Greene Turtle Named Fastest Growing Bar Franchise

OCEAN CITY – One year after cracking Entrepreneur Magazine’s prestigious Top 500 fastest growing franchise list, the Ocean City-based Greene Turtle has made another quantum leap in the publication’s January issue and is now recognized as the country’s fastest growing sports bar franchise.

From modest beginnings at the end of a north-end Ocean City shopping center in 1976, the Greene Turtle has expanded its operations over the years and now includes 31 sports bars up and running in the mid-Atlantic region with a dozen or so more in the planning stages. Expansion came slow for the original Greene Turtle owners with a second location in Fells Point in Baltimore, followed by new operations in Laurel, West Ocean City and Edgewater.

A few years back, the core group of original owners decided to take its expansion efforts to the next level when it partnered with a reputable franchise consultant to expand its brand recognition and, in turn, the number of franchised new locations. There are now 31 Greene Turtle locations all over the mid-Atlantic region and beyond with franchise agreements in place for 12 to 14 more over the next two years.

The remarkable run has not gone unnoticed by the industry. Last year, the Greene Turtle broke into Entrepreneur Magazine’s Top 500 fastest growing franchise list, debuting at number 465. When the publication’s new list comes out in its January issue, the Greene Turtle will find itself at 339, or 126 spots higher than the same time last year. Perhaps more importantly, business will find itself the fastest growing sports bar franchise in the country, according to the magazine.

West Ocean City Greene Turtle owner Tommy Dickerson, who with Steve Pappas bought the original Greene Turtle on 116th Street after working at the bar as doormen and bartenders after college, said this week the original core of Greene Turtle owners are proud of the recognition.

“It’s a great honor and a really nice distinction,” he said. “We’re very pleased to be included on this pretty prestigious list of businesses. Considering we’ve only be doing the franchise thing for about three to three and a half years, this is pretty significant.”

Dickerson said franchising the Greene Turtle became an attractive offer after the original core group of owners opened their fifth location. After the original in Ocean City came the Fells Point location, followed by Laurel, West Ocean City and Edgewater. After those first five, the original crew didn’t imagine expansion would come so fast.

“I didn’t really envision what this has become,” he said. “I don’t think any of us did, but when we got to five locations, it seemed like the thing to do. We took a big step and hired a consulting company to help with the franchising that allowed us to go regional and it really took off.”

With 31 locations up and running and another dozen or so in the offing, the sky appears to be the limit for the franchise, although Dickerson said this week he doesn’t yet know when the best time to ease off the throttle might be.

“I don’t know that there is a number we’re looking for, or a time period,” he said. “We talked about 50 to 60 at one point, and we’re closing in on that number now. There might come a time when we say enough is enough, but I don’t know when that time is yet. Maybe in another two or three years, we’ll be ready to put the brakes on a little bit.”

While there are rigid standards written into the franchise agreements, Dickerson said the goal has never been to clone the originals.

“The one thing we’ve tried not to do is have them all be cookie cutters,” he said. “With so many of these big chains, they all look exactly the same wherever you go. We want you to know you’re in a Greene Turtle, especially in terms of the food, the service and signature things like the mugs and the peanuts, but there are no strict limits on the design or what the building looks like.”

Dickerson said each Greene Turtle is unique, from the original in north Ocean City to Fells Point and from BWI Airport to the Verizon Center.

“They are all different and that’s okay, as long as the food and the service and the quality stay true to our original concept,” he said. “Some of them are free-standing and some are in shopping centers. Others are in restored, older buildings and some are just being built. There is an 11,000-square-foot Greene Turtle and there are 5,000-square-foot Greene Turtles and they are all different, but the fundamental concept is the same.”

Although the Greene Turtle brand is decidedly provincial, the name recognition is expanding as franchises pop up in highly visible locations, including the BWI location.

“The airport location was a no-brainer,” he said. “We get a ton of exposure from that from people passing through that might not of heard of us before. That really helps get our name out there.”

Perhaps more important has been the Turtle’s affiliation with the major sports organizations in the region.

“That was a logical expansion of our sports bar theme,” he said. “From the Caps to the Wizards and our affiliations with the Ravens and the Orioles and even the Maryland Terps, it’s all part of the growth. That’s been huge in terms of moving us up a notch.”