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Bryn & Dane's expanding from Philly to … central Africa?

"Since the beginning, I've always wanted to have a giving arm of Bryn & Dane's," says founder Bryn Davis.

Founder Bryn Davis at the Bryn & Dane’s location in Plymouth Meeting.
Founder Bryn Davis at the Bryn & Dane’s location in Plymouth Meeting.Read moreMICHAEL KLEIN / Staff

With a new push toward franchising, Bryn Davis is expanding his healthful fast-casual restaurant chain, Bryn & Dane's, beyond the Philadelphia region and the goal is 100-plus units around the country. On Jan. 9, he expects to open a company-owned location in Malvern — the fifth in this region — followed by one at the Franklin Residences, on Chestnut Street near Eighth, in Center City. This will have a catering center attached to it, now that former Saladworks executive Paul Steck has come on board.

Also in the mix for 2018 is a Bryn & Dane's in — of all places — Entebbe, Uganda.

It all started last year when Davis, now 33,  joined a friend's humanitarian tourism adventure to the central African nation. He quickly realized that power infrastructure and septic systems — the jobs he had signed up for — were not his strong suit.

How did this come about?

A buddy called me and said, 'We're leaving in a couple weeks. I have an extra spot on the plane. Do you want to go?' I was super-stressed-out here and said, 'Absolutely.' I got my shots, got my ticket, and we went. Our jobs were solar panels and septic fields. I have no background in either one of them. And the pastor who was running the whole group, said, 'We're actually thinking about opening up a market. Does anybody have any experience doing something like that?' And that was kind of my ticket out of the septic field.

Was this in your business model?

Since the beginning, I've always wanted to have a giving arm of Bryn & Dane's. I love Blake Mycoskie from TOMS shoes. I love the model of one-for-one. This is the first foray into our giving arm. I want to say that for every location that we open, we're going to open up a 'giving' location. I think we might be able to do better than that, but at the minimum, for every one we open here, we want to open one there. The reason we want to do the one-for-one on the store side is that it tells a good story for us. Meaning: big brother, little brother. One's not better than the other — they're inextricably connected, whether they want to be or not. And the big brother's going to look after the little brother, no matter what. So the first big-brother store is Malvern and the little brother store is Entebbe. With a lot of the goods that people buy, we'll be able to do a tremendous amount of giving on the Entebbe side.

The knee-jerk reaction is 'how cool would it be that every time you sold a product here, you give a product there?' In that culture, a lot of people will stop working and it actually wouldn't be good for that community. Our idea is, we're going to give those people over there access to affordable, if not super-subsidized clean, healthy food so that they can sustain themselves reliably without having a lot of money. That's the end game, no matter what. How we get there, we'll grow and learn about.  The only difference is we're not going to have the same financial scrutiny over those stores that we have here.

What's it like opening in Africa?

It reminds me exactly of the way we opened up the first Bryn & Dane's [in a Horsham office park] that was just smoothies and popcorn. We are 1,000 percent shooting from the hip, learning as we go, but I think the biggest thing is the people. I go back and forth. I have — I honestly can say — a larger group of tight friends over there that I talk to every day than I even do here now. I am able to say, 'Hey, what's going on?' and five people will answer all the questions I need answered. There haven't been any challenges that are greater than opening in the U.S.

How will the  Entebbe store look?

We bought a raw shipping container that's literally been all over the world, and we had it fixed up. We made it into an authentic bar and we'll have our full kitchen behind it. We're not going to confine them to having the strict menu. They're going to do all of our blended drinks, and iced teas. They're going to have access to these bowls. They're going to have chicken strips. But I'm not going to force them to sell items that we sell here. They're probably not going to do air-popped popcorn or the kale lemonade at first, and that's OK. We'll do locally sourced, low-calorie, healthy and nutritious meals. We're going to let that community dictate what healthy and local means to them, because just like when we open [franchise locations around the country], we'll allow those franchisees to augment what healthy is [there]. We're going to do the same exact thing overseas with the guys in Entebbe.

By the end of 2018, we'll have it done. We already have all the connections. I met with the government. We identified our franchisee. We met with our suppliers. It's just now a matter of getting it done.