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Real Estate Roots Propel New Multi-Unit A&W Franchisee – Franchise Times


Founded in 1919, A&W has more than 900 units in the U.S. and Asia.

Dunkin’, Chipotle, Panera, Wendy’s, McDonald’s. Those are just a few of the big-name brands Lee Fry has worked with over the past 30 years as a real estate developer in Chicago. That gave Fry and his wife, Karin, plenty of time to vet and consider many companies and models, since they had always thought about owning their own franchise.

The timing was finally right in December 2020, when they bought an A&W restaurant in North Aurora, Illinois, from a retiring owner.

“What we realized is that the relationship between the franchisee and their developer, which was our company, was very intimate,” said Fry, who was there every step of the way from site selection to meeting with the city. Nearly every brand with a drive-thru model requires a special use permit, which means a public hearing with the city where everything is discussed—parking, hours of operation, zoning, traffic. Fry was able to apply those learnings to A&W, where he says the drive-thru is a “lifeblood” for the company’s sales.

“Having experience and dealing with all the corporate players in the world gave us a real solid heads up when we started talking with A&W, because we saw things there that we felt really good about and people we felt really good about,” Fry said. “Whenever you do something like this, you want to be associated with success—like a brand that’s 100 years old and people you’ve had a chance to talk to and respect.”

The Frys worked with the former franchisee, Mike Covelli, who spent two months introducing them to suppliers and making sure the transition went smoothly. Covelli is also helping them convert a shuttered Burger King in Addison, Illinois—which they bought in August—to an A&W as part of the Frys’ plans to own five restaurants. This coincides with the franchisor’s expansion plan that focuses on the Midwest, where many of the brand’s early locations opened.

“With Mike, what’s fantastic is the fact that he is typical of the people that we have met at A&W. They’ve been extremely helpful and have been totally open with regards to any questions,” said Fry, who was drawn to the 100 percent franchised brand especially for that reason. Founded in 1919, A&W has more than 900 locations in the U.S. and Asia.


Karin and Lee Fry acquired an A&W in Illinois from a retiring owner in December 2020 and plan to open a total of five restaurants.

“The fact that we’re dealing with a company that’s really owned by people who operate their own units is a strong, strong point on our side, and that was probably one of the most important elements in us making the decision to go with A&W,” he said.

The Addison restaurant is under construction and was set to open in February, but supply chain issues and equipment delays pushed them back 30 to 45 days. Nonetheless, Fry is excited about that particular location, he said, because it’s in a busy shopping center with a Walmart Supercenter and a Sam’s Club. Plus, the entrance to the restaurant is at a stop sign to those stores, which means people will be forced to stop and catch a waft of their salty fries before driving past. “Those are the types of locations we really like,” Fry added.

Nearly all of Covelli’s employees stayed at the North Aurora restaurant after the deal, so Fry is training some of them to move into upper management positions at the new Addison store after it opens.

“For lack of a more intelligent way to say it, I think it’s in his blood,” Fry said, referring to Covelli. “He had good success with the program, and not only helped us but enjoyed doing it. Any time you spend 20 years running a deal, there’s a certain amount of love that doesn’t go away when you sell it.”

The Frys are in negotiations for their third A&W, which they plan to build from the ground up and hope to be ready by next fall. In the meantime, Fry said they’re looking for other existing buildings in the Chicago area they could convert.

“Being in this business for a number of years, we have the advantage of seeing lots of things before they get out to the public, so where we see opportunities that make sense for us and A&W, we’re going to go for it,” Fry said.



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