After bouncing back from a first business failure, Randy Hazelton now owns more than 20 restaurants in prominent airports

BY Ben Ebuka Oji February 15, 2024 11:03 AM EDT
Randy Hazelton
Randy Hazelton. Photo Credit: Bernard Osei

Randy Hazelton, 43, is the owner and CEO of H&H Hospitality, a company that operates concession stands and restaurants in prominent airports across the United States. Through perseverance and drawing lessons from his past experiences, Hazelton has established numerous Shake Shack and Auntie Anne’s stands.

Nevertheless, Hazelton’s accomplishments have not come without challenges. Growing up in a military family, he experienced frequent relocations throughout his childhood before eventually settling in Atlanta, where he has been residing for more than two decades. Hazelton attributes his father, Cornell, to instilling a sense of discipline within their household. However, this did not deter Hazelton from occasionally bending the rules. During his teenage years, he would often neglect his homework in favor of playing basketball on a miniature hoop attached to his bedroom door.

“I enjoy deep thinking,” he explains. “But I didn’t want to sit down and just study.”

His bad habits eventually cost him much, but he only realized it when he ventured into the challenging terrain of entrepreneurship. In 2006, Hazelton departed from his position as a business manager at Kimberly-Clark in corporate America to establish Café Circa, a comprehensive restaurant and bar in downtown Atlanta. Hazelton reminisces that the business functioned adequately, albeit not optimally. He explains that he resorted to filing for bankruptcy to salvage Café Circa from shutting down. According to him, the cause for this predicament was his inability to comprehend the intricacies of the restaurant industry.

“We didn’t know how to make money because we didn’t do the homework,” Hazleton tells Forbes.

Hazleton and his business partner Kevin Holt made a significant move by selling Café Circa for $500,000 in 2012. They wisely utilized the proceeds to establish the H&H franchising operation, marking the birth of H&H Hospitality in 2008. The success of H&H Hospitality has been sustained through the assistance of a government initiative known as the Airport Concession Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Act (ACDBE). This program specifically aids minority and women-owned businesses operating within federally funded airports, further contributing to the triumph of H&H Hospitality.

“It changed my life,” says Hazleton, calling the program a “springboard” for smaller companies aiming to expand in restaurant franchising.

Today, H&H Hospitality has over 20 franchises, employing nearly 100 individuals. Within Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, the busiest airport globally, H&H owns a Freshens yogurt and Famous Famiglia pizzeria on Concourse D. Additionally, they have engaged in a collaborative endeavor with Concessions International, an Atlanta-based food and beverage operator, to acquire a stake in a Shake Shack and Auntie Anne’s pretzels on Concourse B.

According to Hazleton’s estimations, the brand, with the joint venture partnerships, is projected to generate $50 million in revenue this year, with expectations to increase to $100 million by 2025. As part of their plans for this year, Hazleton intends to introduce a Slutty Vegan, a renowned plant-based burger brand owned by entrepreneur Pinky Cole.

Despite its commendable growth, H&H Hospitality faces challenges such as fees, advertising expenses, and employee management. To surmount these obstacles and achieve success, Hazelton has adopted a diligent approach, likening himself to a “homework nerd” who meticulously studies and replicates successful strategies from other sources.

“Borrow from other folks,” he says. “Some of the greatest successes are just copycats of something already here.”

H&H Hospitality, established in 2008 by Randy Hazelton and Kevin Holt, has experienced significant growth since its inception. It has evolved into a full-service, multi-brand, multi-unit comprehensive restaurant company.

Randy Hazelton, the owner and CEO, is a graduate of Hampton University with an MBA in microeconomics and brings over ten years of experience in the restaurant and retail industry. He is deeply committed to providing a top-notch hospitality experience and actively engaging with the local communities where H&H Hospitality operates.

His founding partner, Kevin Holt, holds a Bachelor of Science in Finance from Hampton University and has over a decade of expertise in finance and restaurant operations. Kevin’s primary focus is on creating an exceptional customer experience and fostering a rewarding work environment for his team daily.