Under a banner that reads Entrepreneurs are two photos of two sisters who are entrepreneurs.
Under a banner that reads Entrepreneurs are two photos of two sisters who are entrepreneurs.
Small Business
February 14, 2024

McDonald’s franchisees share lessons learned from more than a decade of ownership

There were nearly 150,000 limited-service franchise establishments in the United States in 2017, and Wells Fargo has a dedicated team to help many of these future entrepreneurs start their business.

Nicole Harper Rawlins and Kerri Harper-Howie have grown their company from three to 21 McDonald’s restaurants in the Los Angeles metro area.

Naturally, the sisters have navigated hundreds of scenarios, from Human Resources and operational challenges, to the COVID-19 pandemic to staffing shortages.

Reflecting on advice they wished they would’ve received when they started their business, Rawlins, who previously served as a social worker, offered some poignant counsel.

“It’s going to be a lot of hard work and you have to make sacrifices,” she said. “When I became an operator, the first four months after I got my restaurants, I didn’t get a salary because I couldn’t afford to pay myself for those months. There’s definitely some delayed satisfaction.”

Harper-Howie, once an employment lawyer in New York and Washington, D.C., followed with a similar refrain, but colored her answer with the brush of the newest owner-operator in the family.

“What took some growing pains for us was figuring out what my role was going to be,” she said. “I was obviously joining the family business, but in any business you need to be very clear on your concept, know why you’re special and different. Don’t make any assumptions about what the path is going to look like. You’ve got to put in the legwork and be prepared.”

Franchising is a business model where one business owner (franchisor) sells the rights to their logo, name, and model to an independent entrepreneur (franchisee). That dynamic, Harper Rawlins has found, can be confusing to customers.

“Although we operate McDonald’s restaurants, the employees work for us, not McDonald’s Corporation,” she said. “I see sentiment out there sometimes assuming we’re just a piece of a large corporation and that we work for them. They don’t understand that we are small business owners — we are not McDonald’s corporation.”

Richard Kabel, a senior relationship manager in Wells Fargo’s Restaurant Finance Group, has worked closely with Harper-Howie and Rawlins. Combined with his other experience, Kabel shared three tips for current and future franchisees:

Three tips for your franchise

Two women hold boxes of fries in front of a McDonald's restaurant.
Forty Years of Success: Nicole Harper Rawlins and Kerri Harper-Howie consider themselves "regular Black girls from Inglewood." But their story is far from conventional. They grew up watching their mother, Patricia Williams, start a successful business. Forty years later, they own 21 restaurant franchises in the Los Angeles area.


  1. According to a 2021 U.S. Census Bureau report on data gathered on franchises in 2017.