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Sobelmans Continues to Gain Ground in Wisconsin with Plans for New Stores in Madison

The Wisconsin-based burger brand looks to establish new franchisees in the state’s capital city

By Ben Warren1851 Franchise Managing Editor
SPONSORED 11:11AM 09/21/17

In the year since Sobelmans Pub & Grill began franchising, the burger-and-bloody-mary concept has already become a Wisconsin hallmark, offering a fine-tuned version of the type of indulgent, unpretentious American fare that the state is famous for. Now Sobelmans is preparing to cement their growing reputation as a Wisconsin mainstay by moving into Madison, the state’s second biggest city and home to tens of thousands of hungry college students.

According to Dave Sobelman, founder and co-president of Sobelmans Pub & Grill, Madison and Sobelmans have a lot to offer each other.

“We've built a brand around high-quality meat, cheese, beer, and bloody marys,” said Sobelman. “The only people who love those things more than Wisconsinites are college students, and Madison has over 40,000 of them.”

Rick Robinson, President and Founder of Services4Franchising, which provides development services for Sobelmans, notes that students aren’t the only potentially lucrative demographic that Madison has to offer. Visiting families are also likely to gravitate toward the known quantity of burgers and bloody marys.

“The frequency of sports events, holidays, and seasonal breaks means a nearly year-round circulation of parents and families visiting students,” Robinson said. “Local families know the brand and are going to opt for that familiarity, and out-of-towners are looking for comfort food and something that’s a safe bet for everyone in the family, which is one of the bar-and-grill concept’s biggest selling points.”

That many customers can pose challenge rather than a benefit for independent operations that are not supported by the framework of a franchise. Consistency is paramount for any restaurant, and according to Sobelman, independent restaurants aren’t likely to keep up with demand.

“I often see other restaurants posting pictures of burgers and bloody marys online, and I think ‘great, you’ve made a beautiful burger and bloody to post online, but can you make 100 or 200 of each every single day without losing a step?’ I don’t think they can.”

Sobelmans franchisees benefit from an established operational system that allows them to serve high volumes of customers without sacrificing quality.

“When someone buys a Sobelmans, they become business partners with me,” said Sobelman. “So on their first day they are running a restaurant with an 18-year restauranteur, and they’ve got the resources of all the other Sobelmans locations at their disposal.”

That partnership has proven successful for the restaurant’s existing franchisees, who are receiving growing attention across the country as the brand’s famously over-adorned bloody marys are increasingly dominating social media feeds.

While Sobelmans continues to grow at an impressive clip during their first year as a franchise, they are not set on growth solely for growth’s sake. Sobelman wants his brand name to become synonymous with Wisconsin food, which means that, despite having developing territories across the U.S., the franchise’s most significant growth remains close to home. And community integration is a key element of that growth strategy.

“The buildings that we choose are important. We like a space that has a history to incorporate into the location,” said Sobelman. “We have turned down two strip mall locations because they did not bring the character that is an essential part of the Sobelmans experience.”

Sobelman said that nearly all of his vendors are local as well.

“We recently rebuilt our melts with Widmer Cheese, an award-winning local brick-cheese maker, and we renamed them Widmer Melts,” Sobleman said. “All of the cheese we use is from Wisconsin, every beer we have on tap is from Wisconsin, the vodka in our Bloody Marys is from Wisconsin and we recently entered partnerships Johnsonville Sausages and the Milwaukee Pretzel Company. It’s important to us that our food tastes like home and that our operations support the community.”

Robinson said he foresees rapid growth for Sobelmans not only in Madison, but throughout Wisconsin.

“We want a Sobelmans in every Wisconsin market that has 50,000 or more people,” said Robinson. “Madison is the logical next step in service of that goal, and I see the brand finding enormous success there, which they can quickly leverage toward further growth throughout the state.”