French Fry Heaven wants to be a whimsical place where cares and calories are forgotten, and indulgence is celebrated in the form of a cone of Belgian-style fries. This is the dream of chain founder Scott Nelowet, who got into this as a restaurant-industry newbie with a head for marketing. Using the delight inherent in the European snack tradition, and a nose for scoring media coverage, Nelowet has grown his Jacksonville, Fla., location into a nine-state success story.
It's almost exclusively been done on the backs of local franchisees — in this case George and Victoria Stone, who also own a Breckenridge location — living out an iron-clad contract with the parent company, to even include pre-written social media postings. Followers tend to get pretty random updates: "Learn all about what it takes to own [an] awesome French Fry Heaven like this one!" reads a Sept. 2 post on French Fry Heaven-Colorado Springs' Facebook page. " ... Please join my [online webinar], TONIGHT."
I'm assuming "my," in this case, refers back to Nelowet, who blogs extensively about running the company. He always comes off as really jazzed that franchise agreements are booming like they are, which is probably appropriate considering franchisees agree to turn over a $25,000 fee and 6 percent of all gross sales, among other costs.
But, and I realize I'm preaching to the choir here, you never get the impression that anything matters except the money.
Sure, the company talks a big game about making the best fries in the world, but what you'll find is that French Fry Heaven, at least at its Tejon Street location, serves warmed-over junk food you could microwave yourself.
Asked if they cut the fries there, or make any of the sauces, or even mix the strawberries with the lemonade, manager Amanda Kornder says, "Everything is pre-made." Even the new green chili ...
Of course, all that stuff has its market, too: high-schoolers, who made up the majority of the customers on our visits. In a sticky, cramped dining room with four tables and only one that can fit more than two people, you'll quickly experience the cutesy gist. The fries with familiar toppings like mayonnaise or wing sauce are Angels, the fancier ones are Archangels, and the sweet-potato ones are Saints. Individual fries start at $2.99, with combos costing $5.49 and $6.49 — and if you want a drink, you're on the hook for a combo, even if all you want is water ($1). High profit margins on pre-cut potatoes and soda syrup are what make this wheel turn, and turn it does, as you get up-sold on fancy salt (49 cents), like smoked or ghost chili, every order.
It's all pretty generic, though. The one that tastes like a cheeseburger is kind of fun, until the nacho cheese bombs your gut and sogs everything else, plus the fries are bland. The Thanksgiving comes drenched in a spoogey marshmallow cream that tastes like the inside of a Bath & Body Works, plus the fries are bland. The garlic-Parmesan that looks smeared in brown baby food is weirdly interesting for three bites, but those fries ...
And The Canadian, with its thin gravy and shredded cheese, is just an outright joke to anyone who's ever dined at the Potato Potato food truck.
There's no salvation in this heaven, at least for french fries. And the business itself may be a fine retirement strategy, but I can't eat cash.