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Posted on Thu, Feb 10, 2011 : 5:55 a.m.

Aubree's restaurant owners examine franchise plans with hope of expanding beyond Michigan

By Tom Perkins


Andy French co-owns Aubree's Pizzeria and Tavern in Ypsilanti Township.

Tom Perkins | For

One of Ypsilanti’s popular Depot Town dining establishments is positioning itself to export its brand to the rest of the country.

Aubree’s Saloon and Aubree’s Pizzeria and Tavern owners Bill and Andy French are assembling a franchising plan, and the father and son team hopes to see several locations open by the end of the year. They'll look at a regional expansion first, in Ohio and Indiana, and then at points beyond.

The Frenches opened the original Aubree’s Saloon in Depot Town and expanded with Aubree’s Pizzeria and Tavern in Ypsilanti Township. Most recently, the Frenches set up a Northville Aubree’s Pizzeria and Tavern location, which will serve as a model for franchised restaurants.

“We think we have a great story to tell,” Andy French said. “Michigan’s economy has been tough for a number of years, and we’ve been able to be successful in it. We believe the pizza-beer-casual restaurant setting will be successful in any economic time.”

The Northville location, which is on "franchise row" at Eight Mile and Haggerty roads, proved successful immediately by turning a profit within a year. That provided the Frenches with confidence that their formula could work, Andy French said.

One of the main motivations driving the expansion is to provide their “fantastic management and staff” more opportunity to grow and succeed with the company, he said.

Bill French, who is spending his winter taking flight classes in Florida, said he feels that he owes those longtime managers for helping him be successful.

“These people have dreams of their own, and one of the elements of franchising is it allows us, during hard economic times, to bring in top-quality people,” he said. “When people start with you in a small company, if they’re ambitious and skilled, they want to see how far they can move up.

“This allows us to get top-flight people and help them move through the ranks and give them a reason to stay with us.”

To that end, Bill French created a development program for managers hoping to advance their career with Aubree’s, and he said he personally mentors six employees. Those are the workers he expects will become the franchisees.

Bill French said the company’s expansion is also an opportunity to improve the restaurant's menu and broaden its appeal. At the advice of ifranchise, a Chicago-based franchise consulting firm, Aubree's conducted a 1,200-person survey of its menu, making changes based on the feedback.

“It told us that we were a little behind the times, and that East and West Coast’s and world’s palate is here in little Ypsilanti,” Bill French said.

“Everyone’s tastes are changing, and younger people are leading the way," he added. “We feel good about the new menu, and we’ve basically turned it into one that reflects the direction that we’re going to take our franchise."

That new menu was introduced earlier this month and includes a more modern take on comfort food such as macaroni and cheese, meatloaf and several pasta dishes. It also includes flatbread sandwiches, which Andy French said were a popular request in the survey and have been a hit so far.

Bill French emphasized that the pizza recipe — beyond the addition of a few toppings to the menu — remained untouched.

“Pizza has always been good here, so we’re taking the passion that we’ve had for our pizzas and putting that into our sandwiches and entrees, and that’s gone over very well,” Andy French said.

The Frenches hired ifranchise in December. Bill French said the company has a proven track record of helping other successful franchises, and it takes on only select clients. Aubree’s was one of three companies chosen from a larger group all vying for a spot on the firm’s roster.

The group is now helping the Frenches assemble a plan to be submitted for approval by the Securities Exchange Commission and generally guiding them through the early stages of franchising.

Bill French said there are many issues required to grow a successful franchise beyond a sound business plan. For starters, he said, the business plan and the process must be repeatable. The ifranchise firm is helping the Frenches with developing that aspect, along with guiding them through the do’s and don’ts of franchising.

One of the common pitfalls is not having a strong relationship with franchisees, which French said could lead to lawsuits.

“Our corporate culture is exactly what avoids these types of issues,” he said. “We manage from the bottom up, which is a perfect format as far as franchisers go. We listen to our employees, and we will be listening to franchisees. They will help us make our decisions just like today at Aubree’s.”

Tom Perkins is a freelance reporter for



Fri, Feb 11, 2011 : 1:44 a.m.

@YouWhine and Trouble...thanks for asking about me. I'm still involved in the businesses and thrilled to watch it grow. It's been a great journey!!!


Thu, Feb 10, 2011 : 10:53 p.m.

I love the pizza. They should build a place on the west side of AA. Not out on Jackson Rd. but on Stadium maybe near where the Tavern used to be?


Thu, Feb 10, 2011 : 9:42 p.m.

I liked the old menu with the quirky "build your own" dishes, the well-rounded and unique appetizers, and...the history of the bar and the area that was written on the frontcover of the many pages long menu. The new one is like a fold out company brochure and totally divested of the things that made the old one special : a reference to time and place, history and culture of the area. The food is of good quality, as always, but it's also the same food one can get at any Damons/Applebee's/TGIF's in the country. I can understand what they are trying to do : build a brand ---, but don't forget what made the ORIGINAL Aubree's/Alibi etc. special in the process when you do it, Aubrees!


Thu, Feb 10, 2011 : 9:18 p.m.

I love Aubree's food! Having moved back to Ypsi early last year from far-away where I couldn't find any decent vegetarian grub I was thrilled to find Aubree's still there. Don't change a thing...If it's not broken you don't have to fix it! Good Luck!


Thu, Feb 10, 2011 : 9:37 p.m.

Have you been lately? It's changed quite a bit with this new menu.


Thu, Feb 10, 2011 : 6:14 p.m.

I've never made it over to Aubree's, but make it to The Sidetrack AT LEAST once every time I visit home. Of all the things I miss about the Ann Arbor-Ypsi area, The Sidetrack tops the list. There is nothing like watching a Tiger game at the bar on an August evening with a beer or a top-shelf Long Island and some sliders. I hope Linda French staves off any urge to franchise The Sidetrack, as it wouldn't be the same anywhere else.

Ken K

Thu, Feb 10, 2011 : 5:50 p.m.

Build one down here in the Youngstown ohio area. Boardman or Austintown would be perfect. Because let me tell you the pizza/restaurants down here suck!

Tom Perkins

Thu, Feb 10, 2011 : 6:20 p.m.

What about Cornersburg that used to be in downtown Poland?


Thu, Feb 10, 2011 : 5:22 p.m.

Good luck, McAubree's Pizzeria and Tavern! I personal favor The Sidetrack, owned by Linda French who co-operated Aubree's with fellow family members before creating her hugely popular and beautiful Sidetrack.


Thu, Feb 10, 2011 : 4:41 p.m.

I'm a long time customer and I hate Aubree's new "McMenu". It has none of the variety and uniqueness of the old multipage menu and is indistinguishable from the menus of every other cookie-cutter chain sport's bar out there. Mozarrella stix and the like. I feel their franchise consultants steered them wrong with that new boring menu. Bring back the old fun and UNIQUE one.

joe golder

Thu, Feb 10, 2011 : 4:35 p.m.

This is great news. I remember drinking my first legal beer playing pool and listening to that song old black water keep on rolling.....sept, 1974. I never did pick up my mug that hung above the bar. Anyway the people and food were great. Things have always improved and today they are still serving up great food that will put a smile on your face. I think they have a great product and hope they can get the right folks in place to take it national. Good luck french family. Thank you for your years of commitment to ypsilanti and the surounding communities.


Thu, Feb 10, 2011 : 4:21 p.m.

Congratulations to the Aubreys, they are very hard working people who have invested tons of time and money in the area. I know Sandy French was a large part of that effort. Hope she still is. Best to them..


Thu, Feb 10, 2011 : 4:16 p.m.

I don't see what's worthy of selling as a franchise to someone. I really enjoy the atmosphere and think Aubrees has good pizza but at the end of the day, it's a bar with pizza. It sounds like the success is built on long time and loyal employees. How can you charge someone a franchise fee for that? Or is it a way to sell more Frog Island beer.


Thu, Feb 10, 2011 : 5:17 p.m.

I completely agree. What this country does NOT need is more pizza, no matter how good and fun it is. Just yesterday there was an article about a new wood-burning pizza joint in Ann Arbor. Can't anyone think of anything else? The Frenchs are a great family, however, and have done so much for Depot town and Ypsilanti that I wish them all the luck in the world!


Thu, Feb 10, 2011 : 3:43 p.m.

Huge risk with the franchising expansion. You have tremendous costs and no guarantee of selling any franchises. Bigger isn't always better. Stick to what you know and do well.


Thu, Feb 10, 2011 : 3:14 p.m.

Is Sandee still around?

Bertha Venation

Thu, Feb 10, 2011 : 2:44 p.m.

Never been, but it sounds great! Sounds like ol' Bill has it together. It'd be great to have another enterprise in the area!


Thu, Feb 10, 2011 : 2:33 p.m.

Aubrees is a great place. I remember spinning the wheel for a free lunch "back in the day". Never won it though. That whole area used to be a little sketchy, but now it is great. I think I actually prefer the Aubrees curbside seating to the curbside in AA. It is just quieter - plus I'm not paying for parking. The Tiki bar is fun too.

Craig Lounsbury

Thu, Feb 10, 2011 : 1:21 p.m.

"The Frenches opened the original Aubree's Saloon in Depot Town..." My admitted hazy recollection is they bought the Alibi Bar and eventually changed the name.


Thu, Feb 10, 2011 : 12:08 p.m.

It will be interesting to see how far the Frenchs take this. We could be witness to the birth of another industry empire, a la Domino's, if they're successful. Good-luck to you both!

Jimmy McNulty

Thu, Feb 10, 2011 : 12:05 p.m.

I wish them the best with their expansion plans. It was sad when the French's closed Cady's restaurant in Ypsilanti 2 years ago. Cady's restaurant was ahead of the trend when they went non-smoking, and they had great food and most of all great people working for them.