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Frankly Speaking With Franchisees: Turning a dream into reality
Image and video provided by Yum! Brands.
Published on June 15, 2021
Yum! Brands is a world-class family of restaurant brands with more than 2,000 franchisees who bring their own delicious flavors to the business and individual communities. Between Yum!’s franchisees, they own 50,000 KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and The Habit Burger Grill restaurants in 150 countries and territories across the globe, making their voices integral to the company. Each franchisee is unique and serves as the cornerstone of a series called Frankly Speaking With Franchisees that documents their stories.
To kick off this series, Yum! reached out to three franchisees in the United States to get their perspectives on race, social justice and entrepreneurship in underrepresented communities. Hear from George Tinsley who owns KFCs, Mike Quinn who owns Pizza Huts and now Lee Mitchell, co-owner of PSTB, LLC, who shares his path to owning Taco Bells and how others can find their voice and make a difference on issues that matter.
Here is his story.
Taco Bell U.S.
Co-owner, PSTB, LLC
Growing up in Compton, California, Lee Mitchell dreamed of becoming an entrepreneur someday. In fact, when his high school English teacher challenged students to pen letters to their future selves, Mitchell wrote, “I want to become a business owner one day.” Now he is part of an ownership team that operates 10 Taco Bell restaurants in Southern California, but it didn’t just happen overnight.
Through hard work and passion to become an entrepreneur, Mitchell gained skills from different industries to accomplish his dream. Post-graduation from the University of Wyoming School of Business, Mitchell ended up in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, as a natural gas analyst for a few years before returning home to California in search of year-round warm weather.
Unable to find an oil industry job in the golden state, he transitioned to electronic sales where he learned how to manage a team. However, after a few years in sales, he stumbled upon the letter he’d written in high school, re-awakening his dreams of becoming an entrepreneur. “Anybody can run a restaurant, right? If I get enough experience in the industry, I could get an opportunity to own,” so Mitchell thought.
Now, with a goal in place, Mitchell went to a restaurant hiring clinic in pursuit of his passion. He left a résumé with Taco Bell that led to a phone interview for an assistant manager position and an offer. Although this was a step back from his sales management role, he thought to himself, I've started at the bottom and worked my way up before; this doesn’t bother me.
He soon learned the art of crafting the perfect taco and the importance of delivering superior customer service, earning promotion after promotion while pursuing an MBA to continue expanding his business acumen. He eventually landed in the franchising department at Taco Bell Corp. When a few stores came up for sale, Mitchell made a proposal: “Instead of working out a deal with an existing operator, I’d like to bid on the stores in Los Angeles,” Mitchell told his boss at the time. “I have confidence in becoming a franchisee – I know the ins and outs of re-franchising deal structure, the financial details and all. I’m ready.” He received his boss’ trust and support and finally realized his dream of becoming an entrepreneur, 20 years after high school.
When Lee first became a franchisee, he received great support from existing franchisees, especially those in the Los Angeles area. But as a person of color leading his own company it hasn’t always been an easy road. “It’s kind of off when you’re in meetings, and there are very few African Americans in the room except you. There is a weird feeling when you voice your opinion, and people don’t see or understand it from your perspective,” he said.
Now, looking back over his career and the success he’s had, Mitchell often reflects on his experience and the grit it took to become a business owner and an advocate in the franchisee community for underrepresented people and young people who are dreamers like himself. He smiles when he looks back at his letter from high school and realizes a kid from Compton made it.
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