Is he obsessed? Perhaps, but only with the quality of his businesses.
Member of Adelphi University’s Profiles in Success program.
President of Kessler RestaurantsFavorite professor: Clayton Westerman, who played the Beatles in a music appreciation class.
Job during college years: Cab driver in New York City—picking up the first fare at 3 a.m. exposed the real color and flavor of the city.
Adelphi memory: Needing to pass a swim test on the spot to receive his diploma.
Favorite meal at Burger King: Whopper, of course, with cheese.
Favorite Friendly’s ice cream flavor: Hunka Chunka Peanut Butter Fudge.
Have It Your Way
At least once a day, Laurence Kessler eats in a Burger King or a Friendly’s restaurant. Is he obsessed? Perhaps, but only with the quality of his businesses.
Mr. Kessler, a Manhattan stock broker, first began to see the potential of franchise restaurants over 30 years ago, when a Huntington, Long Island, neighbor shared his dealings with Pillsbury. Back then Pillsbury owned Burger King.
Familiar with the ins and outs of the food business (his father owned the iconic Wolf’s Delicatessens in the city), Mr. Kessler approached the company to inquire about Burger King franchise opportunities.
He was told that three regions, San Diego, Connecticut, or upstate New York had openings. After analyzing the possibilities of each, Mr. Kessler resigned his position on Wall Street and moved his family to Rochester.
He quickly realized that operating a well-known chain restaurant was not as simple as it once seemed. As owner and proprietor, he did everything from scouting locations, purchasing land, and supervising construction to cleaning counters, operating deep fryers, and hiring and firing staff.
Within a few years, Mr. Kessler began to branch out from his original location in Irondequoit to the greater Rochester area. As his operation grew, he recruited his brother Dennis to oversee the daily operations of their restaurants, while he took on the financial planning and oversight. The two brothers still share an office, and to this day have never disagreed on a business decision.
In 1999, they were asked to join the Friendly’s restaurant family. They took over 41 existing restaurants and brought their capital and expertise to a large-scale refurbishment project. Today they own and operate 21 Burger Kings and 46 Friendly’s throughout upstate New York.
Mr. Kessler has occasionally struggled with the strict menu control enforced by the corporations he franchises from. He takes pride in seeing a veggie burger on Burger King’s menu today, an addition he tried to make years ago.
Their biggest business challenge is undoubtedly “human dynamics — having to rely on people for every part of the operation.” Through it all, Mr. Kessler retains a balanced outlook learned from his father, “the sun doesn’t shine every day.”
The grandson of Russian immigrants and the first in his family to attend college, Mr. Kessler came to Adelphi in 1961 after working for one year after high school. He vividly remembers the disappointment of working for a neighborhood store, “Drugs, Sundries, and Tobacco,” for a year and then not receiving a raise. “It was at that moment that I realized I needed an education.”
Mr. Kessler earned his bachelor’s degree in government from Adelphi in 1965. When he went to the registrar’s office to pick up his diploma, he was informed that he was deficient in one area: a mandatory swimming test.
Always quick to seize an opportunity, Mr. Kessler walked to Woodruff Hall, met the swimming coach at the pool, and dove in. Still dripping, he returned to the registrar and claimed his diploma.
Mr. Kessler clearly enjoys life; his free time is filled with activity as well as a deep commitment “to leave the world a better place.” When he isn’t on one of his seven motorcycles, or racing a vintage Chevron B-19 in a historic sports car series, a passion first ignited while racing at the Bridgehampton Raceway many years ago, Mr. Kessler can be found serving on several regional civic organizations. He is also the past president of the board of the Jewish Community Center. He and his brother helped establish the Kessler Family Burn/Trauma ICU at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester.
Mr. Kessler lives with his wife, Karen, in Rochester. He has two adult children and four grandchildren, for whom he is always happy to prepare a favorite sundae treat. His advice to Adelphi students and aspiring entrepreneurs is simple. “People who persevere succeed. People who won’t jump the hurdles, don’t.”
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