With great success comes great opportunity. Many celebrities have discovered this firsthand after catching their big breaks when they suddenly find themselves with a lot of extra money and many options for how to spend it. Some buy stocks, some buy real estate, some buy ridiculously lavish cars — and others jump into the restaurant business.
Plenty of stars have founded their own eateries, but some of the smartest celebrity investors have given their money to established restaurant chains, choosing to become franchisees. Here are some of the most notable celebs who’ve operated their own restaurant franchises.
NBA legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson is arguably the gold standard for celebrities who’ve had great success in franchising. His portfolio has included Burger King and T.G.I. Friday’s locations, to say nothing of his movie theaters, all under the Magic Johnson Enterprises umbrella. He was also an early believer in the massive expansion of Starbucks, owning more than 100 locations from 1998 to 2010, often building his cafes in majority-Black neighborhoods.
For decades, Peyton Manning has been known as one of the savviest people in sports. His mastery of the quarterback position, his management of his public image and the few moves he’s made since retiring from the NFL have been nearly flawless.
One smart move he made was buying dozens of Papa John’s pizzerias in the Denver area, shortly after signing with the Broncos in 2012. Manning also appeared in commercials for the chain, further boosting his involvement with them. He sold all 31 of his Papa John’s franchises in 2018 following some bad press for the company.
Another beloved athlete who has jumped into business with Papa John’s is Shaquille O’Neal. In 2019, “The Big Aristotle” bought nine Papa John’s locations around Atlanta but that’s just a sliver of his investments in franchising. He has also owned a Krispy Kreme franchise and more than a dozen Auntie Anne’s pretzel shops. Perhaps his boldest move was owning 155 Five Guys restaurants — approximately 10% of the entire burger chain — which he has since sold.
Like many people who’ve lived in Los Angeles for any period of time, Pharrell Williams has an affinity for Fatburger. The restaurant chain is beloved by many celebrities, including Ice Cube, who famously mentioned it in his 1992 track “It Was a Good Day.” But Williams put his money on the line in backing the company and is counted as a Fatburger franchisee, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Rapper Rick Ross has made headlines for losing an impressive amount of weight in recent years, which means he’s probably not eating too many chicken wings from his own franchises. Ross is a major investor in Wingstop and has been a franchisee for years. As of 2019, the company reported that he owned 28 Wingstop locations. In 2014, it was reported that he made about $7 million from his franchises — and that was when he owned fewer of them.
There’s no relation between Venus Williams and Pharrell Williams but the famous pair are both involved in the franchise game. For the tennis legend, her portfolio includes several Jamba Juice locations in the Washington metro area. In 2014, she opened her fourth Jamba Juice franchise.
“I share Jamba’s mission to inspire and simplify healthy living and promote a healthy active lifestyle,” Williams said in an announcement when her newest franchise opened.
After hitting a then-record 755 home runs during his MLB career, Hank Aaron added a few more in his post-baseball life. The Braves icon used his earnings from the game to start a career in business that continues to this day. Through his company, 755 Restaurant Corporation, Aaron owns nearly 30 Popeyes chicken franchises across Georgia. His holdings also include two Krispy Kreme bakeries.
Many of the pro athletes on this list didn’t get into franchising until later in life, but Trevor Ariza put his money into the restaurant business early. The former NBA champion with the Los Angeles Lakers bought his first franchise when he was in his mid-20s and still going strong on the court. In 2011, Ariza and a pair of business partners opened a Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant in L.A.’s Crenshaw neighborhood. In 2017, Ariza opened another one in Koreatown.
Queen Elizabeth II
This is going to sound completely made up but Queen Elizabeth II is technically a franchisee of America’s biggest fast-food chain. Through The Crown Estate, the British monarch owns a McDonald’s franchise in Banbury, England.
The Crown’s holdings in that town also include a Starbucks and a Costa Coffee, making Queen Elizabeth the owner of multiple restaurants. NBC’s “Today” reported that the royal family is rarely spotted near their McDonald’s, partly because it’s about 80 miles away from Buckingham Palace.
NFL All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman has jumped into the chicken wing game like some of his fellow sports stars in recent years. When he was playing with the Seattle Seahawks, Sherman bought two Wingstop franchises in that city. He was apparently inspired to make the move after seeing how much success his former teammate Sidney Rice had by doing the same thing. Seahawks obviously love to spread their wings.
Along with Magic Johnson, LeBron James has shown himself to be one of the smartest athletes-turned-investors of all time. His investment in Beats By Dre paid off in a huge way and allowed him to pour some money into the restaurant business in a move that has also yielded a great return. “The King” owns a major stake in the Blaze Pizza chain, including franchises in Chicago and Miami. ESPN reported that his $1 million buy-in with the brand in 2012 was worth $35 million just five years later.
Few people in sports have worn as many hats as well as Michael Strahan. The Pro Football Hall of Famer and Super Bowl champ went from being a great NFL player to being a beloved TV personality and has also made some high-profile investments. In 2007, the New York Giants star joined a group with four other athletes that bought into Burger King franchises. Strahan’s group, Ramsell Dining, took over 18 Burger King locations in the move.
Kanye West may be proud of his Chicago roots but he’s spent enough time in L.A. to also become a loyal devotee of Fatburger. Like Pharrell Williams, the rapper is counted among the celebrities to become franchisees of that West Coast chain. Given how great West is at self-promotion, it’s hard to believe he hasn’t dropped the address of his restaurant into any of his songs.
When he was rushing for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Jerome Bettis was one of the most intimidating backs in the NFL. Since retiring, “The Bus” has become a bit more warm and fuzzy, including in his post-football profession. Now, instead of dealing out punishment to defenders, he’s dealing out pizzas in Pennsylvania. In 2013, Bettis joined the list of Papa John’s franchisees by opening his first pizzeria.
Yet another Super Bowl-winning star who has gotten into franchising is Saints star Drew Brees. In fact, if you’ve ever bought a sandwich from Jimmy John’s in New Orleans, you’ve put some money into his pocket. The quarterback loved eating at Jimmy John’s so much in college that when he got to the NFL, he decided to bring the chain to his adopted hometown. Since opening his first franchise in 2010, Brees has opened eight more Jimmy John’s locations in New Orleans.
Few players in PGA Tour history have made as much money from tournaments as Phil Mickelson, which has given him plenty of investment options. One way he’s spent those earnings is in restaurant franchising. The golfer leads a group that owns Five Guys franchises in Southern California, where he was born and raised. His role as a franchisee attracted some attention in 2010 when he made what seemed like an innocent remark about how much he liked the burgers at Five Guys.
If you stop at a Jamba Juice in the Washington metro area, you’re probably either supporting the business interests of Venus Williams or Vernon Davis. For his part, the former Pro Bowl tight end is a major player in that chain’s franchise operation. He has 11 Jamba Juice locations in his smoothie empire, spread across both coasts. Five are in California and six are near the nation’s capital.
You might have already known that Jimmy Buffett has his own line of restaurants called Margaritaville, but did you know that he also waded into the bakery game? When he’s not busy looking for his lost shaker of salt or hitting the road with the Coral Reefer Band, Buffett counts being a Krispy Kreme franchisee among his jobs. Buffett’s doughnut shop is located in West Palm Beach, Florida. Where else would you expect it to be?
Since his NBA career has come to an end, “Mr. Big Shot” has applied that nickname to a career in business. Chauncey Billups owns multiple franchises across several businesses, including salons and gyms. But one of his biggest investments came in 2013, when he teamed up with another former baller, Junior Bridgeman, to buy 30 Wendy’s restaurants in Missouri. Those restaurants included nearly every Wendy’s franchise in the St. Louis area.
Add Willie McGinest to the list of big-name franchisees that have bought into Wingstop. The hulking Super Bowl champion who helped lead the New England Patriots to its first run of dominance now calls himself a Wingstop franchisee. Chicken wings aren’t the only thing McGinest has peddled since the end of his playing career. He’s also a franchisee for Swirls Frozen Yogurt and he formerly owned a Baskin-Robbins location.
When you think of Pitbull, you have to think of Miami. So it makes sense that he would be a franchisee in that city. He has invested in the local sandwich chain, Miami Grill, and is its most recognizable franchise owner. According to the people behind Miami Grill, Pitbull is very hands-on with the company, even lobbying for different dishes to be added to its menu and helping pick the music played inside the restaurants.
The pizzeria chain Famous Famiglia has locations dotted across North America, including one with a notable franchisee. The location inside Sacramento International Airport is owned by NeNe Leakes, best known as a star of “The Real Housewives of Atlanta.” Leakes bought the eatery in 2011 and tweeted that her 1.9 million followers should stop by for a slice.
Two-time Stanley Cup champion Cory Stillman has gotten heavily into the sandwich game since hanging up his skates. The former NHL All-Star‘s restaurant of choice? Firehouse Subs. In 2017 alone, Stillman opened three Firehouse Subs franchises in his hometown of Peterborough, Ontario. If you ever find your way north of the border and starving for a good steak sandwich, Stillman has you covered.
Former NBA All-Star Jamal Mashburn is another basketball star who successfully pivoted into franchising. The University of Kentucky standout first got into the restaurant business when he bought an Outback Steakhouse location. After getting a taste for it, he bought franchises from Dunkin’ and Papa John’s. Mashburn also counts several car dealerships among his fleet of investments.
When he was playing first base, Adrián González was a five-time All-Star and he’s taken the skills he learned on the diamond into his second career as a franchisee. The four-time Gold Glove Award winner got into the restaurant business in 2015, as his playing days were winding down. Today, he owns 11 Jersey Mike’s Subs restaurants in Southern California.
“I got into franchising because I loved the subs and I loved the brand,” González told Franchising.com in 2019.
In many ways, Brady Keys laid the track for many others on this list to become franchisees. The former All-Pro honoree with the Steelers found fast-food restaurants to be a great way to use his earnings from the NFL. In 1969, the year he retired from football, Keys became the first Black franchisee in Burger King history. A year later, he cleared the same mark with Kentucky Fried Chicken. Keys was ultimately a massive figure in franchising, owning 75 restaurants across the country before his death in 2017 at the age of 80.
Another famous Black man who helped break the color barrier in fast-food franchising was Julian Bond. The noted civil rights leader, whose groundbreaking work included co-founding the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and leading the NAACP, got into the game in 1970. That year, he formed a trio that built and ran a Dairy Queen in Atlanta. That restaurant would end up becoming the target of protestors, eventually leading to its closure. Bond’s group also owned a second Dairy Queen, as well as two Wishbone Fried Chicken restaurants.
Some of Mike Miller’s best days on the basketball court came alongside LeBron James and it seems he might’ve been inspired by “The King’s” investment decisions. The former NBA Rookie of the Year and two-time champion got into franchising in 2014, when he went into business with his brother. The pair bought a BurgerFi restaurant near the campus of Auburn University. That fast-casual chain started a massive, nationwide expansion shortly after that, making Miller’s decision look pretty smart in retrospect.
We mentioned that Sidney Rice had so much success with his franchising investments that he actually inspired his former teammate Richard Sherman to give it a shot. While the Super Bowl winner was wrapping up his run with the Seattle Seahawks, he was making some shrewd decisions off the football field in his temporary hometown. The Pro Bowl wide receiver agreed to a deal with Wingstop in 2013 that would see him open five franchises in Seattle.
“Wingstop is my favorite restaurant,” Rice said when the deal was announced. “When I was given an opportunity to join the company, I knew it was a chance I couldn’t pass up.”
Former All-Pro pick Kris Brown is best known for kicking footballs in the NFL but his real calling may have been selling pastries. Since retiring from football in 2011, Brown has become a big player in the franchising operation of Dunkin’. The Texas native is now CEO of a group that owns 12 Dunkin’ locations in Kansas City and Omaha. Brown’s dealings with the doughnut chain aren’t over, either, as he’s reportedly under contract to open 17 franchises in total.