VALRICO — Shane Burden always wanted to own a bar.
He seriously contemplated opening a Brass Tap, joining the Tampa-based craft beer pub chain.
"But the hours would not be family-convenient," said Burden, a 42-year-old father of two boys. "You'd be in a bar until two, three o'clock."
Nowadays, instead of tapping an India pale ale, Burden and his employees are preparing healthy, blended fruit-based alternatives for people in the Valrico area at Tampa Bay's newest Smoothie King location. He's planning on opening at least two more.
Burden is a local face in an aggressive international growth strategy for the Metairie, La.-based franchisor. A local executive called him "exactly what we're looking for" as Smoothie King moves to bring its roster to more than 1,000 stores by the end of next year.
"People come in here, they're typically happy," Burden said in an interview shortly after his first shop opened May 9 in the Shoppes at Lithia, 3429 Lithia Pinecrest Road. "I enjoy talking to the customers, talking to their kids, having fun. It's kind of the same thing as with a bar. It's a bar, but you don't have any alcohol."
Burden was selling advertising for local publications dealing in luxury homes and cars when he grew uncertain about the future of print advertising.
His sons, Chase, 7, and Tanner, 4, race motocross bicycles, and a Smoothie King franchisee in New Tampa, where the Burdens live, brought a portable truck to a BMX event. "We started looking into it, and the more we looked into it, the more it made sense," the native Texan said. "You don't have to deal with food. There's very little waste. I thought, 'This sounds like a home run.' "
Burden's wife, Marci, who sells pharmaceuticals, grew up less than a mile from the current location, and knows the area well. So he signed an area development agreement for three Smoothie Kings, with the second expected to be in construction before the end of the year and the third in 2017, all in the SouthShore and Brandon area.
He has 11 employees at the first shop, and expects that to triple when the second and third open. He's hoping to bring in $500,000 in revenue in his first shop's first year.
The chain was founded in 1973 when Steve Kuhnau, a soda jerk in the New Orleans area, realized his lactose intolerance and chronic food allergies left him unable to digest the milk shakes he was making. He formulated "smoothies" in his own kitchen with vitamins, nutrients, minerals and fruit.
Kuhnau realized there were health benefits, and opened the first Smoothie Bar in 1973.
Today, there are several menu categories at the typical Smoothie King shop: fitness blends, for those who want to get toned, build muscle or recover from a workout; slim blends, for those who want to reduce fat, slim down, or cut calories; wellness blends, to strengthen immunity or help customers feel better; and "take a break blends," the tastiest stuff that serves as a reward.
There are "enhancers" that can be added to smoothies to help increase energy, burn fat and help focus.
Small smoothies, at 20 ounces, sell for $4.50 to $5.50. A large, at 40 ounces, can run up to $9 and enhancers can add to the cost.
Most Smoothie Kings also have a retail section offering post-workout energy drinks, muffins, breads and cookies, energy bars and supplements.
After franchising and spreading hundreds of Smoothie Kings throughout the country, founder Kuhnau sold the brand to South Korean businessman Wan Kim in 2012. Kim immediately announced plans to increase the worldwide roster to more than 1,000 by the end of 2017; today, there are 783.
Burden's expansion plans fit into that bigger picture.
"He is exactly what we're looking for when we look to bring someone into the brand," said Chris Elam, Smoothie King's franchise development manager for the Tampa Bay area. "His background and his passion for the brand are extremely well-suited to what we were looking for."
Elam said there are 15 Smoothie Kings in Pinellas, Hillsborough and Polk counties, and the number should double in the next five years.
About half of Smoothie King franchisees own more than one shop, she said. That's in line with national figures, according to the International Franchise Association.
The association's 2016 outlook predicts that for the sixth consecutive year, franchise small businesses will grow at rates that exceed nonfranchise business growth.
"It's a business model that really lends itself well to first-time business owners," said Matt Heller, senior vice president for public affairs at the franchise group. "It's said that you're in business for yourself, but not by yourself. You have the strength of the brand, the strength of other franchisees."
That route was perfect for Burden.
"For starters, it's their brand awareness," he said. "People in the Tampa area already know Smoothie King, so it was kind of a no-brainer in that sense. On top of that, they have a great back office, everything from training to marketing. To me, it just made a lot of sense."
More sense than running a craft brewery or selling advertising.
"With advertising, a lot of times you're selling people something they need, but they don't necessarily like buying it. Here, they like buying a smoothie," Burden said.
Contact Jerome R. Stockfisch at [email protected]