Detroit native Dennis McKinley has successfully navigated his own path in Atlanta and literally climbed to the top of the food chain, and he absolutely did it his way. In launching 1o CRU Lounges in Georgia in 2020 and 2021, McKinley kept winning during what was one of the most disastrous years for the economy ever.
Rolling out caught up with the serial entrepreneur to find out a few key points about how he operates in business.
Why was it so important to you to set an affordable price point for African Americans to become franchisee owners?
As a businessman, the one thing that’s most important to me is opportunity. Creating opportunities for people of color to own their own business is key. I’ve done this best through providing affordable franchise opportunities. Don’t get it wrong, first and foremost there is a cost to do business. There is a minimum level that needs to be set in order for you to do good business. By no means is that cost-free. Like “franchise fees” only, that cost is for you to train people correctly, [and] provide them a decent amount of support. But, it’s important to allow people to have affordable opportunities, not only with buying into the franchise, but also startup, real estate, the opportunity within itself and the cost of entry.
How do you manage to fly all over the world weekly, yet always make it home to spend time with your family on a regular basis?
I’m from the west side of Detroit, and I come from a very small family and we just grew up taking care of each other. I mean you don’t have to be blood to be family, but making sure everyone in the family is good is just a no-brainer. It shouldn’t be abnormal to … take care of your family, and we have always taken care of each other. I love my daughter Pilar with all my heart and I’m always going to be there for her.
Why were you so convinced that you were on to something when it came to CRU Lounges? Meaning, what was so different that you knew it was the type of business you wanted to franchise all over the world?
It was common sense to me, right? I’ve been to every city in this country. Building and scaling businesses is what I do. Whether you go to Charlotte, [North Carolina], or Chicago, New York or Las Vegas. Not to keep naming cities of cultural influences but, as Americans, we like to know what type of experiences we are going to get when we buy things. At McDonald’s, we know what the food tastes like and … what type of experience [we] are going to get. For clubs [and] lounges it seemed like America just didn’t have that type of option. When I go to Miami or L.A., I don’t want to guess and figure out what type of experience I was going to have when I chose a nightlife establishment to frequent. I want it to be like McDonald’s. That’s where I knew CRU had the opportunity to standardize Black entertainment.
How do you think the change of laws for marijuana in Georgia will influence your business?
When I first got into the hookah business people were like, “Man, what the hell is hookah?” Now everyone sells hookah even at places you wouldn’t expect. Hookah has become mainstream. Marijuana will become mainstream globally too, possibly being legal in 50 states within the next five years. In L.A., it’s already mainstream and has become very much part of the culture. CRU is very smoke friendly because we understand how influential smoking is to the culture. It’s important we embrace that and make it part of who we are.
When you think about the “dot connectors” globally or as some say “the plug,” how do you and your brand fit into that scenario?
I know a lot of people in all industries. I’ve played a few different fields over the past couple of decades. Politics, restaurants and hospitality, banking and finance, entertainment as well. Just because we are in different industries doesn’t mean we don’t have the same goals. Normally, these industries overlap. Everyone wants to make money, have a great quality of life and we all want to feed our families. When people need to get introduced to someone in another industry or field, they typically call me. That wasn’t the goal; it just happened. If you want to get introduced to someone in any particular field and they are Black and doing something amazing, you should probably call me.
Images by Eye of Aries Photography