Franchisee Q&A: David Howell

Howell Family

• Fajita Pete’s – Greater North Dallas franchisee

• CFO at Hat Creek Burger Company

• Franchisee at Zaxby’s

The decision made itself for us: we’ve gotta do this. Not doing it was not an option.

David Howell

Tell me about your experience in franchising.

I’ve gotten to experience both franchising and being a franchisor. As the brand and franchisor with Hat Creek, we have a high reverence for the effort and care that takes. I know firsthand that the support of a strong franchisor makes life easier in so many ways.

You started in accounting. Why did you make the change?

As an accountant, I had a set career path. There’s nothing wrong with that—that’s what my own dad had done. But for me, year after year of doing the same thing, I ultimately realized that I had a thirst to understand how businesses operated beyond the numbers. And on a personal note, for my family I was looking for a change that would allow me to set my own schedule.  I knew I wouldn’t work any fewer hours, but I wanted line of site to more ownership over my own time.

Why franchise a restaurant?

The restaurant space is where I want to be. I love the tangible and relatable nature of restaurants.

My passion in the restaurant space is really to create restorative experiences—in the last 18 months we’ve all been through a lot that’s driven people apart. For me, fajitas symbolize a gathering, a sense of community. It’s not just a transaction, it’s being one of the brands that makes getting a meal a restorative guest experience within the community.

How did you become involved in Fajita Pete’s?

The Fajita Pete’s opportunity presented itself to us in 2021. As we kept exploring, we ultimately signed an agreement in the north Dallas area where I grew up.

During our discovery day with Pete and Joey, we discovered that these guys really know what they’re doing. In my experience, every concept goes through growing pains, but when we connected with Pete and Joey we were blown away by what they had built, how they thought about their brand, and the unique take they had on the product they were selling.

Today, we’re excited to bring our experience and expertise as a part of the Fajita Pete’s family and this growing brand.

What do you look for in a franchise?

You want someone that is active in protecting the brand, that’s critical. You also want someone who gives you and your fellow franchisees field level support. You need to be confident that every franchisee is set up for success by the franchisor, with quality and consistency driving the value of the brand.

It’s also important for a concept to stay relevant—through technology, responsiveness, branding—and even while we’ve seen turmoil in supply chain and employment, Fajita Pete’s has been nimble and flexible in doing what is right for the brand and also staying accountable to its franchisees.

Fajita Pete’s is a growing brand. It’s impressive to see what is already in place at such an early stage. It’s exactly what you look for from a franchisor.

Ultimately for me it’s a culture decision. You’re business partners at the end of the day. Do they mesh with you, and do you mesh with them? That’s something I experienced at Fajita Pete’s.

As an experienced franchisee, what kind of business partners do you look for?

Integrity is key. Along with work ethic, and real trust. It’s great to work with someone you would hang out with, but I ask myself, ‘Is this someone I would leave my kids with?’ I would leave my kids with Pete—they would probably get some good (“real world”) life lessons!

What’s awesome to see is that the team at Fajita Pete’s has experience with high growth. Every time I visit, their team is growing. I’m no stranger to franchise growth, and I see everyone on the team pulling the same rope, and caring a lot about everyone they interact with—from employees to vendors to consultants. It’s been a joy to witness and honor to be a part of.

From a business standpoint, how does Fajita Pete’s stand out?

I’m excited about the format of the restaurant itself and the real estate availability. If you want to put a freestanding restaurant somewhere in a high density or established neighborhood with your desired demographic, most sites will be unapproachable economically. With the Fajita Pete’s in-line concept, it opens up a lot of prime real estate locations that you simply can’t reach with many quick service or fast casual concepts.

The initial investment upfront, compared to a traditional restaurant—you can build 6-8 restaurants for the price of one traditional restaurant, which allows for a faster ramping to scale and geographical diversification.

The ratio for top line revenue vs. build costs is exactly what you look for. It allows me to make my investment back in 12-18 months.

The economics of the concept is something really attractive from an investment perspective. That piqued my interest, and then I met Pete and Joey and discovered not only the kind of guys they are, but also the impressive system they are building out.

The decision made itself for us: we’ve gotta do this. Not doing it was not an option.

Tell me about the first time you tried Fajita Pete’s.

The first time I had Fajita Pete’s was actually on my discovery day—a lot of pressure, and it was phenomenal. My favorite was the fajitas. The quesadillas are fantastic, but you’ve got to get the fajitas.

From a restaurant perspective, the product comes in ready to go with limited items on the order guide, so inventory management is relatively simple compared to other competitors. The food is high quality and authentic, but when it comes to preparation, from a consistency and franchisee perspective, it’s exactly what you look for.

Tell me about your experience with ticket size. 

Catering is great because you can plan for it. A party of 200 can’t walk through your door, but with catering you can prepare for it—and, of course, the margins are exceptional.

What’s your perspective on the current Covid challenges?

With Covid, of course, there are roadblocks to catering. On the other hand, we’ve seen the digital channels grow exponentially, and we’ve discovered that there’s a lot of flexibility and reach to the opportunities for people to eat fajitas. As a concept, we’re the pizza of fajitas.

What’s your goal with Fajita Pete’s?

Hey, I’d be lying if I said one of my goals isn’t making money. But also, I have made it a goal to set the example for my family: to lead, to be led, to develop others, to think outside the box. I want to build a team and help them grow beyond what they would even imagine.

I want to be a part of something special in building the Fajita Pete’s brand. I’m proud to be able to say that I’m part of the Fajita Pete’s family. There’s real career satisfaction. You stick your neck out and build something awesome for you, your family, your partners, and for the brand.

What would you say to a potential franchisee?

 You gotta come see it for yourself. Pete is a pioneer of his concept. When you meet Pete and Joey and hear their stories and experiences, you’ll be blown away.