With the backing of the Dempsey family, the first Kentucky Fried Chicken store in Defiance opened in 1968.
At that time, the family matriarch, Suzanne Dempsey, and her sons, Russ, Patrick, Dennis, Mike and Daniel were all part of the ownership group, with the franchise license owned by Wallace Vorrath of Monroe, Mich. In 1969, the franchise license for this area was turned over to the Dempsey family, who went on to open KFC stores in Napoleon (1973), Bryan (1974) and Wauseon (1977).
In 1996, all four stores came under the sole ownership of Linda Dempsey, following the death of her husband, Russ in 1995.
On June 28, the stores in Defiance, Bryan and Wauseon, were sold for an undisclosed amount to KBP Foods of Overland Park, Kan., which owns approximately 750 restaurants (KFC and Taco Bell stores) in 25 states. In addition to the acquisition of the local KFC stores (the locations in Bryan and Wauseon were a mix of KFC/A&W Root Beer), KBP Foods also owns restaurants in Fort Wayne, Toledo, Findlay and Lima.
Michelle Doebele, director of communications and culture at KBP Foods, said: “KBP is excited to expand its footprint in northwest Ohio with the acquisition of the three Yum! Brands restaurants. It’s our privilege to serve the local community, and we’re committed to providing the best possible experience for our guests.”
Meanwhile, the Napoleon location will remain under the ownership of Linda and will be managed by her son, Paul, who served as area manager of the stores in Bryan and Wauseon.
“We made the decision to sell about two years ago, and we had a few suitors, but a deal with KBP really didn’t come together until about five or six months ago,” said Linda. “KBP can offer what we can’t, they’re a corporation, and we were just a small ‘mom and pop’ operation. With everything becoming so corporate driven over the years, we felt now was the right time to sell.
“We let our employees know we were selling about two weeks before the sale was final,” added Linda. “On one hand, I’m really sad about selling, but on the other hand I know it’s the right time. I’m getting up there in age, I’m 76.”
Colleen Dempsey, Linda’s daughter, who served as area manager of the Defiance and Napoleon stores, shared it will be different not being at KFC after growing up and working in the local stores as a teenager.
“It’s going to be hard at first, it’s kind of sad, but we knew it was going to have to happen at some point,” said Colleen. “I started working at the store (in Defiance) from 9-2 on Sundays, when I was 12 or 13, making biscuits and doing dishes. It’s going to be hard not running the stores and being in control, but at the same time, it’s going to be nice not having to work 60-70 hours a week.”
Said Paul: “It’s kind of surreal, we’ve been doing this so long … it just kind of feels odd. I do think it was the right time to sell though, and Mom is happy about the sale. I’ve been working there 40 years or so, and to do this now just feels right.”
As far as the Napoleon location, Paul explained that an evaluation process will take place to see what needs to be done there.
“We’re going to take a good look at what we need to do there to make sure we have the sales we need,” said Paul. “It’s going to be a process, but we’re going to start that process soon.”
Although the decision was made to seek a buyer in 2019, the COVID-19 pandemic made the decision to sell the stores easier. Changes over the years to the way KFC franchises are run by its ownership group, Yum! Brands (a spin-off of PepsiCo in 1997), also were a factor in the decision.
“COVID affected our business, we had to close our lobbies, and that hurt our bottom line a little,” said Linda. “Finding employees to work has been a challenge too, even before COVID, and during COVID a lack of help shortened our hours. The supply chain through this has seen disruptions, too. When we started, we were more of a farm to restaurant store, now everything that comes to us comes through corporate. It has changed a lot over the years.
“Back when we started, we had no problem getting help,” continued Linda. “We had high school kids from Defiance, Ayersville, Fairview, Tinora and all around who worked for us, even when they were in sports or other activities. Now, sports are all-year long, it’s harder to get kids to work, and it’s harder to keep people. But at the same time, we’ve had great employees over the years, many we are going to miss.”
Linda pointed to long-time employees, Jody Wolfe, manager at Bryan for 37 years, and Lisa Gilbert, manager at Defiance for 41 years, as two of those many employees.
“Those are just two of the people we’ve had great relationships with for so many years,” said Linda, who turned over the day-to-day operations of the business to Paul and Colleen in the 1990s. “Over the years we’ve served so many families and have made so many friendships and relationships. We truly are going to miss everyone.”
Colleen joked, “I don’t know what I want to do when I grow up,” but she admitted she is looking forward to taking time off.
“I’m moving away from the business, I’m going to take some time off and then see what’s out there,” said Colleen. “At some point I’ll go back to work.”
Said Linda: “It’s been a great 53 years, but, we feel very good about selling our stores to KBP. We think they are a good fit and that our stores will be in good hands.”
Said Paul: “I wish the new ownership good luck. KBP is a big company with experience in this business, and I think they are going to do a good job for those stores and those communities.”
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