Sports bar franchise inches closer

Slow and steady, it’s not. The Greene Turtle sports bar chain is one of the fastest growing restaurant franchises in the country, and it plans to stake its claim in the Richmond area, with hopes to eventually open eight locations.

This story first appeared on, Richmond’s leading source for business news.

(From Al Harris)

Slow and steady, it’s not.

The Greene Turtle sports bar chain is one of the fastest growing restaurant franchises in the country, and it plans to stake its claim in the Richmond area.

“Obviously Richmond is an untapped market now for us. We are looking to find some people that are operators who are interested in developing that area,” said Mike Sanford, president and chief executive of the Maryland-based company.

The Greene Turtle entered Virginia last fall with a corporate location in Fredricksburg. Since then it has merged multi-store contracts with franchisees in Leesburg, Fairfax and Chesapeake. The company is also opening another corporate-owned store Hampton.

“After next week, we’ll have four stores open and another eight committed to Virginia as a whole,” Sanford said.

They have 10 to 12 stores scheduled to open in D.C., Delaware and Maryland, he said. Last April, the company announced that it wanted to add 150 East Coast locations over four years.

As part of that, Sanford envisions up to eight locations in the Richmond/Petersburg area. It also turns out that Sanford has a local connection.

Sanford graduated from University of Richmond in 1976 with degrees in marketing and business administration. He also played basketball there.

He went back to Maryland, where he eventually opened a Greene Turtle store outside D.C. in 1990.

By 2003, the Greene Turtle had five locations. It started franchising in 2003, but things really started to take off when private equity firm JPB Capital bought a majority stake of the company for an undisclosed price in 2007.

Infused with capital, the company was ready to expand. But the Turtle was facing a hurdle: the economy.

“The big hurdle that has been the elephant in the room for the last couple years is the whole financing situation,” Sanford said.

The start-up costs for franchisees is as much as $1.5 million, Sanford said. That is mostly spent on building out the physical restaurant.

“We’ve got to be creative to get financing. A lot of the normal financing from banks has a lot tighter reins when it comes to lending money,” Sanford said.

On the other hand, Sanford said, the company might have picked the right time to expand — when rental and construction rates were going down.

“It used to be we would have to go and put on a huge dog and pony presentation to say, ‘Please let us come into your site.’ Now we get the phone calls from developers that want us to be part of their projects because they see that we would be a benefit to the project,” Sanford said.

“That is one of the nice things that happened.”

As for Richmond, Sanford says the company’s franchise development team is starting to do some advertising and plans to meet potential franchisees in the coming months.

“I would expect within the next six to nine months to have some deals in place to develop the Richmond market,” Sanford said.

Al Harris covers the restaurant industry for BizSense. Please send news tips to

For more on the latest business news in and around Richmond, visit and sign up for their email newsletter.

  • error

    Report an error

Richmond BizSense

Notice: Comments that are not conducive to an interesting and thoughtful conversation may be removed at the editor’s discretion.

  1. Cool, didn’t know he was a fellow UR grad. There’s one of these in my hometown, but I’ve never been. I’m not a sports bar kinda gal. It was always so noisy in there.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with an asterisk (*).

Or report an error instead