On the Side-lines No More
French Fry Heaven creates standalone snack option from popular side dish.
While walking through a mall one day, Scott Nelowet had the craving for a snack but wasn’t interested in the popcorn or pretzels that were on display.
“I didn’t think much of it at the time, but a few months later I was in Europe and I saw all these French fry vendors, and I knew this is what my mall needed,” he says.
Nelowet was touring Europe with his wife and parents, and noticed vendors serving Belgian-style fries in cones were everywhere they went. These fries are thick-cut and fried twice, making them extra crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside.
“This is something so ubiquitous in northern Europe, it’s on every street corner, and everywhere you look,” he says. “Even if you start going to Asia, the idea of a French fry stand is not unusual, however, in the U.S., it is. I was looking for a new adventure and this was it.”
He decided that this was a business he wanted to bring to the USA and upon his return to the states, he debuted his French Fry Heaven concept at the Jacksonville’s Riverside Vegan Fest and other festivals.
“In Europe, you see very simple toppings—mayo, vinegar, ketchup—but I decided to do the American version of piling on 10,000 pounds more stuff so we offer lots and lots of options,” Nelowet says. “We have more than 50 toppings that we can put on the fries to help them taste great.” For instance, there’s garlic Parmesan with black truffle salt, cinnamon, sugar with caramel, vanilla, Cajun-style and there’s also a meatless CHEEburger, which tastes exactly like a cheeseburger.
“We put together fry recipes based on what was popular around the world, incorporating each country’s favorite flavor,” Nelowet says. “We try to keep everything as healthy as possible, gluten free, no MSG.”
With success achieved at the festivals, Nelowet opened his first French Fry Heaven in October 2011 at the St Johns Town Center, in Jacksonville, FL. The next year, two other Florida-based franchises opened their doors—one on St. George Street in St. Augustine and one at The Avenues Mall, in Jacksonville.
“We look for franchisees to have strong capital. We want people who are hyper-aggressive,” he says. “I want as few franchisees with as many locations as possible, so I want them to want to own their town, city and state and push aggressively. I want them to look at competition the way I was taught—that second place is the first loser.”
By year’s end, French Fry Heaven will have close to 60 franchises with many more on their way.
An initial investment for a French Fry Heaven franchise ranges from $114,600 to $298,900, which includes the fee of $25,000. The franchise royalty fee is 6 percent of gross sales. The advertising fee is 3 percent of gross sales to be allocated as follows: 1 percent to French Fry Heaven national brand advertising, 1 percent to be spent on local sales marketing, and 1 percent directed to a charitable service of franchisee’s choice.
“We make charitable service a basic tent pole under our big top. We are not a religious organization by any stretch and we accept anyone’s beliefs or lack thereof, so long as they are committed to helping others,” he says. “We look for every opportunity to support local charities.” Last year, one franchise served fries at a Habitat for Humanity event, another works with a battered women’s shelter.
Another big part of Nelowet’s philosophy is that he expects his franchisees to be good neighbors. Part of the launch process involves reaching out to those around the store. “The first thing we have them do is go to all tenants and introduce themselves and become part of the community, which will help to get the word out,” he says.
The operation uses a fully enclosed, hoodless, ventless fryer, which was customized for French Fry Heaven. A charcoal filter makes sure the equipment gives off no smoke and only emits virtually odorless steam, according
“We can be in the middle of tons of other stores and it won’t give off any smell,” Nelowet says. “Plus, because we don’t have to build systems, we can get retail space and open up quickly.”
This ease of operation led to an exclusivity offer from a mall group, who found that stores around the French Fry Heaven concept had seen a 13 percent increase in traffic. However, Nelowet felt a deal like this wasn’t keeping with its mission statement of “being everywhere where people are hungry” so he turned it down.
“People aren’t illogically passionate about a pretzel or cookie, but they are about French fries,” he says. “We are all about helping a customer make a quick decision and a right decision for their flavor profile. Do they like spicy, tangy, sweet? It’s about figuring out what they like and getting the flavor of fry that matches it, so we make sure our customer walks away smiling.”