Like many Boston-area residents, Ryan Dion has been a longtime fan of local culinary institution Kelly’s Roast Beef.
“I grew up three miles from Kelly’s Roast Beef in Saugus, Massachusetts,” he says. “I’ve been there well over 1,000 times.”
So, Dion personally understands the appeal of Kelly’s famous “three-way” roast beef sandwiches topped with American cheese, mayonnaise and James River barbecue sauce, as well as seafood options such as lobster rolls, fried whole belly clams and clam chowder. And when he saw the opportunity to merge the personal with the professional, it was a no-brainer.
Kelly’s Roast Beef has been slowly expanding around New England, opening locations in Salem, New Hampshire, and at Boston’s Logan Airport recently. Dion, 42, the COO of Massachusetts-based RAVentures Hospitality, knew Kelly’s was interested in franchising, so he reached out.
“One thing led to another, and we decided we’d love to grow Kelly’s down in Florida,” Dion says. “Florida is booming … we haven’t found anything even close to a concept like Kelly’s Roast Beef [in Florida], and we got excited about it.”
Kelly’s Roast Beef opened its original Revere Beach, Massachusetts, location in 1951. Everything is made fresh daily at all its locations, and a single restaurant can sell more than 20,000 of its much-loved sandwiches during a busy month.
Neil Newcomb, CEO of Kelly’s Roast Beef Franchising, says the company found Florida a good location for franchising for reasons like its dynamic business climate, pandemic-era policies and the sizable number of New Englanders who are residents, snowbirds or frequent visitors to the state. The company’s first Florida location opened in December 2022 on University Parkway in the popular shopping and dining zone on the border of Sarasota and Manatee Counties.
“Our first days open, it seemed like the place was packed with former New England residents, and they were all talking about the first time they ate at Kelly’s,” says Newcomb, 52.
RAVentures Hospitality will serve as franchisee for Kelly’s Roast Beef on the west coast of Florida, and its years of experience in the restaurant and hotel space make it a good fit for helping to grow the brand. “They’re a good match for us because they’re so operationally strong,” says Newcomb. “We knew the restaurant was going to be run at the highest level.”
Newcomb says it’s too early to share stats about the University Town Center location, but everyone’s happy at this point. Various advertising and social media efforts are helping to introduce the fast-casual restaurant to people not already familiar with it, and word of mouth also draws customers in.
“We’re very pleased thus far,” Dion says. “We’ve met a lot of people from Massachusetts and New England, and we’ve also met a lot of local people passing through who are finding the excitement in being able to have fried clams with the bellies or a three-way roast beef sandwich … we’re finding the response thus far being very, very good.”
The UTC location has about 50 employees, and RAVentures Hospitality has opened a Florida office next door. That will help with its plans to open an additional nine Kelly’s locations on the west coast of Florida over the next two years, stretching from South Pasadena (scheduled to open this fall) to Naples.
For Newcomb, a slow but steady pace is the right approach to franchising for Kelly’s Roast Beef. “We’re currently at eight units,” he says. “This year we hope to grow by six or seven. And that’s good growth for us.”
Building the infrastructure to support that growth will be a focus for 2023. “We’re always trying to be better at operational support,” says Newcomb. “We’re always trying to be better at communicating to the customer what we are and how we’re different. They have a lot of options — why should they come to us?”
Kelly’s is working with another franchisee on the east coast of Florida on possible locations in that area, and the company has drawn interest from franchisees in other markets on the east coast of the United States (but there are no commitments at this point). So, while the company doesn’t want to move too quickly, more is possible down the line. And that would build toward one of Newcomb’s goals.
“When people fly to California, the first place they go to is In-N-Out Burger,” he says. “We think if you fly to the east coast, the first place you should go to is Kelly’s.”
Nokomis-based freelance writer Beth Luberecki, a Business Observer contributor, writes about business, travel and lifestyle topics for a variety of Florida and national publications. Her work has appeared in publications and on websites including Washington Post’s Express, USA Today, Florida Trend, FamilyVacationist.com and SmarterTravel.com. Learn more about her at BethLuberecki.com.