In the Fast Lane

Despite the rocky economy, quick-service restaurants are holding their own. In the U.S., sales for the top 500 quick-service chains rose to $230.2 billion last year, up $7.6 billion from 2007 according to Technomic Inc., a research and consulting firm that tracks the food service industry. Though sales growth actually slipped to 3.4% from 5.0% the previous year, it’s clear that people enjoy eating at places like Burger King. Among those riding the trend is Valerie Daniels-Carter, founder, president, and CEO of Milwaukee-based V and J Holding Cos. (No. 52 on the BE Industrial/Service companies list with $90 million in revenues).  The “V” stands for Valerie and the “J” stands for John, her brother and financial partner in the company.

Daniels-Carter went from being a child entrepreneur to leading one of America’s largest black-owned businesses. Through trial and error and a lot of hard work, Daniels-Carter now enjoys the benefits of being in one of the few industries faring well in this economic climate. Far from finished, she’s on the verge of taking V and J Holding international.

V and J Holding boasts 141 restaurants throughout Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Daniels-Carter’s quick-service empire is made up of Auntie Anne’s, Burger King, Coffee Beanery, Häagen-Dazs, and Pizza Hut. Her rise in the industry is due to her three-pronged approach: employee development and training, customer focus, and unwavering faith.

Granted, no business is immune to downturns in the economy. Still, as budgets shrink and belts tighten, more consumers are dining at these restaurants, making competition for the owners a lot tougher. “Anyone who sells pizza, hamburgers, ice cream, pretzels, or coffee is a competitor,” says Daniels-Carter. She has responded by offering promotions and giveaways at her stores. For example, in June, V and J offered free meals for a year to 12 customers by raffling off Burger King gift meal packages. “There’s definitely a lot more pressure for operators to discount and give away free product. There have been some innovative ones, but there have been a lot more than there usually are. And the negative about that is it decreases profits for the owners. But there are a lot of restaurants that are closer to being profitable than being unprofitable,” says Juelene Beck, president and CEO of Juelene Beck and Associates, a chain restaurant consultancy.

Kool-Aid Kidpreneur
Daniels-Carter has always been a boss. In her first business she sold Kool-Aid from a stand at the age of 5. Later she started a business walking neighborhood children home from school. These small steps became the building blocks that led to where she is today.