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BY Abu Mubarik, 1:00pm April 04, 2024,

Meet Sterling Coleman, the largest African-American operator for Zaxby’s

Sterling Coleman.. Photo: SJAC Food Groups

Get to know Sterling Coleman; he is the largest African-American operator of the restaurant chain Zaxby’s. He first became a franchise owner when he had little to no experience in restaurant operations, but that did not stop the owners from giving him a chance.

His journey began in 2003 when he first signed his first franchise agreement with the then-emerging chicken brand. He subsequently got support from the brand’s co-founders Tony Townley and Zach McLeroy, which helped him get his business running.

“Tony and Zach put their trust in me and gave me the opportunity to build a successful business with Zaxby’s. Their team supported me from the start and helped me get my business up and running. Without that, I wouldn’t be here today talking with you today about my business,” said Coleman, the president of SJAC Food Groups, the largest African-American-owned Zaxby’s licensee group.

At a point in his growth, Coleman had 17 Zaxby’s before selling a handful of them. In 2014, he signed the largest multi-unit deal in Zaxby’s history, agreeing to open 28 locations in the Oklahoma City metro area.

Based in Athens, Georgia, Zaxby’s has earned a strong following in the 17 states where it operates by serving crispy chicken fingers, wings, sandwiches, salads, and a variety of dipping sauces. Most of Zaxby’s restaurants are owned by franchisees while about 16 percent of the stores are owned by corporations.

According to the Franchise Times, Zaxby’s ended 2022 with 923 restaurants, the vast majority of them located in the South. However, Coleman has nine restaurants in Georgia and four in Oklahoma.

His 13 restaurants make him the largest African-American operator for Zaxby’s. Also, in terms of sales, he is one of the most successful, becoming the first in the system to hit the $4 million mark with his first location in Smyrna, Georgia.

Coleman said his success in the franchisee business is due to his previous work life and his love for business. He worked as a sales manager at a Fortune 500 company where he understood that sales had to do with building relationships with people. After working there for some time, he knew he wanted to start his own business.

“When I made the decision to go it alone and run my own company, I looked at a lot of franchises and different kinds of concepts,” Coleman said. “I ended up going with Zaxby’s by saving my bonus checks and putting up my home as collateral to become an owner. That’s how much I believed in the brand.

“It was clear to me from the start that the founders were devoted to growing the business with friends and family. That was important to me—to join a brand that has those standards.”

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: April 4, 2024


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