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From Tech to QSR: Surjeet Singh’s Journey in America

August 21, 2020
By Raj Prashad

Surjeet Singh came to America more than 20 years ago, leaving a flourishing corporate career in India with aspirations to build his own business in technology services. After successfully creating, launching, operating and selling his own IT services company, completing Harvard business school and running another software services company as CEO, Singh became interested in a new challenge — the QSR industry.

“I met with friends who had a similar background and they introduced me to the options in the QSR business,” Singh said. “It quickly became clear to me that this industry needed professionalized management teams, consolidation and multi-brand strategy. Just as the technology industry, it had strong fundamentals, but needed continued operational excellence.”

So Singh joined Ajay Chopra and Sanjive Datta, both of whom were already in the business, to form Rubyhill Ventures.

“We devised a core, growth and explore strategy to have a balanced portfolio over time,” Singh said.

They acquired Arby’s first in the core category, started fresh development of Jimmy John’s in the growth category and hired an advisor, who introduced them to SONIC Drive-In in the Denver market.

“After visiting Denver and seeing SONIC, it was obvious that it was a brand to invest in,” Singh said. “Their vision of technology investments in the brand was not only forward-looking and unique, but I found the culture of innovation, franchisee friendliness and brand positioning around satisfying cravings in different dayparts to be unique.”

During early conversations with the SONIC executive team, Singh was surprised to see how his experience in the IT industry would translate into conversations about the brand’s future in digital.

“SONIC was thinking about ways to innovate in digital before anyone else,” Singh said. “Immediately, I was very impressed because I saw SONIC’s plans as such a competitive advantage. And you see today how we are leading the way with the Mobile Order Ahead service.”

For Rubyhill Ventures, their investments in the industry eventually came under one roof, when Inspire acquired SONIC and Jimmy John’s in 2018 and 2019, respectively, along with its portfolio of Arby’s, Buffalo Wild Wings and Rusty Taco. And it’s the collective power from Inspire that makes Singh so encouraged about his future as a franchisee.

“Paul Brown’s vision of digital investments in data capabilities, analytics and insights will allow us to stay ahead of the game and it’s very clearly a differentiator,” Singh said. “When you factor in supply chain capabilities and purchasing power across our brands, Inspire will continue to gain market share in this highly-fragmented industry.”

Singh and his partners currently operate nearly 100 restaurants across Arby’s, SONIC Drive-In and Jimmy John’s, primarily between Colorado, Utah, Washington and California.

“It is an investment in people and a disciplined approach to financial investments that make us proud,” Singh said. “We knew early on that success in this industry is based on human capital and not financial capital, and we have constantly invested in developing operating leadership that has and will continue to help us scale.”

To learn more about franchising opportunities at Arby’s, SONIC Drive-In and Jimmy John’s, go to inspirefranchising.com.