Owners of The Comfy Cow, a local, three-unit super-premium ice cream and desserts company, are working with a host of restaurant veterans to ready their business for franchised growth.
No less than Don Doyle (former president of KFC, CEO of Rally’s Hamburgers and former Qdoba franchisee in Kentucky, Indiana and Tennessee) and Chip Hamm, former director of franchise development for KFC, are advising Comfy Cow owners Tim and Roy Koons-McGee on the difficult and tedious task of drawing up its franchising documents.
(Hamm also is an investor with the Ton Brothers and Brett Davis in Doc Crow’s on Main Street and in La Coop, the French bistro in NuLu.)
According to Tim Koons-McGee, the effort is costing the business nearly $50,000, “but it’s going to be done right the first time with the help of people who know what they’re doing. We’ve heard horror stories of franchise agreements that were truly bad, so we want to bring that in house and tailor it specifically to our brand.”
Founded in 2009 in Westport Village, Comfy Cow quickly captured a strong following with its array of sweet indulgences and kitschy-clever décor. Not only did word spread rapidly about ice cream flavors such as Bourbon Ball and Cow Tracks, the buttoned up concept caught the attention of restaurant pros who knew the Koons-McGees — despite having no previous ice creamery experience — had nailed their brand perfectly at the outset.
Above, Tim Koons-McGee and Roy Koons-McGee talk about how they got into the ice cream business.
“John Y. Brown (Jr.) called us one time, just out of the blue, to say he’d seen our concept on KET,” said Tim Koons-McGee. “We talked for a few minutes and he said he wanted to drive up that night from Lexington to see it. We’re thinking, ‘Really? He’s coming here to see us?’ ”
Brown, who bought KFC from Colonel Sanders in 1964 and led a growth spurt from 600 to 3,500 units by 1973, left suitably impressed, Koons-McGee said.
Their first store was so successful, the partners began looking for new sites less than a year later. In 2011 stores No. 2 (in Cardinal Town near U of L) and No. 3 (in Clifton) opened to solid traffic.
Store No. 3, built on the one-time eyesore of a site formerly known as Genny’s Diner, includes a production commissary where ice cream is made for its stores and wholesale clients that include two dozen restaurants. It also ships its products nationwide.
Least impressed with the business’s growth are both Koons-McGees, who see themselves “amateurs who are lucky to have gotten this far,” Roy Koons-McGee said during a January interview. Roy manages back-of-the house functions, leaving Tim to focus on marketing and promotion. Both also remain involved in ice cream production and flavor creation.
“With my personality, I like to jump in with both feet and go, which can be dangerous, but Roy’s much more cautious, which is usually a good thing” said Tim Koons-McGee. “If it had been up to me, we’d have opened the business too early and we’d have been closed in three months.”
Adding to his partner’s sentence, Roy said, “And if it had been up to me, we’d still be planning.”
During a Februrary 17 presentation at the North America Pizza & Ice Cream Show in Columbus, Ohio, Tim Koons-McGee discussed the company’s expansion plans and credited Doyle with mentoring and coaching the pair “unselfishly and in ways we never thought we needed. If it weren’t for people like him, we’d never have made it this far.”
To go farther through franchising, the business will require more than mentoring, it’ll need additional private capital from Hamm, who already is a partner, Doyle and others.
Once franchising begins, Tim Koons-McGee said all Comfy Cow ice cream will be made at its commissary and shipped to new units serviced from its Louisville base. He said Sysco Louisville can transport their products within a 180-mile radius around Louisville, a circle that likely will form Comfy Cow’s initial market limits.
“Franchisees will have to buy our product already made because we want complete control over the quality,” Tim Koons-McGee said. “Not only is our product not low end, I don’t want to give recipes out and see someone do something wrong with it. Our product quality is all we have, so we’ll be very strict about that.”
Until then, Comfy Cow will continue expanding locally. Currently the Koons-McGees have their eyes on two Louisville sites they chose not to disclose.
“What I’d like to say about that is both places are fantastic,” said Tim Koons-McGee. “It’s a very exciting time for our business right now. We’re excited to see where this thing could go. ”