Lauren Fernandez, Founder and CEO of Full Course, has spent almost 20 years in product development, licensing, and franchising, with a focus on food and beverage. In that time, she has been both a franchisor and franchisee, having served as general counsel and head of franchise administration for Focus Brands, a multi-brand company with more than 4,000 restaurants in over 15 countries, and then as the co-founder and operating partner of a successful, multi-unit franchised restaurant group. Fernandez was recently named to Nation’s Restaurant News Power List.
As a leader in the restaurant industry, Fernandez brings a perspective informed by not only her experience as a restaurant executive and operator but also as a Cuban American. She desires to improve the industry by directly supporting diversity and inclusion, beginning with restaurant investment. Providing access to fair and principled capital empowers minority-owned and women-led businesses to prosper. In doing this, she brings new flavors to the table and is a change agent that empowers more culturally diverse restaurants to expand coast to coast.
The genesis of her company and this investment strategy began when Fernandez grew to an owner/operator of 11 Chicken Salad Chick locations. She was attracted to the brand because it was founded by a woman, had a significant number of female franchisees, and had food that was targeted at women. As an operator within its system, she became increasingly aware that there was a huge gap in the restaurant industry. Although there was a tremendous amount of diversity within restaurant ownership overall, it largely existed at the one- to two-location level. There also was a lack of capital to help independent restaurant operators grow to create a significant footprint and financial reward.
“Many one-unit restaurant owners don’t understand why the scale is important, and they don’t have the playbook to get to the bigger stage,” says Fernandez. Full Course has created a 501c3 charitable enterprise through an education platform so it can educate owners and operators and create higher rates of success. The robust platform is the only one of its kind in the industry, offering custom and original content for owners, operators, franchisees, and employees.
Beyond the Full Course focus on education, Fernandez and her team also provide operational support to original owners. They develop a robust growth plan for each investment alongside the original owners and invest in their personal and professional growth. “Some of the first dollars we spend after investment are on salaries and building the team of people we need to grow these brands,” explains Fernandez. Full Course also supports the growth of the brand with a team of experts—from franchising to product development—to shepherd the development of the brand.
Through its private equity arm, Full Course also is taking a unique approach to how the company invests. It raises $20 million for every five to seven clients, helps them expand, and then exits within five years to middle-market private equity.
Its goal is to provide fair, ethical, and principled capital. “One of the things that distinguishes Full Course is we do not take a majority investment, and we never capital call our partners. I think that there’s a better way to structure deals so everyone wins. That is why a major tenet of our investment philosophy at Full Course is that we never take more than 49%. My goal is to get these owners to their first major liquidity event holding 51% of the capital,” she explains. “They deserve the reward for their hard work, and I think it’s time for growth solutions that thoughtfully meet the needs of owners.”
About Full Course Full Course is a restaurant investment and development group that is changing the way that new businesses grow their brands. The company partners with restaurants in the early stages of development and helps them tell their stories by optimizing operations, developing strategies for sustainable growth, and connecting owners or chefs with the right investors or franchise partners. Full Course Founder and CEO Lauren Fernandez has spent almost 20 years in the food and beverage industry, first as general counsel and head of franchise administration for Focus Brands, a multi-brand company with more than 4,000 restaurants in over 15 countries, and then as an operator of a successful restaurant group. Fernandez was recently named to Nation’s Restaurant News Power List. By providing support and expertise to burgeoning restaurant brands on the front end, Full Course is setting up a strong foundation for growth for them and their potential investors, from which they can successfully realize their dreams. Learn more at fullcourse.com.