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McClatchy-Tribune  05/16/2014 12:36 PM ET
From the NFL to a food franchise [The Charlotte Observer :: ]

May 16--National Football League defensive end Everette Brown is quick on his feet, a formidable defender and a fierce competitor.

Now he's learning how to position himself as a winning small-business owner.

Brown, who opened the Charlotte area's first Tropical Smoothie Café in November last year, will be part of a panel during ShopTalk's upcoming breakfast event Tuesday, "Franchises: Picking the right one for you," which will discuss what's involved in taking this route to small-business ownership.

Other panelists include: TCBY franchise owner Sam Batt, who initiated the TCBY self-serve trend and now owns 16 locations in the Charlotte market; Sue Gilbert, owner of the area's first Nothing Bundt Cakes franchise; Ben Knight, local FASTSIGNS franchisee with three locations and some of the company's top sales; and Randy Mitchell of The Entrepreneur's Source, a company that offers business coaching to franchisees and prospective franchise owners.

His go-to place

Brown's first experience at a Tropical Smoothie Café was in 2005, when he was a freshman at Florida State University looking for a snack between classes.

The fast-casual restaurant, with 365 locations nationwide, serves smoothies as well as breakfast, lunch and dinner. According to the company, the menu is designed to "inspire healthy lifestyles."

It quickly became Brown's go-to spot, he said. For years, all he ordered was The Health Nut -- a smoothie with blueberries, mango, banana, almonds and whey protein -- swapping out the mango for a scoop of peanut butter.

When he finally decided to test some of the other smoothies, as well as the wraps, salads and sandwiches, Brown was surprised to find he liked them all.

"It didn't feel like any other restaurant, any other café," Brown said.

So when drafted by the Carolina Panthers in 2009, one of his first getting-to-know-Charlotte expeditions started with a Google search for the area's local Tropical Smoothie Café.

"They didn't have one," Brown said. "I thought...'That's crazy.' "

Fast-forward four years and four trades to other NFL teams: from the Panthers to the San Diego Chargers to the Detroit Lions to the Philadelphia Eagles to the Dallas Cowboys.

The lack of consistency was frustrating, said Brown, recalling the popular "NFL stands for 'Not For Long'" saying. Wanting to be on the field but sitting on the sidelines, wanting to prove yourself on a team but continually being traded -- it was stressful and depressing, Brown said.

So while football was still his No. 1 priority, Brown spent some of his down time researching his other ambitions, "instead of getting all in your feelings and worrying about things you can't control."

Brown said he'd always been interested in entrepreneurship but preferred a proven strategy over one he had to create. So during his year with the Cowboys, Brown researched different franchises.

He strongly considered opening a Chick-fil-A. But then he saw Charlotte -- where he hoped to settle down -- wasn't hurting for another one. Brown wanted a company he believed in, a product he enjoyed and a hole in the marketplace. So he turned to another favorite brand.

Warm welcome on opening day

Brown opened the city's first Tropical Smoothie Café in late November 2013 in the Metropolitan, a mixed-use shopping center with restaurants, boutiques and big-box stores including Trader Joe's, Marshalls and Best Buy.

It costs $25,000 to buy the rights to open a Tropical Smoothie Café, Brown said, but rent, upfitting costs and equipment, brought his startup expenses to around $225,000.

The grand opening celebration was on a surprisingly warm Saturday in February. Brown spread the word on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. He asked former Panthers teammates Jon Beason, Travelle Wharton, Sherrod Martin and Graham Gano to come out for pictures and autographs. Power 98 played music. And that mo

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