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Franchising Goes Hollywood: Celebrities level up franchise marketing by investing in their favorite brands

Image of Debbie Williams
Debbie Williams

From Shaq and Venus Williams to Mark Wahlberg and Samuel L. Jackson, athletes and actors across the country are getting into the franchise business.  We’ve rounded up some of the biggest names that are investing their dollars in and putting their names behind these hot franchise brands. 

The King of Franchise Brands

NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal needs a category of his own when it comes to talking about celebrity-owned franchises. Referred to as the king of franchises,  O’Neal owns more than 155 Five Guys, 40 24-Hour Fitness gyms, 17 Auntie Anne’s Pretzel locations, 9 Papa John’s, and 1 Krispy Kreme.  

In addition to being a multi-unit franchise owner, Shaq launched his own chicken brand Big Chicken, which started as a reality TV series in 2018, and now has several locations on the West Coast, as well as a ghost kitchen in Rochester, NY, and outposts on two Carnival Cruise ships.

Dave’s Hot Chicken

After starting as a parking lot pop-up in LA, this chicken brand is en fuego, not only for its California-based cult-like following but also for its A-list backers. Hip Hop star Drake owns a minority stake in the brand that’s also backed by investors like actor Samuel L. Jackson, journalist Maria Kennedy Shriver, and Boston Red Sox Chairman Tom Werner. Drake often shares his love for Dave’s Hot Chicken on social media 

Dave’s leadership team also runs Blaze Pizza, which shares the same celebrity-driven playbook and cites LeBron James as an investor. 

Papa John’s

In 2010, Papa John’s became the Official Pizza of the NFL, and just two years later, football star Peyton Manning inked a deal to buy 31 locations in Denver, CO. Manning sold his units in 2018 but remained a face of the franchise brand’s marketing for several years longer.

Jimmy John’s 

NFL Super Bowl Champs love investing in their favorite food brands.  Saints Quarterback Drew Brees has been a fan of the sandwich brand Jimmy John's since his college days at Purdue University. He owns at least 5 locations in his team’s home state of Louisiana and has been known to stop by for a bite and fan pics.  Brees is also a co-owner and partner in Walk-On Sports Bistreaux which has dozens of locations across the southeast.

Jamba Juice

Tennis legend Venus Williams developed a love for the healthy juice brand after being diagnosed with Sjogren's syndrome and embarking on a vegan diet. She owns four Jamba Juice locations in the D.C. Metro area and cites her love of eating healthy and promoting a product she felt good about as inspiration.


The chicken chain announced a new partnership with musician Megan Thee Stallion.  The Grammy-winning rapper will not only be a Popeye's franchisee, but has a hot deal with the Miami-based chain that also includes merchandise, charitable donations, and her own Hottie Sauce. Retired baseball legend Hank Aaron also owns 24 Popeye's Chicken franchises throughout the Atlanta area. 


Why invest in a franchise when you can start one with your name?  The Whalberg clan of singers, actors, and film producers launched their namesake burger franchise, Wahlburgers, in 2011. Brothers Paul, Mark, and Donnie Whalberg still own the chain which has almost 50 franchise locations.

While most franchisees are local or regional business leaders in their community, it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a big name lend their star power to a brand.  In any form, from traditional to digital, marketing for franchisees is a highly competitive game, even when Shaq owns the brand. 


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