Zaxby’s Franchise Concept: the Zmall Business (2024)

Written by: Nida Fatima
Last Updated by Rocio Somoza: May 16, 2024
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This article is based on the video featured above, originally recorded for Vetted Biz Youtube Channel.

Zaxby’s is a private fast-casual restaurant chain in the United States. The very first Zaxby’s opened in 1990 in Statesboro, GA by co-founder and CEO Zach McLeroy. Today, Zaxby’s franchise has 908 (as of 2021) stores in the U.S., and aims to “bring encore experiences that enrich lives, one person at a time”. In recent news, CEO Zach McLeroy also bought out his partner, Tony Townley, the share of the company in early 2021.

Its popular menu items include chicken wings, chicken fingers, sandwiches, and salads. It is a growing business with 908 stores in the US as of 2021.

Data collected and analyzed here at Vetted Biz has concluded that the food and beverage industry overall has an average stability rate of 77% and a growth rate of 15.5% over the past few years.


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Zaxby’s Franchise Cost

The initial investment and ongoing fees for opening a Zaxby’s franchise are highlighted below.

zaxby's franchise

How Much Is a Zaxby’s Franchise?

Estimated Initial Investment

Type of
Low Amount High
To Whom Payment
Is to Be Made
Initial Franchise
$35,000 Zaxby’s
Lease Deposit and
$10,000 $19,000 Landlord
Utility Deposits $0 $9,000 Utilities
Initial Inventory $5,000 $22,000 Vendors
Furniture, Fixtures &
$330,000 $399,000 Vendors
Technology System $67,200 $92,200 Vendors
Signage $23,000 $134,000 Vendors
Initial Marketing
$5,200 $10,000 Zaxby’s
Insurance $1,000 $17,000 Insurance Company
or Broker
Permits and
$2,000 $24,000 Government
Accounting and
Legal Fees
$500 $25,000 Professionals
$300 $1,000 Vendors
Uniforms $1,500 $4,000 Vendors
Training Expenses $10,000 $25,000 Hotels, Airlines, etc.
$10,000 $37,000 Employees
Additional Funds –
3 months
$1,000 $96,000 Vendors,
employees, Utilities,
TOTAL $501,700 $950,200

Overall, the initial investment ranges from $501,700 to $950,200.


Ongoing Fees

Apart from the initial investment, other fees include 6% of gross sales per week, accounting services as well as marketing/advertising contributions.

Zaxby’s Franchising Requirements

Additional requirements include a net worth requirement of $1,000,000 and a liquid cash requirement of $500,000, which is again quite high for a potential franchise owner.

How Much Does a Zaxby’s Franchise Owner Make?

Summary of Gross Revenues of Measured Restaurants in Fiscal Year 2021

Quartile Restaurant
# of Restaurants
% of
Top Quartile 182 $3,468,473 68 37.4% $2,968,423 $2,646,626 $
Second Quartile 182 $2,724,487 89 48.9% $ $ $
Third Quartile 181 $2,274,123 94 51.9% $ $
Bottom Quartile 182 $1,708,846 110 60.4% $ $ $
All Measured
727 $2,544,354 344 47% $2,497,295 $839,494 $5,331,733

zaxby's franchise

Zaxby’s Ownership

Average Annual Gross Revenues of Franchised Restaurants
In Fiscal Years 2019, 2020, and 2021

Year Restaurant
# of Restaurants
% of
2019 722 $2,179,984 334 46.3% $2,117,443 $497,882 $4,324,891
2020 725 $2,256,060 3.5% 357 49.2% $2,237,850 $630,400 $4,284,533
2021 727 $2,544,354 12.8% 344 47.3% $2,497,295 $839,494 $5,331,733

The average gross revenues of the franchised stores in 2021 were $2,544,354, a 12.8% change from last year. Considering that COVID had negatively impacted the food and beverage industry during this year, it is impressive that the average sales increased since the previous years.

How Long Will It Take to Recoup Your Initial Investment?

Based on the 2020 average gross revenues for a Zaxby’s franchise of $2,248,862, and a midpoint initial investment of $534,750:

Initial investment (midpoint) % Profit margin of median franchise sales Estimated Profits Time to recoup investments
$534,750 10% $224,000 5 years
15% $337,000 3.5 years
20% $448,000 2.5 years

Keep in mind, it can take 2.5 years for a food and beverage franchiseto open, break-even then reach stabilization.

zaxby's franchise

Is the Franchise Profit Worth the Zaxby’s Franchise Cost?

Zaxby’s Financial Income Statement

For the Fiscal Years Ended:
Consolidated Statements of Operations December 27, 2020 December 29, 2019
Franchisee royalties $ 115,234,028 $ 112,031,392
Franchise fees 1,508,999 2,210,287
Incentive payment fees 8,324,765 8,466,910
Advertising and conference fund revenue 37,686,590 34,673,216
Other fees 169,457,321 7,578,586
Total revenues 169,457,321 164,960,391
Operating expenses:
Salaries and benefits 50,696,044 30,386,743
Selling, general, and administrative 61,220,079 57,889,240
Depreciation 2,616,007 2,693,758
Total operating expenses 114,532,130 90,969,741
Income from operations 54,925,191 73,990,650
Other income:
Other income, net 530,413 75,212
Net income 55,455,604 74,065,862
Net loss attributable to non-controlling interests (2,552,740) (110,968)
Net income attributable to ZFL and Subsidiaries $58,008,344 $ 74,176,830

Income Statement Key Insights

From 2019 to 2020, there was a slight increase (an increase of about 2.73%) in the total revenues made by Zaxby’s. Mostly owing to franchise royalties. However, there was also a significant increase (an increase of about 25.90%) in operating expenses, mostly due to an increase in salaries and benefits at a time when COVID was on the rise. Since there was only a slight increase in the revenues and a relatively large increase in the costs, this led to a significant decrease in income from operations (a decrease of about 25.77%) and net income for the year (a decrease of about 21.80%). Hence the company’s profits definitely deteriorated in 2020 compared to previous years because of COVID.


Consolidated Statements of Cash Flows

For the Fiscal Years Ended:
December 27, 2020 December 29, 2019
Cash flows from operating activities:
Net income attributable to ZFL and Subsidiaries $ 58,008,344 $ 74,176,830
Adjustments to reconcile net income attributable to ZFL and Subsidiaries
to net cash provided by operating activities:
Net loss attributable to non-controlling interests (2,552,740) (110,968)
Depreciation 2,616,007 2,693,758
(Gain) loss on disposal of assets (30,176) 52,136
Realized (gain) loss on sale of investments (57,548) 7,728
Unrealized gain on insurance policies (1,099,622) (983,507)
Changes in operating assets and liabilities:
Receivables (1,010,080) 74,714
Advertising and conference cooperative assets, restricted
and liabilities
2,552,739 110,968
Prepaid expenses and other current assets 357,155 56,016
Deposits and other assets 700 (35,076)
Accounts payable and accrued expenses (591,779) 264,161
Deferred compensation liability 2,837,925 2,853,614
Deferred revenue (1,402,803) (1,865,076)
Gift card liability 2,109,696 (1,811,730)
Net cash provided by operating activities 61,737,818 75,483,568
Cash flows from investing activities:
Purchase of property and equipment (889,050) (803,542)
Purchase of investments (502,762) (630,848)
Proceeds from sale of property and equipment 66,535
Proceeds from sale of investments 1,099,742 368,769
Purchase of insurance policies (1,631,892) ( 1,744,638)
Net cash used in investing activities (1,857,427) ( 2,810,259)
Cash flows from financing activities:
Distributions to member (62,294,124) (75,000,000)
Net cash used in financing activities (62,294,124) (75,000,000)
Net decrease in cash and cash equivalents (2,413,733) (2,326,691)
Cash and cash equivalents at beginning of fiscal year 4,910,260 7,236,951
Cash and cash equivalents at end of fiscal year $ 2,496,527 $ 4,910,260

Zaxby’s Cash Flow Statement Key Insights

The positive cash flows from operating expenses decreased from 2019 to 2020 by 18.21 %, reaching a value of $61,737,818. At the same time, the negative cash flows from investing activities and financing activities also decreased from 2019 to 2020 by about 33.91% and 16.94% respectively. This led to an overall net decrease in cash of $2,413,733 by the end of 2020, a 3.74% deprovement from the previous year’s net decrease in cash. The cash and cash equivalents at the end of 2020 were $2,496,527.

How Many Zaxby’s Units Have Opened and Closed?

Systemwide Restaurant Summary For Years 2018 to 2020

Restaurant Type Year Restaurants at
the Start of the
Restaurants at
the End of the
Net Change
Franchised 2018 736 757 +21
2019 757 756 -1
2020 756 762 +6
2018 141 141 0
2019 141 149 +8
2020 149 146 -3
Total Restaurants 2018 877 898 +21
2019 898 905 +6
2020 905 908 +3

According to the table above, we can see that during 2018, the franchised stores increased by 21 whereas there was no focus on increasing affiliate-owned stores. However, in 2019, the total change in franchised stores was -1. While the affiliate-owned restaurants went up by 8 overall. Finally, in 2020, there was an increase in franchised stores by 6. And a decrease in affiliate-owned stores by 3. Leading to a final store composition of 762 (83.9% of total) franchised stores and 146 (16.1% of total) affiliate-owned stores by the end of 2021. This seems quite promising for potential franchise owners. The details of these various branches’ locations are given below.

franchise advisor

Transfers of Restaurants from Franchisees to New Owners (Other than the Franchisor)

State Year Number of Transfers
Alabama 2018 3
2019 12
2020 0
Arkansas 2018 0
2019 0
2020 0
Florida 2018 0
2019 6
2020 2
Georgia 2018 5
2019 8
2020 10
Indiana 2018 1
2019 0
2020 1
Kentucky 2018 0
2019 0
2020 0
Louisiana 2018 0
2019 0
2020 0
Mississippi 2018 0
2019 1
2020 0
Missouri 2018 0
2019 0
2020 0
North Carolina 2018 1
2019 5
2020 1
Oklahoma 2018 0
2019 0
2020 3
South Carolina 2018 0
2019 3
2020 6
Tennessee 2018 0
2019 2
2020 2
Texas 2018 0
2019 0
2020 7
Virginia 2018 5
2019 0
2020 0
Total 2018 15
2019 37
2020 32

Potential Risks to Consider Before Investing in a Zaxby’s Franchise

Some of the risks in growth strategies and operations for Zaxby’s include:

1. COVID and other pandemic outbreaks:

Zaxby’s, like almost all other businesses, has been affected by the COVID 19 pandemic. They fear that further factors like this outbreak may hinder staffing their outlets, and even in extreme cases, may make it more difficult to get necessary ingredients and increase commodity costs.

2. Failure to design and execute appropriate growth strategies:

Since their success depends on identifying and executing successful business strategies, there is a risk that they might not be able to identify appropriate strategies successfully in the current industry environment or may not be able to execute them properly.

3. Failure to find suitable locations for their new shacks, or open these shacks timely or with conditions that they would prefer.

Factors that might implement the timing of opening these new shacks that the company plans include: difficulty finding attractive lease terms, shortage of labor, difficulty in finding permits to start these shacks on a timely basis, etc.

4. Risks associated with expanding to new and unfamiliar locations:

Since Zaxby’splans to expand to new markets, ones that they are not familiar with, this might present additional risks to success, with diverse consumer tastes and preference patterns being difficult to predict. Additionally, with expanding to any new location it takes longer to reach the targeted level of sales, and can possibly be too much to bear for the company at that time.

5. Incidents involving food safety and food-borne illnesses could adversely affect guests’ perception of our brand, result in lower sales and increase operating costs.

Some additional risks include:

Out of state dispute resolution: After signing the franchise agreement and area development agreement, you are obligated to resolve disputes with the franchisor by arbitration and/or litigation only in Georgia, which may force you to accept a less favorable settlement for disputes and cost more to arbitrate or litigate with the franchisor in Georgia than in your own state.

zaxby's franchise

About Them

They state in their website, they INVENTED “ZMALL BUSINESS”.

Take the concept of small business and add Zignificant resources, and what do you get? We call it Zmall business. From day one, Zaxby’s has been about building your own local brand in the community. And we’re here to help you do just that. So don’t just think big. Think Zmall.

Zach McLeroy, CEO, and Founder of Zaxby’s

He has grown a billion-dollar franchise through hard work, resiliency, and determination that all began with a dream and an opportunity in 1990.

Over the past 30 years, he has built the Zaxby’s brand into more than just a quick-service chicken chain. He has found the secret to success is serving our communities quality food, providing team members opportunity, creating a definable culture of service, and collaborating with strategic partners to grow the brand to new heights.

Under Zach’s leadership, Zaxby’s has been recognized in numerous publications and trades throughout the years. Most recently, Forbes listed Zaxby’s as one of its Best Large Employers in 2021 as well as Dealmakers of the Year 2021 by Franchise Times for our new partnership with Goldman Sachs.

Today, he oversees all business functions through a strong leadership team, collaborates with our partners at Goldman Sachs, and continues to cast vision for Zaxby’s bright future.

Zach McLeroy, Founder & Chairman of the Board

The Zaxby’s CEO, Zach McLeroy has grown a billion dollar franchise through hard work and resiliency.
In 1990 he had an opportunity to build his first restaurant which started out as just another small fast-food joint but quickly became known for its quality food along with being franchises that take care of their communities by providing team members opportunities while collaborating strategically partners who help them grow the brand new heights it’s reached today.


Bernard Acoca, Chief Executive Officer

Bernard joined Zaxby’s in January 2022 as its first incoming CEO. He brings an abundance of experience and knowledge from the QSR industry, most recently serving at El Pollo Loco where he led their transformation into modern day chickens with digital e-commerce capabilities while streamlining drive through orders for quick service! Before this position there was also a time spent working on development opportunities within Starbucks’ leadership team where they doubling down on brand positioning by renewing restaurant design prior to aggressive franchise expansion domestically and internationally.

Most recently, Bernard was the CEO of El Pollo Loco where he oversaw the company’s transformation into a modern day chicken restaurant with digital e-commerce capabilities. Prior to that, he worked on development opportunities within Starbucks’ leadership team.

Mike Mettler, Chief Development Officer

Mike has spent 16 years in the franchising industry, developing several leading global franchise brands by recruiting industry-leading operators and building world class teams. He started his career with start ups to turnarounds of businesses large companies before moving on to mergers acquisitions & business development where he served as President for three different electronics firms that operated around nicotine products including cigarettes pipes chewing gum etc., which is what brought him here at Zaxby’s.

Blake Bailey, Chief Financial Officer

Blake has been a crucial part of Zaxby’s success since he joined the company over 15 years ago. During this time, Blake helped build financial infrastructure that is now supporting 900+ locations and working with other leaders to develop strategies for future growth initiatives.

He holds an entrepreneurial spirit as well; serving on several nonprofit boards including Downtown Ministries Inc., where they help people in need by providing food & clothing donations or services such as job training programs so no one goes without hope.

Mike Nettles, Chief Digital Technology Officer

Mike Nettles is a digital guru with experience in designing and implementing complex technology solutions for brands such as Papa John’s, Panera Bread Co., GameStop Corporation (formally Binterrupted) among others. He joined the Zaxby’s team this year to help streamline their processes using various technologies while creating harmony through personalization across all channels by leveraging his innovative knowhow that he has developed over time at companies like these ones.

Keith Anderkin, Chief Supply Chain Officer

Keith is the first Chief Supply Chain Officer for Zaxby’s and in just three months, he has already become an integral part of their team. With over 25 years experience working with brands like Arby’s or Long John Silvers; Keith excels at fostering relationships between vendors/franchisees while also maintaining high standards when it comes down to quality assurance (food safety). As one would expect from someone who attended college locally – UK grad himself- his knowledge on how best optimize sourcing strategies so they can meet all goals set forth within category management without fail makes him invaluable.

zaxby's franchise

Brenda Tickey, General Counsel

Brenda, a highly qualified lawyer who is passionate about serving the people and building lasting relationships with those she serves was thrilled to be asked by Zaxby’s if they could hire her as their first ever in-house General Counsel.
North Carolina native Brenda brings over ten years experience working on culture driven teams at places like Marriott International or Popeye’s where service is not just expected but demanded! Her deep understanding of what it means for an organization – both internally within its own walls but also externally towards customers-, makes this such a perfect fit when you think about how different yet similar these two companies are.


As mentioned earlier, Zaxby’s is a growing business within the food and beverage industry. The initial investment ranges from around $351,000 to 718,500. With ongoing fees like royalty of 6% as well as marketing and advertising fees to consider.

However, the net worth requirement of $1,000,000 and liquid cash requirement of $500,000 might not be affordable for some. In which case you can consider some of the other franchise options that Vetted Biz has covered.

The financial statements show that although overall revenues increased in 2020, so did costs by a larger amount. Leading to a lower net profit than the previous year.

The cash and cash equivalents at the end of 2020 were $2,496,527. With the net cash decrease over the year increasing only slightly.

Overall, Zaxby’s seems like a good investment option for potential franchise owners, looking for a potential franchise investment in the Food and Beverage Industry.

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