In an agreement scheduled to be announced Thursday, Central Florida restaurateur Manny Garcia has signed a deal for the Florida franchise of Wahlburgers, a casual burger restaurant in the Boston area owned by brothers Paul, Donnie and Mark Wahlberg. That restaurant — along with the brothers, two-thirds of whom were somewhat famous beforehand — is also the subject of reality television show, called Wahlburgers, on A&E.
The company also will announce Thursday a similar agreement with John Cestare of Big Apple Burgers to franchise the concept in Manhattan and Coney Island.
The flagship restaurant is located in Hingham, Massachusetts, and a second location opened in November in Toronto. Two more corporate owned restaurants are planned for the Boston area next year, and franchise agreements are in place for Philadelphia and Las Vegas.
With Thursday's announcement, Wahlburgers will be in position for wide expansion. Garcia will open 20 in Florida over the next several years and Cestare will open six in New York.
Although most Central Floridians associate Garcia with his full-service restaurants, such as Pebbles, Harvey's Bistro and the upscale Manuel's on the 28th (all now closed), he is no stranger to the casual burger biz. At one time, he owned the franchise rights to most of Central Florida's Burger King restaurants. Indeed, it is his experience with franchising that made him attractive to the Wahlburger company.
"We are thrilled to be partnering with Manny and his family in Florida," Wahlburger CEO Rick Vanzura told me in an email. "Their long track record of success reflects their understanding of how to drive a great brand experience."
A mutual business associate put the two factions together. "I kind of backed into this thing," Garcia told me. He said he was invited to go to Boston to see the original restaurant and took along his daughter and son-in-law, Gina and Mike Buell; they all liked what they saw. "The product is very good, and the interior is nice," said Garcia. "It's a full service restaurant with lots of televisions and a full bar." About 20 percent of the business, however, is fast-casual, he said. That means that people who don't want to sit down and be waited on can order at a counter and have the food delivered when it's ready. (Think BurgerFi.)
Garcia said he has some locations in mind but is only just now able to pursue them. He could not comment on a possible location for the first Florida Wahlburgers or when the burgers would start flipping. The Florida franchise will operate under Garcia's company Davgar Holdings, LLC.
Garcia's last Orlando area restaurant was City Fire American Oven & Bar, which opened in 2011 on Restaurant Row but closed abruptly less than a year later. A second location in the Villages, however, did so well that another City Fire has opened there. Those restaurants, said Garcia, are operated mainly by the Buells. They're also working on another concept for the Villages, a tavern to be called Honest John's Whiskey and Provisions, named for a relative of Mike Buell's, who was known to say, "Never let the truth get in the way of a good story." That is slated to open in February.
Mark Wahlberg is, of course, a successful movie actor who started out as a rapper known as Marky Mark. His career soared — several stories high — when he appeared wearing only tighty whities on a Calvin Klein billboard in Times Square in 1992. Donnie is a member of the (not so) New Kids on the Block boy band (grown men band?) and plays a detective on the CBS police drama Blue Bloods. Paul, billed as the restaurant's executive chef, is the lesser known of the three, though, presumably through the A&E show, more well known than the brothers' eight (!) other siblings.
If you want to know what you can expect when the Florida restaurants start opening, here's a link to the Wahlburgers website.