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A coffee entrepreneur explains how he helped establish one of the most popular chains in the Midwest


Co-CEO and co-founder of Biggby Coffee, Mike McFall, spoke with host Barbara Castiglia of “The Main Course” podcast, about the rise of his coffee chain. Founded in Lansing, Michigan more than 27 years ago, Biggby Coffee is now one of the most popular coffeehouse chains in the Midwest region. McFall said decades ago he jumped into a relatively new industry. Brewing a coffee business from the ground up took a lot of work, and more importantly, it took even more for two business partners to know they could grow and operate their business under the franchise model.

“It was a natural fit for my partner and I. We both tend to be teachers, we love working with other people as partners, and the franchise business model is just that,” McFall said.

Under the mentorship of Fred Deluca, the founder of the Subway franchise, McFall added that they have been able to see the positive benefits of the franchise and why the framework has allowed them to grow significantly. Biggby Coffee franchise owners are equipped with their own set of skills to build a thriving business, and McFall said he prioritizes that above all else.

“The franchise owners, locally, they’re not your employees, that’s for sure, and they’re independent business people…all of them have some success in some other area,” McFall said. “They are very experienced people and we really like that. There’s a lot of energy in the franchise business model that way.

Another highlight of Biggby Coffee’s success has been their take on menu item names, opting for creative terms for their lattes that often incorporate pop culture terms, such as Caramel Marvel. But a major high point for the company came at the height of its business boom. Originally called Beaner’s Coffee, after about a decade in business, McFall and his partner realized they had to change the name of the entire business. Unfortunately, the old part of the original trade name is also an ethnic slur for Mexican Americans.

“It was something that we obviously weren’t originally aware of when we formed him, we realized that very quickly.

After much discussion between him and his partner, McFall decided that the name change would happen and that every location they had would become Biggby Coffee. He said his eyes were open and “it became very obvious that you don’t want to have a derogatory name for anyone in any way,” McFall said.

However, the name change process contractually obligated franchise owners to foot the bill for the cost of the change which had to be reflected in signage, and the price was quite steep. But it was a commitment he was willing to keep, and McFall shelled out nearly a million dollars to ensure that all of Biggby Coffee’s franchises were under the new name.

McFall said the franchise business model was the best move for his company. While he says not all franchise owners can have a positive experience and have faced challenges in the past, he added that to ensure a lucrative franchise company knows the best types of partners with which to collaborate.

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