Get to Know Sterling Coleman, Zaxby’s Top African-American Operator

Get to know Sterling Coleman, the largest African-American operator of the restaurant chain Zaxby’s. He originally became a franchise owner with little to no experience in restaurant operations, but the owners were willing to give him a chance.

In 2003, he negotiated a franchise arrangement with a burgeoning chicken brand. He later received support from the brand’s co-founders, Tony Townley and Zach McLeroy, who assisted him in getting his business up and running.

“Tony and Zach believed in me and provided me the opportunity to develop a great business with Zaxby’s. Their crew was there for me from the beginning and helped me get my business up and going. Coleman, president of SJAC Food Groups, the largest African-American-owned Zaxby’s licensee group, stated that without it, he would not be here to discuss his business.

Coleman formerly owned 17 Zaxby’s before selling a few. In 2014, he inked the largest multi-unit agreement in Zaxby’s history, promising to open 28 stores in the Oklahoma City metropolitan region.

Zaxby’s, headquartered in Athens, Georgia, has built a loyal following in the 17 states where it operates by offering crispy chicken fingers, wings, sandwiches, salads, and a variety of dipping sauces. Franchisees hold the majority of Zaxby’s restaurants, with companies owning approximately 16% of the units.

Zaxby’s has 923 restaurants in 2022, mostly in the South, as reported by Franchise Times. Coleman has nine locations in Georgia and four in Oklahoma.

He is Zaxby’s largest African-American operator, with 13 stores. In terms of sales, he is one of the most successful, having become the first in the system to reach $4 million with his first site in Smyrna, Georgia.

Coleman attributed his success in the franchisee sector to his past work experience and passion for business. He worked as a sales manager for a Fortune 500 corporation, where he learned that sales was all about developing relationships with people. After some time working there, he realized he wanted to establish his own business.

“When I made the decision to go it alone and run my own company, I looked at a lot of franchises and different kinds of concepts,” said Coleman. “I ended up going with Zaxby’s after saving my bonus checks and pledging my home as collateral to become an owner. That’s how strongly I believed in the brand.

“It was evident to me from the beginning that the founders were committed to expanding the business with friends and family. That was crucial to me—joining a brand with those ideals.”

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