For the second year in a row, Debo's Diners has snagged the crown for best Steak 'n Shake's franchise in the nation.
The Chattanooga-based restaurant group beat 512 locations in 27 states to win the title, according to Debo's Diners.
Debo's Diners took over two failing Steak 'n Shakes in Knoxville last year and reopened them to success. That probably helped the company win the title, said Matthew Richman, who owns Debo's Diners with his brother, Mike, and mother, Debbie, after whom the restaurants are named.
"They had roaches everywhere and were failing health inspections," Richman said. His team closed the stores, remodeled them, and then fumigated for bugs, roaches and mice, Richman said.
"Within a few months they were profitable, and sales were up a whole lot," he said. "Health scores were great. It was a really difficult process."
Debo's Diners has 450 employees and owns and runs seven Steak 'n Shakes, in Cleveland, Dalton, Fort Oglethorpe, Chattanooga-Hamilton Place, Hixson, Knoxville-Powell and Knoxville-Turkey Creek.
It took over the Knoxville locations last October. It reports that sales were up for the first six months of this year, compared with the first six months of 2014, before it owned the locations. Specifically: 30 percent at Knoxville-Powell and 16 percent at Knoxville-Turkey Creek.
For all seven Debo's Diners locations, sales were up 11 percent over the previous year, Richman said.
The group plans to open three more locations in Knoxville and might open more in Chattanooga, Richman said. "We're toying with that now." Hamilton Place was his group's first location, opened in 1995.
Debo's Diners offers its employees 401ks and health insurance, policies that probably helped it win as well, Richman said. Steak 'n Shake also named Debo's Diners the franchise that most consistently upholds the corporation's brand standards, Richman said.
"I believe it goes back to putting people before money," said Richman, invoking Debo's Diners' creed.
Steak 'n Shake Operations, based in Indianapolis, is a subsidiary of Biglari Holdings, a publicly owned company based in San Antonio, Texas.
"The Richman family is the epitome of what it takes to be a successful franchise of the Steak 'n Shake brand," Steak 'n Shake's vice president of franchise support, James Valentino, said in a prepared statement.
Contact Mitra Malek at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @MitraMalek.