McDonald’s is buying one of the largest and most prominent franchisees

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McDonald’s has bought Caspers, one of the chain’s largest, oldest and best-known operators, the franchisor confirmed in an emailed statement Monday.

The Caspers Company’s CEO is Blake Casper, who has held various internal leadership roles and was instrumental in the 2018 formation of the National Owners Association, the independent franchise organization for McDonald’s. He has served as its president ever since.

The Caspers Company operates 60 locations in Tampa and Jacksonville, Florida, and the terms of the deal — or what McDonald’s plans to do with restaurants after its acquisition — remain uncertain so far. The deal is expected to be completed by October 1, after which Casper and son-in-law Robbie Adams will retire.

The sale comes as McDonald’s is buying up franchise stores, especially larger franchisees who have been in the business for several generations. It then flips stores over to new operators as part of a broader effort to diversify ownership in the system.

The system has left 400 franchisees, representing nearly 1,800 locations — or about 13% of the more than 13,000 franchisees owned.

The value of McDonald’s restaurants has risen to a record level. A typical franchisor sells for about 10 times EBITDA, or EBITDA, which is one of the highest multiples in the franchise space. This price has proven to be attractive to many franchisees, especially those who are older and on the verge of retirement. In this multiplier, McDonald’s likely paid well in the nine figures for Caspers’ sites.

At the same time, many legacy operators of all kinds of brands are becoming frustrated with the challenges of operating restaurants in today’s environment, due to rising labor and food costs. Several McDonald’s franchisees have told RB that they have been frustrated with the general direction of the company’s franchise relationship.

The company was moving away from a model that relied on its old operators to keep growing and handing their businesses over to their children. McDonald’s recently told franchisees that it plans to tighten franchise renewal requirements, which include increasing the property rights required of spouses or children of operators who wish to enter ownership.

Caspers got its start in 1958 when Fritz Casper opened the chain’s 82nd and first location in the Tampa area. His son, Joe Casper, took over in 1970 when the company had five locations. Franchisee Joe Casper has increased to 44 locations.

Blake and Robby Adams joined in 1996, serving as managers and then district supervisors. They were approved as proprietary operators in 1999 and have run Caspers since 2005, growing the company to 60 locations. Many franchise restaurants have some of the highest sales, number of customers and cash flow per business unit, Jason Clark, vice president of the Atlanta field office, said in a letter to operators seen by Restaurant Business.

In 2018, Casper called an owner-only meeting in Tampa to discuss challenges in the company. The meeting invitation, which went out to 40 owners, soon spread to more than 400 owners. The meeting led to a larger meeting eight weeks later attended by 1,200 franchisees and led to the creation of NOA. “NOA would not be here today without the risk to Blake,” the association’s board of directors said in a letter to its members, seen by Restaurant Business.

However, some operators have questioned whether McDonald’s is buying off some of the company’s critics. NOA has helped lead a protest from operators in recent years on a variety of topics, from reconfigurations to technology fees to recent changes in ownership rules. Recent changes have led at least one group of franchisees, the National Black McDonald’s Operators Association, to hold a vote of no confidence in CEO Chris Kempzinski.

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