Top 100 Private Company CEO: Aslam Khan finds restaurant success by building relationships

Aslam Khan

Falcon Holdings LLC

7 Village Circle

Westlake 76262


- FWBP Digital Partners -

Aslam Khan has never been averse to hard work and he has embraced every job, no matter how menial, as an opportunity.

It is that attitude that fueled a rags-to-riches tale that he couldn’t even imagine during his impoverished childhood in rural Pakistan.

Now a multimillionaire who built an empire in restaurant franchising, he continues to look back over his shoulder to those treks of more than four miles over treacherous terrain to attend elementary school in the hope of a better life.

“In middle school, it was five to six miles, going barefoot in the cold, hot,” he said. “I didn’t give up.”

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As the only one in his family of 10 children to attend school, Khan made his way into the world beyond his native village and had an opportunity to settle for a comfortable life years ago. But Khan was – and is – not one to settle. He had big dreams, which motivated him to go further and accomplish more.

Khan’s determination to succeed paid off. He earned a reputation as the King of Church’s Fried Chicken because he is the largest franchise holder in the fast-food chain. His business acumen, work ethic and people-first philosophy helped propel him into entrepreneurial success with Falcon Holdings LLC, a multi-brand franchise company he started in Westlake in 1999 in partnership with Sentinel Capital Partners.

Under his leadership, Falcon has grown fivefold and now owns 350 restaurants and has 200 more under management. Aside from his Church’s Chicken franchises, Falcon operates restaurants in the Hardees, Carl’s Jr., Long John Silver and Piccadilly Cafeteria chains.

Khan’s experience and track record in the often-challenging franchise and restaurant industry recently landed him another opportunity: CEO of Dallas-based casual restaurant chain TGI Fridays, of which Sentinel is majority shareholder.

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Khan, 63, said he was approached by TGI Fridays, which operates more than 900 restaurants in 61 countries. He will retain his position with Falcon while working with Fridays.

“I am thrilled that they picked me,” he said. “I will do an excellent job for them.”

Organization leaders have full confidence in his ability.

“Aslam has a deep understanding of and proven record managing relationships, which he brings to our franchise owners, who own and operate more than 90 percent of our 470 U.S. locations,” said John Antioco, former CEO and a member of Fridays’ board of directors, in a statement.

Having worked alongside Khan for 20 years, John McCormack, co-founder and senior partner of Sentinel, said he is “an extraordinary transformational restaurant executive.”

Khan said his role is to deliver for TGI’s Fridays what he has mastered through his own operation: strengthening operations, adding innovative marketing, motivating employees and providing outstanding customer service.

His experience as an immigrant driven to succeed has made him compassionate about helping others like himself. He rewards his top achievers by guiding them to become managing partners of their own franchises.

“It’s about the details and taking care of people,” he said. “If you take care of people – your employees and customers – they will take care of you.”

Khan’s success at running restaurants comes from years of on-the-job experience and eagerness to learn, starting at age 14.

After completing middle school, he left home to continue his high school studies. He lived in crowded communal quarters for workers on the outskirts of Islamabad and worked at a bakery and teashop at night so he could attend classes during the day.

Eventually, he landed a job as a waiter at the U.S. Embassy Club, where he cut his teeth in the food service industry.

“It was a good job, my first good job,” he said.

He soon was promoted to bartender, where he would listen to customers and learn about their problems, which he realized were nothing like the problems of people living in Third World countries. Eventually, he became an assistant manager and married an Austrian diplomat.

His wife’s new posting brought him to the Los Angeles area in the 1980s. Certain that his work experience at the club would help him land a good job, he quickly realized that his status as an immigrant outweighed his expertise. Discouraged? That’s hardly a word in Khan’s vocabulary. He took a job as a dishwasher at a Church’s Chicken restaurant making $3.25 an hour.

His wife was not pleased with his decision and tried to convince him to quit.

“I didn’t want to be a house-husband,” he said. “We were two different people.”

She was not happy living in the United States so the two divorced and she took a position in Europe.

Meanwhile, Khan quickly parlayed his job as a dishwasher into a position as assistant manager and was able to rapidly turn around a failing restaurant. As a result, he rose through the ranks of a Church’s franchise group in California, developing a reputation for rescuing failing restaurants by improving operations and introducing creative marketing strategies such as distributing fliers with coupons, putting up storefront banners and hosting special events such as a visit from the world’s tallest man and a DJ party in the parking lot.

He even promised that meals would be free if they were not handed to customers within 45 seconds of ordering.

In 1995, he left Church’s to work for competitor KFC, which sought help with a failing enterprise. A year later, he returned to Church’s to help turn around a faltering franchise of 48 stores. By then, he was considered the go-to guy for failing Church’s stores.

In 1999, Khan faced his biggest challenge – salvaging a 100-unit franchise of Church’s restaurants on the verge of bankruptcy in the Midwest. Church’s corporate headquarters and the group’s lenders offered to roll over the loan but declined to extend more money.

Sensing an opportunity in the midst of an untenable situation, Khan realized he needed additional capital. He approached Sentinel Capital Partners, a New York private equity firm, to borrow $8 million to buy the six-state franchise group.

He named the group Falcon Holdings and moved the company to Chicago. Within five years, he turned the franchise from being $5 million in the red to a chain that generated $27 million. Khan repaid the loan and became the outright owner. He regards the purchase as his proudest business accomplishment.

In 2009, he relocated Falcon Holdings from Chicago to Westlake in far north Tarrant County. The decision was both personal and professional – he owns 17 Church’s stores and all the Long John Silver restaurants in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Now remarried, Khan and his wife, Hilda, and their 19-year-old son, Abraham, live in a nearly 10,000-square-foot home in nearby Southlake. His son is attending the University of Texas at Dallas and majoring in entrepreneurial business.

“I love it here,” Khan said. “The weather is good and the people are friendly.”

Khan’s business success has brought him several top honors including the International Franchise Association’s Ronald E. Harrison Award for his commitment to diversity in 2011, the IFA Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2014 and the MVP American Dream Award from Multi-Unit Franchisee Magazine.

With two leadership jobs, Khan doesn’t have much time for hobbies. Fortunately, he said, work brings a lot of personal satisfaction beyond the financial rewards.

“I love to work with people,” he said. “My work is about people … getting to know them, talking to them, teaching them and coaching them. It’s all about the experience.”

Despite his success, Khan never stops looking back and remembering where he came from. Those memories have prompted him to build health clinics in remote villages of Pakistan so the people there have access to care.

And he doesn’t forget his early days.

“Poverty is a powerful driver,” he said.