Eatery Operator Hopes To Take His Bbq Nationwide

FREDERICKSBURG | Thursday, February 02, 2006

Virginia Barbeques soon may be popping up across the country--fueled with a little help from the National Hot Rod Association. Rick Ivey, a Spotsylvania County chef who started the quick-serve restaurant chain in 2000, has franchised his business and is teaming up with German liquor company Jägermeister to sponsor Naylor Racing Inc. "The first race is Feb. 9 in Pomona, Calif.," an excited Ivey said Tuesday. "I just sent our logo out to them." The bright red, diamond-shaped logo, which says Virginia BBQ in white script, will be slapped on the back of NRI's race car and the tractor-trailer hauling it from race to race across the country. The National Hot Rod Association has the second largest fan base after NASCAR, according to its Web site, nhra.com. Ivey plans to piggyback on that appeal through the co-sponsorship and by adding racing elements in his franchises' decor. "The thought is that it will help differentiate our brand," he said. Ivey, a certified executive chef with 25 years of restaurant experience, opened his first Virginia Barbeque nearly six years ago in a small, wooden building just down the street from the Smokey Pig in Ashland. Naysayers said he wouldn't be able to compete with the established, popular restaurant, but that didn't stop Ivey. After tasting barbecue at dozens of restaurants, he came up with a recipe for smoking beef, chicken and pork; stripping it of fat and gristle; and then hand-pulling and serving it either with a tomato-based, Virginia-style sauce or a vinegary, North Carolina version. Today, there are three more Virginia Barbeque restaurants in Fredericksburg, Culpeper and Stafford County--and more are on the way. Ivey franchised his business last March, has sold three and hopes to have 200 of them in the next 10 years. "We'll be at the International Franchise expo in Washington in June, which is when we'll launch in the D.C. area," he said. Ivey, whom the Fredericksburg Regional Chamber of Commerce just named Entrepreneur of the Year last week, is one of 20 franchisers based in Virginia--and the only one in the Fredericksburg area, according to the IFA, an organization of franchisors, franchisees and suppliers. It estimates there's a total of 1,500 franchise businesses across the United States. "People generally franchise their businesses because they recognize franchises are an effective way to expand a business into new markets and do so fairly rapidly with a relative minimum of expense," said Matthew R. Shay, IFA president. "You're licensing the right to use your intellectual property to another entrepreneur, who is responsible for putting up the capital investment and serving as the day-to-day manager," he said. "In a corporation, if you were managing it all yourself, you'd have to put up the capital and hire and train staff." Ivey originally planned to open five restaurants and run them himself. He'd serve barbecue he'd smoked and sauced in a commercial kitchen at his house, along with side dishes made at each location. "My goal was to make money. Five just seemed like it would make me enough," he said. "I probably couldn't think much further than that." The idea of franchising his concept crystallized after a woman sampled some of Virginia Barbeque's barbecue at the 2004 Taste of Fredericksburg fundraiser, and asked if she could open one of his restaurants in Culpeper. By that time, he'd expanded from Ashland and had one Virginia Barbeque each in Fredericksburg and in Stafford County. Ivey decided to contact Andrew Caffey, a Bethesda, Md., lawyer specializing in franchise law whose name he'd spotted in Entrepreneur magazine, and have papers drawn up to form the Virginia Barbeque Franchise Company. The process included creating a Uniform Franchise Offering Circular--which includes such things as the company's history and audited financial statements--and registering with the State Corporation Commission. Virginia is one of 17 states that require a company's UFOC to be reviewed and approved before it can begin selling franchises. "It took about eight or nine months to get registered with the state," Ivey said. "It was a process, to be sure." He also worked with Future Designs, a Fredericksburg design company, to create a logo, brochures and information kit for prospective franchisees; located a production center to make the barbecue to his specifications; and enrolled in the International Franchise Association's Certified Franchise Executive Program. "I went to the first seminars in Atlanta six months ago," Ivey said. "I was sitting across from CEOs of major franchise companies, and people were free with their information. I have learned the most from anywhere from them." He decided to set the initial franchise fee for a Virginia Barbeque at $15,000. It includes two weeks of training, use of the company's logo and store design, and help in securing financing. Franchisees need a net worth of at least $100,000, since a typical Virginia Barbeque will cost between $36,000 and $202,000 to open, according to the company's literature. They also pay a monthly royalty of 6 percent of net sales, and are expected to spend an additional 2 percent on local advertising. Ivey currently owns only the Virginia Barbeque in Fredericksburg. Relatives have the original place in Ashland, and Frank and Louise Sopko bought the Culpeper and Stafford locations. The Sopkos recently closed the Stafford restaurant and will reopen it in a smaller location in Aquia Towne Center in March. The Sopkos also are planning to open a third franchise in Southpoint II in Massaponax. Two more Virginia Barbeques are in the works. One franchise opens this month on Lakeside Avenue in Richmond, and four attorneys and a marina manager are planning to open one in a strip shopping center in Franklin County. Ivey got involved with the National Hot Rod Association after a high-school friend asked if he could supply Virginia Barbeque to Jägermeister executives attending Naylor Racing's competitions. "For me, that's how we've grown," Ivey said, "by being flexible with different ideas."

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