South of the border Featured

8:00pm EDT June 25, 2007

Southern Bells Inc. was created in 1982 as a franchisee of Taco Bell. Craig Fenneman and his partner, Charlie Brown, were in the process of building their first restaurant when PepsiCo offered to sell two existing stores in Bloomington and Columbus, Ind. Since that time, the company has grown through acquisitions and new development to 62 restaurants.

Fenneman became interested in the restaurant business after he was a landlord for a variety of full-service restaurants. The financial viability of the restaurant business, coupled with his enjoyment of serving people, made this an attractive business proposition.

Early on, financing for land, buildings and equipment was difficult. Most bankers had not heard of Taco Bell and were reluctant lenders. Pledging other assets and personal guarantees were the norm. Franchisees were expected to complete all aspects of development, including site selection, construction, equipment and training.

Fenneman saw the restaurant business as an opportunity to meet several goals. The first was to find a business that allowed for growth. Another important focus was the ability for Craig to own the sites on which he built restaurants. This was a perfect fit for Fenneman — a cash-flow business that allowed him to build equity in real estate.

In addition to building his own business, Fenneman has focused his energies on helping shape the industry. He served on the board of directors of the National Taco Bell Franchisees for six years where he helped effect changes in concept development, building design and national insurance programs for franchisees.

HOW TO REACH: Southern Bells Inc., www.southernbells.com or (317) 788-0374