A headshot of Lauren Fernandez.
Full Course

Lauren Fernandez has previous experience both on the franchisor side at Focus Brands and as a multi-unit franchisee of Chicken Salad Chick. 

How Full Course's Lauren Fernandez Accelerates Upstart Restaurants

The former attorney created a way to address a lack of capital and development expertise at startup concepts.

From working as an attorney in the pharmaceutical industry to founding her own restaurant incubator, Lauren Fernandez carved out her own unconventional career path. In 2011, she was recruited to join Focus Brands, which operates over 5,000 restaurants including Schlotzsky's, Carvel, Cinnabon, Moe's Southwest Grill, McAlister's Deli, Auntie Anne's, and Jamba brands. 

“The thing I took away from my time at Focus Brands is that [franchising] is a long-term relationship that is longer than some peoples’ marriages. These are 15, 20-plus year agreements sometimes, with the franchise staying in the family through generations. So you always have to take the long view,” Fernandez tells listeners on a recent episode of FSR’s podcast, "The Restaurant Innovator."

Flash forward to 2016, when Fernandez began learning the flip side of the coin as a franchisee of Chicken Salad Chick, operating a large territory with a total of 11 restaurants. She and her team helped develop an extensive catering program, and they were the first in the system to offer delivery.

“I'm really proud of what we were able to build and how we were able to contribute to the parent company and to the brand as a whole, and I think that is certainly true in the nature of the transaction that we were able to do at the end of 2018 when we sold our restaurants back,” she notes. When Fernandez exited in 2018, she had a momentary crisis of what was next. “I had that moment: ‘What am I going to do with the rest of my life?’ I just turned 40, and I just felt a really strong calling to address some of the things I felt like we needed to do as an industry to help emerging brand owners like Stacy Brown, the founder of Chicken Salad Chick,” Fernandez says.

“I thought, you know, we can do better. There's got to be a way to do this, and that means getting the right capital structures in front of early-stage entrepreneurs and restaurateurs, teaching them the playbook for growth and understanding what that means, how you can grow a brand in many ways other than just franchising,” she says.

So in the summer of 2020 when the world was on lock-down, Fernandez launched Full Course—an incubator, accelerator, and investor in early-stage food and restaurant brands. She wanted Full Course to focus on solving the biggest challenge to early-stage concepts: capital. But she also designed her platform to help those concepts with development expertise.

“What we realized was, operators need that development support. They need someone to help them make their business more efficient. Yes, they need that operational support. But what they need even more is a dev team; they need franchise expertise, product expertise, [and] nontraditional development expertise,” Fernandez notes.

As a first-generation Cuban-American with a deep love for the history of Hispanic and Latin foods from all over the world, Fernandez also describes herself as a compulsive cookbook collector, home baker extraordinaire, and “a native Floridian who can't let go of her flip-flops,” though she calls Atlanta home now. Fernandez is also passionate about helping working parents and women to be leaders in the restaurant industry. Her advice? “Just continually reinvest in yourself. Don’t be ashamed to continue to get more education, more on-the-job training, and to pick roles that make you stretch. I think you really have to know your strengths and your weaknesses and be real about that.”

To learn more, listen to the full podcast episode below and stay tuned for new episodes of The Restaurant Innovator biweekly.