Fulenwider Enterprises Inc.

Managing franchises and independent restaurants throughout the Southeast
Written by: 
Jeanee Dudley
Produced by: 
Victor Martins

From a single Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) franchise in 1965 to 71 restaurants and counting in 2015, Fulenwider Enterprises Inc. has a long history of service, quality and integrity in business. In December 2015, the family-owned and -operated company celebrates its 50-year anniversary. The group of franchises continues to grow under strong leadership from Fulenwider Enterprises’ headquarters in Morganton, North Carolina.

It all started with family patriarch and company founder, Verbon Fulenwider, who was an early franchisee of KFC. He worked this first restaurant with his family, running the register while his wife, Helen Fulenwider and son, Russ Fulenwider, packed meals and his eldest son, Mike Fulenwider, fried the chicken. The Fulenwider family acquired the rights to franchise its first Taco Bell location in 1997.

Today Fulenwider Enterprises operates 32 KFC locations and nine Taco Bell restaurants located between North Carolina, West Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee. The Fulenwider family of operations manages 12 KFC stores and 18 Taco Bell stores through a partnership with, Phoenix Taco LLC., which is based in Charlotte, North Carolina.  In addition to Yum! Brand franchises, Fulenwider Enterprises operates one Firehouse Subs restaurant along with two independent restaurants, Judge’s Riverside Restaurant and Butch’s BBQ & Breakfast, which both offer catering services in addition to dining.

Fulenwider Enterprises Inc.

Family-style management

Upon Verbon’s death in 1982, Mike stepped up to lead the company. Although Mike still serves as Fulenwider Enterprises’ President and CEO, his children, Michael Fulenwider – who now serves as vice president of the business – and daughter Elle Fulenwider – who leads the marketing team – have joined forces with their father on team Fulenwider. The siblings comprise the third generation of Fulenwiders to run the family business.

“Our family ownership and operation are really what set us apart from other franchise groups,” says Michael. “There aren’t many third-generation family companies in this industry, in our service area.” True to tradition, Michael, who joined the company in 2004, is hands-on with management of the family’s restaurants and spends a lot of time on the road. “We travel quite a bit,” he notes. “You have to be pretty hand-on in this business if you want to do well.”

In terms of competition, the Fulenwider family remains focused on its own stores. “It’s a fiercely competitive industry and new brands are constantly moving into our markets,” explains Michael. “However, our priority is to maintain good service, serve good food and keep our operations running efficiently to weather the storm.”

Continued growth

The Fulenwider family continues to seek out new avenues for growth. In the past year, Fulenwider Enterprises has grown by eight locations, into West Virginia and Tennessee territories.

“We see new opportunities all the time,” Michael adds. “If it’s a fit we follow through, if not, we pass. For example, we opened our first Firehouse Subs franchise in 2013, which was a new brand for us. Working with that brand has opened up more possibilities for our company. Our growth prospects are good. With the economy turning around, we see a lot happening in our markets.”

Throughout the company’s continued expansion, Fulenwider Enterprises maintains strong values that align with the business’ history as a family-owned operation. The family’s management style is simple and prioritizes people. The company celebrates the birthday of each team member with a personal, handwritten letter from the president, mailed to his or her home. Recognition is also key in providing a quality work environment. The company leaders recognize and reward team members for a job well done. All recognitions are published with photos in the company newsletter. In order to build the best teams, Fulenwider Enterprises’ values each member of the organization as an extended family member.

“We teach people that food service can be a career path. One thing we’ve done since the beginning is give people the tools and access to resources that they need to be successful. Then we allow our people to take ownership of their restaurant operations,” explains Mike. “Transparency in operations helps us to create a culture of inclusion, where everyone is a part of something: a team.” The Fulenwider family has found that this type of leadership style builds rapport with both employees and guests who count on the company’s restaurants for quality food and positive experiences.

Michael plays an important role in guiding the company, leading the business and keeping it aligned with its original mission, values and reputable company culture. Over the coming years, the team will keep Fulenwider Enterprises running as a family unit – including the immediate Fulenwider family and the 1,800 employee family members.

“Without the people who serve as our leaders, recognize excellence and focus on the guest experience, our organization would not be as successful as it is now after 50 years in business,” Michael explains. “It is the daily effort and determination of each individual that afford Fulenwider Enterprises the opportunity to march with strength, confidence and integrity into the next 50 years of operations.”

Mike adds, “As franchisees in our 50th year of operation, I’d say that a major key to our success boils down to trusting and believing in the ability of other people. We don’t have a ‘most important’ position in our company. Everyone has played an equally critical role to the success of our organization.”

“All our success and the ability to endure the storms of food service management are a product of the entire team effort,” he continues. “In the food service industry, it is impossible to run the show alone – no matter how hard you try. We rely on each other and everything we do, we do as a team. Over the years, team has become synonymous with family. Our teams have become part of our family and our families have integrated themselves as part of the team. To conclude, I’d like to thank all of the people who comprise Fulenwider Enterprises.”

Mike, Michael and Elle are consistently proud of – and grateful for – the family of employees who help maintain high levels of service, quality and safety that keep Fulenwider Enterprise Inc. operating with strength and integrity.

Strategic Partnership(s): 
Arthur J. Gallagher
Jackson Lewis
Performance Foodservice Roma -IFH
Tuggle Duggins