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Business Observer Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021 1 week ago

Main Squeeze: Sarasota hotspot to become home to gourmet lemonade franchise

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Area couple goes all-in on a new-to-Florida lemonade-based franchise concept. Even before the first location opens, growth plans are flowing.
by: Amanda Postma Sarasota-Manatee Editor

A gourmet lemonade brand has finally squeezed its way into Florida. It hasn't been easy. 

The company, Wow Wow Hawaiian Lemonade, got its start as far away from Florida as possible, in the Aloha State. Back then, in 2012, it was featured at local farmers’ and night markets. The brand moved into its first brick-and-mortar in 2014. The debut franchise location opened in 2019. 

Then came the Lynns. 

Andrew and Anju Lynn moved to Bradenton from Chicago in 2010 to pursue a franchise marketing opportunity. After a while, the husband-wife duo sought a new opportunity. Three or four years later Wow Wow popped up. “He was always looking for something in franchising,” says Anju. “It was the right fit for us.”

The Wow Wow Lemonade parent company had been approached several times to expand franchise locations to Florida, but every time the answer was no — primarily because executive founders wanted franchise locations close in proximity to easily provide support. That's why franchises are located in Hawaii, California, Arizona, Nevada, and soon-to-be in New Mexico, Utah and Texas. Those locations, despite the name, sell more than specialty lemonades. The menu ranges from mango pineapple smoothies to coconut peanut butter bites. 

Despite the Hawaii-to-Florida distance, Wow Wow CEO Tim Weiderhoft jumped at the chance to partner with the Lynns after meeting them. “Just in a few minutes, I could tell these were special people,” Weiderhoft says. “It was like a perfect match.”

The Lynns picked a budding Sarasota hotspot for their first Wow Wow location: Fruitville Commons, a mixed-use project just east of Interstate 75 on Fruitville Road. A Cooper's Hawk Winery & Restaurant recently opened there, and future components include a hotel and a luxury apartment complex. Beyond that, the Lynns wanted a spot where they can blanket their target market, which is women aged 18-45, those who live a healthy lifestyle and travelers. 

The Lynns have invested $150,000 into the franchise, so far, and also received a $300,000 SBA loan to get started. They’re hoping by the time they open the third or fourth location — the duo’s ambitious vision is to open 10-15 franchise locations over the next 10 years — they won’t have to apply for a loan. Each location is going to be 1,500 square feet or less, including the one in Fruitville Commons, which they expect to open sometime in the first quarter of 2022. 

The couple also recently purchased a $50,000 electric food truck to sell lemonade and a few menu items at farmers markets. But really, it’s their biggest marketing tool aimed at getting the word out about the new location. They plan to host contests and other fun events in conjunction with the food truck to get the community involved. The truck also will serve as support for the five locations they have planned for the area, including the Sarasota store. 

The biggest challenge they’ve faced is something familiar to other construction projects in the area: supply chain woes. Finding the perfect spot to open was another challenge. The pair is focused on finding locations near other health-conscious inspired companies like yoga studios. “We walked away from some locations,” says Anju. 

Being in the franchise business for 11 years managing several employees, Anju says the hard part now is finding people who have a similar vision that aligns with the Wow Wow brand, also noting that they recently hired the operations manager. “Even though it’s our baby,” she says, “we still need really strong people who are going to be in the store every day.” 

One factor that keeps Anju up at night? Risk. “All of the money we’ve made in our other businesses, we’ve invested in this business,” she says. 

That's tempered, somewhat, by the chain's interesting beyond-lemonade menu. The couple, for one, was sufficiently wowed when they visited their first Wow Wow location in Phoenix, Arizona. The menu includes acai bowls, smoothies, coffee, tea and other healthy bites, like avocado toast and grain bowls. The company prides itself on it’s sustainable business model for using eco-friendly PLA products and doing away with single-use plastics. 

Maybe it’s the lemonade or the sustainable practices that's fueling the franchise growth and drawing in people like the Lynns. Or it could be the Aloha spirit that draws in franchisees. 

To Andrew Lynn, it’s the acai bowls. 

“I didn’t even know how to pronounce that three months ago,” he says. Now, that's all he can talk about. “I can’t wait to bring that flavor to Florida.” 

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