Former UConn athletes and roommates focus their competitive streaks on the franchise business world
Krause (left) and Woodward are execs at Focus Brands, whose seven companies include Moe’s. “I would eat at Moe’s every day if I could,” says Krause.
Brian Krause ’03 (CLAS) is behind the counter at Moe’s Southwest Grill in Downtown Storrs, trying to create the perfect stacked taco without getting queso on his white shirt, which he needs for a business meeting later in the day.
“Oh, that was close!” he hollers to his longtime friend and former UConn college roommate Mike “Woody” Woodward ’03 (CLAS).
As a young man walks through the restaurant door, Woodward bellows the company’s hallmark slogan, “Welcome to M-o-o-o-o-e’s.”
Krause and Woodward are senior executives at Focus Brands, the umbrella company of Carvel, Cinnabon, Moe’s, Auntie Anne’s, Jamba, McAlister’s Deli, and Schlotzsky’s. The two stopped in Storrs recently as part of an eight-state road trip to see some of their most successful franchises — Focus has more than 6,800 — and eagerly stepped behind the counter to prepare a few lunch orders.
The success of Focus Brands isn’t hard to understand, says Krause, the company’s chief development officer. “People want to work for themselves and live the American dream. People love owning our franchises because they are beloved brands that have proven track records of success.”
Careful matchmaking is the key to a franchise’s success, he adds, especially finding the right location for a new business and the best team to run it. “We love people who already know restaurants and those who are super passionate about what they do.”
Woodward, who is senior vice president of franchise development, agrees. “My dream was always to be a coach and, in an unexpected way, that’s what I’m doing. But instead of coaching athletes, I work with people who have an entrepreneurial spirit.”
The two also worked together at another franchise company, Wyndham Resorts. Krause joined Focus Brands in 2020 and, after two years of persuading, convinced Woodward to join the company in 2022.
At UConn, Krause, a sociology major, and Woodward, an economics major, were student-athletes and sophomore roommates in Hilltop Apartments. Both say their athletics experience fostered competitive streaks that serve them well in business.
“... instead of coaching athletes, I work with people who have an entrepreneurial spirit.”
Krause, a native of Florida, played football at UConn for two years and, prophetically, funded the rest of his college tuition by working at Chuck’s Steak House and Margarita Grill in Storrs. Woodward, who grew up in Cleveland, played on the men’s basketball team.
“Competitiveness is part of it. When you’re on a team, whether it is a sports team or a business team, you really need the ability to work as a team,” Krause says.“You look at people and figure out how to surround yourself with those who will help you succeed. You can see an individual’s character every day. Who whines? Who is a self-starter? Who helps others? Both Mike and I bring tenacity in everything we do.”
Beyond their friendship, the UConn roots run deep. Woodward’s father is Walter Woodward, Connecticut State Historian emeritus and a retired
UConn history professor. His wife is former women’s basketball player Ashley Valley Woodward ’05 (CLAS), and his sister-in-law is UConn Women’s Basketball assistant coach Morgan Valley ’05 (CLAS). Krause also met his wife, Melissa Bennett Krause ’02 (CLAS), at UConn.
“There are a lot of sharks out there.”
During their trip to Storrs, Woodward and Krause spent half a day meeting with entrepreneurs and athletes seeking to build their personal brands at UConn’s Championship Labs.
“It was fantastic, to see how the program is being built for students,” says Krause, who has informally mentored many friends over the years. His advice to students was to surround themselves with people of high integrity.
Woodward also says he was impressed by the talent of the UConn students and alumni. “UConn has a lot to offer them and is eager to help student-athletes see the pros and cons that get you into trouble when you monetize. We were happy to share our knowledge about brands with the students. We aren’t looking to fund them or get a cut. We know there are a lot of sharks out there, and that is awfully scary for an 18-year-old.”
“If you’re not looking forward, you’re failing.”
Anyone who is going to succeed in business has to be flexible and receptive to change, Woodward and Krause told students.
“The pandemic was the ultimate pivot. Everything we’d done before went out the window,” Krause says. “We had to be vulnerable, learn together, and lean on each other.’’
Since then, the company has seen a surge of food orders made through apps and more customers taking their food to go. It has found creative ways to market its products. Cinnabon, for example, now has products at Harry & David and the Cheesecake Factory and has developed specialty cookies for Walmart.
“Business changes no matter what. If you’re not looking forward, you’re failing. You have to know how to adapt and how to evolve,” Krause says. “You need people who don’t get flustered in the heat of battle, who know how to keep business afloat and perform.”
To offset the caloric risk of their careers, both men keep fit with regular exercise. Woodward runs, works out in the gym, and helps coach his daughters’ volleyball and basketball teams.
Krause, who stays active raising three boys, primarily prefers healthy foods but allows a few treats with minimal guilt.
“I am an ice cream fanatic,” Woodward admits. “I love Carvel soft serve, more specifically a Carvel Oreo Cookie Sundae Dasher.”
“Late at night, I’d grab anything Cinnabon,” Krause says. “In the Atlanta office, we have an incredible innovation kitchen. I recently tried the Cinnabon churro that we’re introducing. Oh, was that good!”
By Claire L. Hall
Photo by Nathan Oldham