Bill Cunningham of Starkville spent 35 years as a McDonald”s franchisee in the Golden Triangle area, before he decided to retire.
He made it about 18 months before “cabin fever set in.”
Cunningham went on the hunt for another franchise opportunity, and Starkville has reaped the benefits, with the addition of Bojangles Famous Chicken and Biscuits to its restaurant roster.
Starkville”s Highway 12 Bojangles location was the first in the state, and by November, Columbus is expected to be the second.
Cunningham is in negotiations to buy the old Taco Bell location on Highway 45 North in Columbus, in front of Leigh Mall, and has an option to purchase the property.
“We haven”t finalized everything yet,” Cunningham said, though he is confident the deal will go through.
Cunningham could have construction bids in by as early as mid-July and anticipates closing on the property by the end of July.
“I”m a 67-year-old ex-McDonald”s man, so I am (of the mindset to) recycle, reduce and reuse, and that”s what we plan to do with the old Taco Bell building,” he said.
“I just see that as continued growth in the retail corridor and a testament to the economic stability of Columbus and Lowndes County,” said Brenda Lathan, vice president for economic development for the Columbus-Lowndes Development Link.
The Taco Bell location remained empty for about 18 months, when the restaurant moved farther north near K-Mart. Eighteen months is the average time for a retail business to stay vacant in Columbus, she said.
Bojangles restaurant started in Charlotte, N.C., 30 years ago and now has about 500 locations in North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Florida, Virginia, Georgia, Maryland, Alabama, Pennsylvania and Honduras.
“We”re bringing the Bojangles concept and taste to Mississippi,” Cunningham said.
In his search for a new franchisee opportunity, Cunningham heard a commercial for Bojangles on the “Rick and Bubba” radio show. He headed to Alabama to give the “famous” food a try.
“It”s just wonderful Southern comfort food,” Cunningham said, noting it offers a different taste than KFC or Popeyes.
Bojangles in Starkville opened last August, and business has been good, he said.
“We”re a college town, as you know. … You”re a big little town for nine months,” Cunningham said, noting business decreases when the students leave for the summer.
“Of course, we were familiar with the Columbus market, because we had the McDonald”s there for so long,” he continued.
The Taco Bell building should take about 90 days to remodel, “assuming we don”t have any major problems.”
Cunningham describes the property as “in the right place at the same time,” in close proximity to Walmart, Leigh Mall and new development of a T.J. Maxx and PetSmart in the former Goody”s shopping strip, which also features Old Navy, Burlington Shoes and Office Depot.
Cunningham expects the Columbus location to open Nov. 1.