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Kevin Faulk hopes to visit this Virginia Burger King in the off-season along with 15 others he partly owns. (Bob Jones/AFP/Getty Images)

Faulk joins other black athletes to buy Burger King franchises

Accord is part of a push by the fast-food chain to raise its urban profile

Kevin Faulk is sweating it out on the field at training camp with the rest of the New England Patriots, but that's not the only place he's planning on making an impact this season.

While getting ready to don the pads and helmet for another run at the Super Bowl, Faulk and four other current and former black professional athletes have pooled their money to buy 18 Burger King restaurants in Norfolk and Richmond, Va. The deal represents a new attempt by Burger King Corp., the Miami-based fast food chain, to grow its presence in urban areas. It is also an arrangement that allows Faulk, a native of Lafayette, La., to fulfill a goal of providing jobs to others whose backgrounds he can relate to.

"I watched how hard my mom and dad worked. When you're young, you don't realize the value and importance of hard work, but now I appreciate that," he said. Faulk said he learned about the Burger King deal through a business associate. After looking over the details, Faulk said, he was enticed by the fact that many of the restaurants were in predominantly black neighborhoods, and that other current and former star athletes he knows -- like National Football League Hall of Famer Marcus Allen and New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan -- were partners in the transaction.

A reason Burger King was eager to make the deal happen was that all four partners in the deal are black -- Caron Butler of the National Basketball Association's Washington Wizards and Donnie Edwards of football's Kansas City Chiefs are the other two. The company wants to make inroads both in cities with high minority populations and among minority entrepreneurs, whose numbers it would like to increase among its franchisees.

In the late 1990s, Burger King attempted to address both issues through a deal with LaVan Hawkins, a black entrepreneur in Detroit who rose from being a street gang member to owning a restaurant chain that at one time included as many as 23 Burger Kings. Hawkins had a deal to open up to 200 Burger Kings in urban neighborhoods, but it quickly went sour and by 2001 the two sides were suing each other. They eventually settled, but Hawkins had bigger troubles: In 2005 he was convicted on federal perjury and wire fraud charges unrelated to his Burger King dustup.

Manny Portuondo, Burger King's director of strategic franchising, wouldn't comment on the Hawkins settlement or disclose how many of its 7,200 restaurants in the United States are minority-owned. But the company still needs more minority franchisees, he said.

"These communities make up more than 30 percent of the US population. There's strong minority business growth in the US; these are demographic trends that make it a good business move for us to get these guys in," Portuondo said. "Regardless of what may have happened with LaVan Hawkins, it's in Burger King's best interest to look at how to expand into the minority community, to grow our minority and diversity inclusion efforts."

That doesn't mean Burger King will always turn to black celebrities when looking to increase minority inclusion. The company has a minority franchisee in Boston who declined through a Burger King spokesman to be identified or interviewed for this story.

Still, pulling together wealthy athletes may have been one of the few ways to get a large deal like the one involving Faulk done, given Burger King's stringent financial requirements on franchisees. A potential owner must have a net worth of at least $1.5 million, including a minimum of $500,000 in cash or some other liquid asset, to be considered for one restaurant.

In this case, there were 18 restaurants being sold after the franchisee who owned them decided to cash out and retire. George Miller, a former Burger King vice president, had been looking for financing to buy some restaurants, and he contacted Allen, an NFL Hall of Famer, through Miller's investment banker brother, Ed. A few months later, the deal was done.

Miller will run the day-to-day operations of the restaurants. Faulk said he wouldn't have time to visit them during the season, but would try to during the off-season.

Keith Reed can be reached at reed@globe.com.

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