At 15, Amol R. Kohli began working as a server at his neighborhood Friendly's restaurant in Voorhees. While in high school, he scooped ice cream, washed dishes, and was a host, a cook, and eventually a shift supervisor before heading to college.
Twelve years later, Kohli now owns 10 Friendly's restaurant franchises in South Jersey and Pennsylvania.
He opened his ninth Friendly's on Monday at the Voorhees Town Center, and will open a 10th next month at the Gloucester Premium Outlets in Blackwood. He also owns a Tilted Kilt Pub & Eatery franchise in Sicklerville, and plans to open a second Tilted Kilt in the New York City area in June.
Kohli, 27, is the youngest Friendly's franchisee among 27 owners and 259 Friendly's restaurants, primarily in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic, said David Ulgenalp, Friendly's chief development officer.
"While he may be young, his business acumen is probably the equivalent of franchisees who are 15 to 20 years older, if not more," Ulgenalp said. "He's a very sharp guy."
Kohli oversees 700 full- and part-time employees and a $3.1 million annual payroll. Total revenue for all his restaurants is projected to exceed $15 million next year, he said.
He did not always expect to be in the restaurant business.
When he headed to Drexel University, where he majored in finance and marketing, his required co-op internship was supposed to be at an options-trading firm. But it fell through, and he said, "I scrambled to find a job very quickly."
Kohli called his old boss, who had become a Friendly's franchise owner, and he hired him to work in his office in Moorestown, handling finances and accounting. Kohli, then 21, also began supervising operations at nine Friendly's in South Jersey.
After graduating from Drexel in 2011, Kohli considered applying for investment banking and financial analyst jobs on Wall Street, but decided instead to become a Friendly's franchisee.
He needed more than $500,000 to acquire and finance five restaurants from Friendly's corporate office and four from a private franchisee in South Jersey. The nine Friendly's were scattered from Cape May to Malvern.
He said his parents lent him $50,000, and he put in $75,000 of his own savings. He raised the rest from private investors, "people who I knew over the years that had some wealth or were in business," he said. "It took me six or seven months, but I was able to convince them to give me close to $500,000, which is what I needed to do all my transactions."
Since 2012, Kohli has sold several of his original Friendly's, bought others, and became a Tilted Kilt franchisee. He also bought and sold two Papa John's Pizza locations.
Last year, the young entrepreneur was named among the top "40 under 40" alumni by Drexel Magazine.
Graham R. Laub, who heads the mergers and acquisitions and securities practice groups at law firm Dilworth Paxson L.L.P. in Philadelphia, has represented Kohli in many of his restaurant transactions.
"He's got the brains for it, a really good aptitude. He's razor sharp in keeping all these moving pieces in line and not losing track of something," Laub said.
"The other thing is, he's got a great work ethic," Laub said. "He's a hustler and he's very driven. That's what you need to be successful."
Kohli said his parents were immigrants who came to the United States from India in the 1980s. They met in college.
"My mom always tells me they had no money in their pockets," he said. "They just came over with a couple dollars and decided to reside in Philadelphia." The family moved to Voorhees when Amol was born.
His father, Rakesh, is a research scientist and director of the Mass Spectrometry Laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania. His mother, Nila, is a physical therapist, and his older sister, Nidhi, is an endocrinologist.
"Coming from an Indian household, academics were very, very important," Kohli recalled. "My parents have always pushed us to do better and do more. To never slow down, and continue to improve yourself academically, philosophically, and spiritually.
"They are proud. I believe they are," he said. "My mom will jokingly ask me when I'm going to medical school, and I always tell her, 'Next year.' "