While pursuing a degree in business at the University of Mississippi, Merrick McKinnie supported himself by bussing tables at a local restaurant. As he fell in love with the foodservice industry, McKinnie worked his way up from cook to general manager.
Today, he is the President of SD Holdings, a multi-brand franchise portfolio company with more than 150 restaurants across seven states. SD Holdings functions as the franchisee for those units it has purchased, with a portfolio that includes McAlister’s Deli, MOD Pizza, Sonic Drive-In and Fuzzy’s Taco Shop—the latter of which the group is currently developing across the state of North Carolina.
McKinnie was introduced to Fuzzy’s Taco Shop by his business partner and SD Holdings CEO, Yaron Goldman. Goldman was a regular of Fuzzy’s in Fort Collins, Colorado—most Fuzzy’s guests are regulars, after all.
“Yaron was going there two or three times a week,” said McKinnie. “We’re always looking for new concepts to get into to diversify our portfolio, so I thought it would be worth checking out.”
McKinnie met up with Goldman in Fort Worth, Texas to see what his partner’s raving was all about. Although he was truly curious, McKinnie also knew what he was looking for in a franchisor. “The number one thing for us is people,” said McKinnie. “When it comes down to it, restaurants are a people business.”
McKinnie practices what he preaches, noting in particular the long tenure of his managers. “Many of them have been with us for 18 or 19 years,” he said. “I think it just goes back to developing and working with a team like they’re family and treating people how they want to be treated.”
Upon meeting the team at Fuzzy’s Taco Shop, McKinnie was struck by how the members’ core values aligned with his. “What we love about Fuzzy’s is that it’s very laid back, focused and driven. We want partners who think the way we do about moving the business forward,” he said. “The leadership team at Fuzzy’s is easy to sit down and have a meal with. If anything comes up, you can talk about it. That’s what we want: a partner with whom we can speak anytime we pick up the phone to call.”
SD Holdings initially signed a six-unit deal to bring Fuzzy’s Taco Shop to North Carolina. The first location opened in May 2018; the second that December; and the third most recently in February 2019—all in the commercial hub of Charlotte.
“Fuzzy’s is one of the first taco places in the area that fits that unique, fresh flavor profile,” said McKinnie. “It’s really something else. Fuzzy’s is loud, in-your-face and all about having fun and socializing. North Carolina really loves those kinds of concepts.”
It wasn’t long before McKinnie and his team caught Fuzzy’s Fever.
“Our goal was always to develop the North Carolina market, but we didn’t want to bite off more than we could chew by opening too many without knowing how they’d perform,” said McKinnie. “Once we got the first unit open, we saw the huge loyalty that follows Fuzzy’s. That was really exciting for us. We loved the concept, so we thought it was a good time to lock up North Carolina.”
Thus, the group signed on for an 18-unit deal. SD Holdings plans to continue building the brand in Charlotte, branching out further across the state from there.
“Fuzzy’s has brought in a lot of new leadership that I think is going to push us even further forward,” said McKinnie. “That's really what it’s all about. How can we continue to enhance what’s already a fun experience for our guests? What can we do behind the scenes to make it even better? That’s what I’m excited about.”
McKinnie’s dedication to improving the experience translates to his fellow Fuzzy’s franchise owners, too.
“As a rookie franchisee, Merrick was voted onto our Franchise Advisory Council and brings great value in supporting his fellow franchisees,” said Andie Smirl, Franchise Sales Manager at Fuzzy’s. “He and his team bring another level of sophistication to our brand. Given their experience and knowledge, we feel very fortunate they are part of the Fuzzy’s family.”
Indeed, McKinnie’s people-centric approach gives him back much satisfaction in return. “Many people measure their success by financials, but I measure my success by how people are developing and growing with us,” he said. “Having the opportunity to grow people’s careers with us is definitely the most rewarding aspect of the job.”
Of course, the scrumptious food at Fuzzy’s doesn’t hurt either. “I love the tempura shrimp,” laughed McKinnie. “Also, just adding Mahi to a salad makes it so great.”
For more information about joining the Fuzzy’s Taco Shop family as a franchisee, visit www.myfuzzys.com.