Driving Ambition: 38-Year-Old Operates 125 Popeyes in 4 States

Amin Dhanani didn’t have to look far for a business role model: his father came from Pakistan 37 years ago with 11 children and $50 in his pocket. Although his father didn’t speak English, he became a successful entrepreneur with convenience stores and gas stations. His work ethic still wows his children.

Apparently, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree: Dhanani, just 38, recently was named Franchisee of the Year by Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen. He was also recognized with the Mega-Growth Leadership MVP award for expanding his Popeyes franchise to 125 restaurants (40 of them new builds) in just 5 years.

“I think this kind of drive and ambition is part of our family’s way of doing business,” says the owner and president of Sugar Land, Tex.-based Z&H Foods. “Everybody’s like that. It started with my dad, who is 83 but still gets excited about any new deals we come up with. I go to him for advice. His blessing is still important for anything I do.”

Dhanani and his siblings grew up working in the family business, which included service stations, convenience stores, and Burger Kings. “I worked my way up from assistant manager to GM to district manager to director of operations, so I brought 10 years of operations experience to the table when I acquired my Popeyes franchise,” he says. “Burger King provided a great platform to learn from.”

Even while growing at warp speed, the young husband and father of two believes he’s been able to maintain the quality of his restaurants, now in four states (Texas, Arizona, Colorado, and Missouri), by being very hands-on.

Nor does Dhanani have any plans to slow down any time soon. He’s aiming for another 10 “organic” stores and other new acquisitions in 2015. And he’s taking his team along for the ride.

“I’ve learned that people become excited about growth,” he says. “They love to be part of something new. It’s human nature.”


Name: Amin Dhanani
Title: Owner and president, Z&H Foods
No. of units: 125 Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen
Age: 38
Family: Wife Saeeda, daughter Summer, son Ary
Years in franchising: 25
Years in current position: 5


Formative influences/events:
My father, a great businessman, has been a great influence on me. He’s a true American story coming from Pakistan with 11 kids and little money and starting his own business.

Key accomplishments:
Getting into the Popeyes system in 2010 and making a large 49-store acquisition in 2012. In 2013, after always doing business in Houston, I branched out into other cities and states. It’s been a great year. A few weeks before I received the MVP award, I was named Franchisee of the Year at Popeyes’ annual conference in Orlando.

Work week:
I’m gone about half the month. Monday through Friday I’m on the road or in the office, and on weekends I’m with my family as much as possible.

What are you reading?
by Popeyes CEO Cheryl Bachelder. She’s a great motivator.

Best advice you ever got:
To always take care of my people and to make them feel part of a team.

What’s your passion in business?
I love growth. It excites me and keeps me going.


Business philosophy:
Work hard, take care of your people, and live a balanced life.

Management method or style:
I’m hands-on and very involved in my business. I know almost all my upper store managers and a lot of the GMs.

Greatest challenge:
To balance my life between work and family and hobbies (basketball, football, golf).

How do others describe you?
As a very aggressive entrepreneur at a young age.

How do you hire and fire, train and retain?
I don’t do it that much anymore, but we retain by being competitive with pay, offering good compensation packages, and caring for our employees. We have grown a lot in five years and people ask me, “How do you get managers for all those stores?” They just come by word of mouth. When you take care of your people, word gets out because all the managers from different brands in the market know each other.

Bottom Line

Annual revenue:
$150 million.

2015 goals:
To grow another 10 Popeyes stores organically and to keep looking for more acquisitions in the brand.

Growth meter: How do you measure your growth?
By top-line sales. I believe growing top-line sales will fix everything on the P&L to give you a better bottom line.

Vision meter: Where do you want to be in 5 years? 10 years?
In 5 years, I’d like to grow with the brand to about 300 restaurants. In 10 years, I’ll still be with the brand, hitting maybe 400 stores. Then I’ll start looking to focus more on personal goals, such as more charity work, more international travel, and coaching a basketball team.

What are you doing to take care of your employees?
We always give them a good compensation package, bonuses, and annual reviews for salary or wage increases. We also give them the tools in the restaurant that require more repair and maintenance, such as fryers, AC, and headsets.

What kind of exit strategy do you have in place?
I would love it if my kids became involved in the business as they grow up.

2015 MVP: Mega-Growth Leadership Award

Why do you think you were recognized with this award?
I think 125 restaurants in 5 years is the answer.

How have you raised the bar in your own company?
By telling them I want to be the best franchisee in the brand–in operations metrics, sales, and development. I’m currently seven stores behind the largest franchisee. I hope to pass that in about six months. That will be a major milestone.

What innovations you have created and used to build your company?
I was the first one in the system to put in digital menu boards (Houston) four years ago and the brand started taking off on that two years ago. I was the first franchisee to do a 60-seat prototype (San Antonio) when everybody was doing 48-seaters. Most recently, I did my own prototype in Arizona. It’s larger for higher-volume stores and Popeyes is now adopting the prototype.

What core values do you think helped you win this award?
I started from the ground up and worked very hard.

How important is community involvement to you and your company?
We have a global charity trust that helps where needed inside and outside the United States.

What leadership qualities are important to you and your team?
Three things I truly believe, and I live by: You observe, you delegate, and then you follow up. All three need to work together. If you leave one out, the whole system falls.

Dhanani Dynasty II: Youngest Son of Family Business Branches Out

From his childhood growing up in Houston, Pakistani-born Amin Dhanani watched his father, the late Hassan Ali Dhanani, and family members build The Dhanani Group, a billion-dollar, mega-successful franchisee for Burger King and its own massive convenience store business.

The last of 11 children, Amin Dhanani never really considered anything other than going into the family business. His first job, working on the Whopper line at Burger King, was followed by various stints of working in the family business as a youth. After graduating from Southern Methodist University with a degree in business and accounting, the ambitious young entrepreneur joined the family business “for real” in 2000.

“I spent the first 10 years learning the business and the restaurant industry,” he says. “I’d always wanted to be a businessman and run a corporation. So in 2010, I ventured out on my own under the umbrella of The Dhanani Group.” He remains a general partner of The Dhanani Group, which owns 510 Burger Kings and 150 convenience stores.

In 2017, the youngest Dhanani is president of two Sugar Land, Texas-based companies: Z&H Foods, Inc., for his 270 Popeyes Louisiana Kitchens (Texas, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Illinois, Missouri, and Ohio); and the newly formed HZ LM Casual Foods, which includes his acquisition of 26 La Madeleine French Bakery & Café acquisitions (Houston, Austin, and Louisiana).

Now the largest Popeyes franchisee, he continues to think big, aiming for 1,000 total units in the next five years or so, and/or owning his own brand under The Dhanani Group umbrella. Based on his track record–both acquiring and building restaurants–it could well happen.

Dhanani, a husband and father of two, says he chose both his brands with his passion–as his late father advised–as well as his business acumen. “I’ve eaten at both Popeyes and La Madeleine for years and I love the food!” he says. Acquiring his 26 La Madeleines in August, along with securing the development rights for another 57 in Houston, Austin, Louisiana, and other states, added a casual brand to his large QSR brand holdings.

The deal came a month after La Madeleine announced plans for rapid growth, refranchising entire existing markets to strong, multi-unit operators of other brands. With Dhanani’s deal, La Madeleine has successfully completed the first phase of its refranchising program.

“My family and I have been guests at La Madeleine for years, and it’s easy to see today that the brand is strong and cultivates a loyal following with industry-leading AUVs,” says Dhanani. “I have no doubt that La Madeleine is ripe for expansion, and we look forward to growing with them.”

When he’s not working, Dhanani enjoys spending time with his family–his daughter is into volleyball and swimming and his son plays basketball and football–and pursuing his own love of sports. A huge Houston Rockets fan, he can also be found every Sunday during NFL season in front of his TV with his pals.

In the future, he’d like to carve out time to give back to the community. “I’d like to help those who are less fortunate in the community and the world,” he says. His organization is currently working on a scholarship program to benefit employees and their children.

His best advice for would-be franchisees? “The restaurant business is a great one that will always be there, so consider that when you’re looking,” he says. “If you want to grow, you’ll need to be hands-on in your business. Don’t just leave somebody else to run it. It’s great to delegate some things, but if you want to grow, you’ve got to be hands-on.”

Name: Amin Dhanani
Title: President
Company: ZNH Foods, HZ LM Casual Foods
No. of units: 270 Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, 26 La Madeleine French Bakery & Café
Age: 40
Family: Married with two children
Years in franchising: 25
Years in current position: 7


First job:
Working on the Whopper line in Burger King.

Formative influences/events:
Ever since I was a kid, my whole family–my older brothers and my father–have operated our businesses. I’m the 11th child, so I wanted to eventually carve out my own place. I’m a big sports fan, so I like to use the analogy that if you’re six-foot-five or seven-feet two you can probably get to the NBA, but how well you do there is based on how hard you want to work. I feel I had an opportunity from my family and availed that to the max. I had the financial; I wanted to see where I could take myself.

Key accomplishments:
Becoming the largest franchisee in the Popeyes system in five years. I bought my first two in 2010, and in 2012 I made a large, 49-store acquisition. That put us on the map. I’ve had many acquisitions, about 30 a year, but I’ve also built 60 or 70 restaurants, which is a great learning experience.

Biggest current challenge:
It continues to be hiring great leaders for my infrastructure.

Next big goal:
I’d like to get to 1,000 stores in the next five years and/or own my own brand. First turning point in your career: Buying my first Popeyes in my hometown of Houston. It was the most exciting thing. I finally felt contentment doing it on own.

Best business decision:
To learn the QSR business from the ground up in the stores.

Hardest lesson learned:
Probably learning how to balance life with work and family. It’s definitely tough when I look at what I want to do during a day: work, family, prayer, workout, personal time. It was really tough earlier on. Today, I’m in a better place because I have my infrastructure set up and everything is working well.

Work week:
About 55 to 60 hours. I try to keep weekends free to do things with my family, but I’ll still do a mystery shop at a store on the way to a game or a lunch.

I try to work out three times a week. I run, do cardio, and play basketball. I also love to watch basketball and football. Best advice you ever got: From my father, who died in 2016. He always said, “Work from your heart and passion, and success will follow. But always stay humble.”

What’s your passion in business?
I love opening new stores from scratch.

How do you balance life and work?
I spend lots of time with my wife and kids when I’m not working. I try to attend many of my kids’ games and school activities. They’re always busy.

Guilty pleasure:
Great food! I love to eat Indian food, desserts, Chinese, burgers, and Popeyes chicken, which I can only eat every two weeks. I’ve got to stay in shape.

Favorite book:
I always liked To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

Favorite movie:
“Rocky” with Sylvester Stallone.

What do most people not know about you?
That I have more of a sense of humor than they know.

Pet peeve:
Lying and laziness.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I always wanted to be CEO of a large corporation.

Last vacation:
We went to Laguna, California, for my nephew’s destination wedding. I love California. The weather is great year-round. My dream is to have a house in California in the hills or in Malibu on the water.

Person I’d most like to have lunch with:
Warren Buffet.


Business philosophy:
Work hard and smart and always treat your people with respect.

Management method or style:
I have a very hands-on approach. I know many managers by name and they can always contact me at any time.

Greatest challenge:
Finding and hiring passionate people.

How do others describe you?
I think they’d say I’m strict at work, disciplined, and, hopefully, hard-working.

One thing I’m looking to do better:
I’m trying to be more caring and responsive to the needs of others.

How I give my team room to innovate and experiment:
I let them run their own show and hold their own people accountable. I give them the freedom to be innovative but still expect strong numbers.

How close are you to operations?
I’m very close to operations on a daily basis. I talk to my VPs and directors every day.

What are the two most important things you rely on from your franchisor?
We need great marketing and operations coaching support at the store level with the managers.

What I need from vendors:
Good pricing and on-time deliveries.

Have you changed your marketing strategy in response to the economy? How?
Yes. I have not raised my prices in the past two years and have asked my people to step up service to the guests.

How is social media affecting your business?
Social media and the Millennials are changing a lot about the way we do business. During the second half of this year, we’ll be doing more social media in many markets with Popeyes.

How do you hire and fire?
We use our company core values to recruit talent. We find that word of mouth is important. If you treat your employees well, it’s a small world out there, and those working for other brands will hear about it. As for firing, I believe in second chances. Anybody can mess up once. But if it happens again, we’ll move on.

How do you train and retain?
We supply internal training classes and more support to our managers at all levels. We also offer great incentives to them such as a bonus program, vacation pay, and monthly allowances. All these help to retain good people.

How do you deal with problem employees?
I try to see if they have any personal issues that are affecting their work and help them through those.

Fastest way into my doghouse:
By lying and being lazy!

Bottom Line

Annual revenue:
$500 million.

2018 goals:
To raise sales by 4 percent and profitability too.

Growth meter: How do you measure your growth?
By sales and traffic counts from the year before. Organic growth helps to get our top line numbers up.

Vision meter: Where do you want to be in 5 years? 10 years?
In 5 years, I would like to double my current revenues and store count. In 10 years, I would like to semi-retire out in California and only work a couple of hours to check my daily numbers.

How is the economy in your regions affecting you, your employees, your customers?
Customers are still looking for discounts, which hurts the gross profits of the business.

Are you experiencing economic growth in your market?
Yes, in some markets such as Texas and Colorado.

How do changes in the economy affect the way you do business?
When the economy gets worse, customers are looking for more discount deals. That can affect my bottom line and sales too.

How do you forecast for your business?
We budget every quarter and at the end of the year for the following year.

What are the best sources for capital expansion?
Great relationships with various lenders.

Experience with private equity, local banks, national banks, other institutions? Why/why not?
I haven’t worked with private equity groups, but we use local and national banks all the time.

What are you doing to take care of your employees?
I offer vacation pay and a few forms of bonuses and annual merits.

How are you handling rising employee costs (payroll, minimum wage, healthcare, etc.)?
I’m trying to make strategic and cost-effective decisions and am basically growing the top line to cover the difference.

How do you reward/recognize top-performing employees?
We reward them at the yearly meetings in front of their peers, and some of them get a paid vacation for two from the company to a great destination.

What kind of exit strategy do you have in place?
None. I’m not a seller. I like to buy!