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Chris Olexa’s Remarkable Journey From Food Stamps to Franchisee

By Raj Prashad

When guests walk into one of Chris Olexa’s Arby’s, Buffalo Wild Wings or Rusty Taco restaurants, they’re often surprised to find the owner mopping the floor, bussing a table or helping out in the kitchen.

“I’ll never ask one of my team members to do something that I won’t do. The restaurant industry takes hard work, and at the end of the day it’s simple: If we are friendly, give guests the cleanest restaurant and the best experiences, we’ll be successful,” Chris said.

It’s that work ethic and perspective that has carried Chris from humble beginnings in Beaumont, Texas, to becoming a multi-unit, multi-brand franchisee.

Growing up, food stamps helped Chris and his mother survive. They lived in poverty, and he began working at the age of 15 just to keep the lights on at home.

“We lived in a rough part of town. It wasn’t rare for someone to break into your house or hold you up at gun point on the street. I knew then, that when I grew up, I never wanted to worry about where I lived ever again,” Chris said.

After high school, Chris went to college for one semester before deciding to explore other options in the workforce. In his free time, he would drive to Houston to watch Rockets games, then go to the Buffalo Wild Wings at Rice Village.

“I’m a huge sports fan, so the first time I walked in, I just fell in love. I told myself I’d own a Buffalo Wild Wings one day.” Chris Olexa, Arby’s, Buffalo Wild Wings and Rusty Taco franchisee

Chris Olexa and his family

Chris Olexa, his wife Kim and their four children.

As the years passed, he married his high school sweetheart, Kim, and settled into a routine as a furniture store manager. Unwilling to let him go through the motions of life without chasing his dreams, Kim challenged Chris to fulfill his promise of one day owning his own business.

“We went to a coffee shop and spent hours reading franchising magazines and books, trying to learn as much as we could about the restaurant business. Over the next few years, we saved every penny we made and I quit my job to open our first Quiznos. After opening our second location, I felt we had built up some experience as franchisees, so we sold both and opened our first Buffalo Wild Wings,” Chris said.

By 2008, Chris opened three more Buffalo Wild Wings locations. But a cancer diagnosis and two natural disasters threatened to derail his life.

He was diagnosed with lymphoma, underwent six months of chemotherapy and eventually went into remission. Shortly after Chris’s cancer discovery, Hurricanes Ike and Gustav ripped through Louisiana and Texas, forcing all four of his restaurants to close due to damages and evacuations. Just as he had done so many times before, Chris bounced back, returning to full strength and re-opening all of his restaurants.

In the years that followed, Chris added four additional Buffalo Wild Wings and acquired his first Rusty Taco.

“We fell in love with the history of Rusty Taco and how Rusty Fenton founded the brand,” Chris said.

After Buffalo Wild Wings joined the Inspire Brands family of restaurants in 2018, Chris added Arby’s to his portfolio as well.

“Inspire’s CEO Paul Brown and I talked about the Arby’s turnaround, but I hadn’t eaten food from the restaurant in quite a while. When I finally had the opportunity to test out the menu, it was phenomenal. I went back home to Texas, took my wife to our local Arby’s and we decided shortly thereafter to sign a franchisee agreement,” Chris said.

As he continues to build his business, Chris will never lose sight of where he came from, what he’s gone through, and what he aspires to build for his family. That vision is what continues to drive him to this day.

“Every day I work with people just like me who started working from a young age to provide for their families.” Chris Olexa, Arby’s, Buffalo Wild Wings and Rusty Taco franchisee

“It’s fulfilling for me to provide them — and people from all backgrounds — the opportunity to change their lives for the better.”

Chris Olexa and his team

Chris Olexa and his team visit Universal Studios during the 2019 BWW Worldwide Franchise Convention.