at school help drive customers to the business. The restaurant sponsors multiple sports teams and other school efforts. Hiram has been on the board of the local Chamber of Commerce and is on the board for the Economic Development Council.
“I’ve been around the restaurant business my entire life,” Hiram says. “My mother owned a Dairy Queen in the 1970s. From an early age, I always had that American dream of owning my own business. Owning a Huddle House franchise is one of the best decisions we’ve ever made.”
How did you find out about Huddle House? What were you doing before you became a franchisee? Finding Huddle House was a fluke. My son and I were working in management at McDonald’s. There was a man nearby who wanted to lease his Huddle House. He wanted us to work for him, but he wanted to reap all the benefits. We didn’t think that was a good idea, so we called Huddle House to ask about looking at a franchise in Moultrie, Ga. Out of sheer luck, the owner asked if we were interested in buying it.
How long have you been a franchisee? Since 1997.
Do you own one Huddle House or several? At one time I owned four. When Jeanne and I married, I moved from Moultrie, Ga. to Nashville, Ga., and decided to sell the other three and concentrate on the franchise in Nashville.
Did you have food or retail experience before owning the franchise? How important is that? It can be helpful to have food and retail experience, but it can be overcome if you don’t have it.
What do you like about the job? One of the biggest pluses for us is that we both really enjoy the work. We both like people. Every day is different at Huddle House. It’s not just eggs, bacon and cooking. It’s really about the people. I love to see a customer smile after enjoying a good meal. When you get compliments on your food, on your good service and the cleanliness of your restaurant, it feels really, really good.
What sets Huddle House apart? How large is the opportunity to grow with Huddle House? It’s a great opportunity, and it’s getting better. We have a new president of the company and we’re now seeing opportunities I’ve never seen before from Huddle House Inc. It’s like being reborn. We’re excited. In fact, we’re getting ready to remodel in four to six weeks.
Who is the Huddle House customer? People from all walks of life – doctors, lawyers, ministers, working people, families, farmers.
Who are the competitors?
Hiram: To be honest, I think anybody who sells food is my competitor. But competition is good! It makes you better. There are a McDonalds and a Pizza Hut within a block of our Huddle House.
Jeanne: The mom-and-pop stores in our town are good, and we support them. We’ve seen a lot of them open and close in our small town. Unfortunately, we are in a time that’s hard for many small businesses. We really feel blessed that our Huddle House franchise is continuing to grow and that our customers are still coming.
What attracts customers to Huddle House rather than its competitors? The service, the atmosphere, the friendliness and camaraderie. We call our customers by their names or nicknames. They know when they walk in the door somebody is going to speak to them. When they come to the cash register someone is going to thank them.
How many customers do you typically serve in a day? During the week it’s anywhere from 400-500 a day. The weekends run up to as high as 800. We open during the week at 6 a.m. We have people waiting for us to open the doors.
What does your typical day look like? Walk me through it. I usually get to work around 8:30 a.m. in the morning. I go to the bank and handle most of the deposits. I always make sure we have plenty of help on hand. During the week I usually act as a back-up. I have two cooks, but I usually handle the waffles and the toast. If we are real short-handed, I’ll get on the egg grill and fryer. I like to get out and mix and mingle with the people and pre-bus the tables for the servers. I like to walk around and actually touch each table. I like to talk to customers about their dining experience.
What is the secret to your success? It’s my wife. She gives me so much support. Another key ingredient to our success is our family orientation. For example, we close down for a couple of hours before Christmas and have a party for our employees, spouses and family. We also invite select customers. Everybody brings a plate. We exchange Christmas presents and have a great time. We get so much joy from our work, it doesn’t seem so much like work. Another key to being successful is that you really need to limit yourself to a number you can honestly manage. Our current Nashville, Ga., franchise has grown tremendously since we started it in 2004. Our numbers are more than we could honestly have dreamed of. We have longevity with our employees. We have quite a few who have been with us seven or eight years. Our customers don’t see a different face every time they walk in the door.
What kind of person do you think would enjoy owning a Huddle House franchise?
Jeanne: It would be somebody who stays involved in the business. It’s a common, down-to-earth person who doesn’t think they are better than everybody else. You’ve got to be in line with your customers and your staff. When you look down on your staff, they tend not to respect you.
What are some personal benefits of franchise ownership?
Hiram: The biggest thing is being able to mix and mingle with my customers. How many places do you go to where the owner actually sits down and talks their customers? I have the flexibility to really interact with my customers.
Jeanne: We are still able to support the community. If I worked for someone else, I might not be able to support those causes.
Would you recommend a Huddle House franchise to someone else? Why? Yes, I would. But the first things I’d ask is, “How committed are you? Are you willing to do the work that’s required? Are you willing to be a hands-on owner?” If you are going to be an absentee owner, I wouldn’t recommend this business. The first thing you have to do is build your character in the community.
What is your favorite menu item? I love everything on the menu. I’m not real heavy but I’m pleasingly plump. I tell people if they see a skinny man that owns a restaurant, you don’t need to eat there. I love our Huddle burgers. The crispy chicken sandwich is out of this world.