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5 Sports Stars Buying Franchises as Their Next Play

2. Keyshawn Johnson
Panera Bread

In 2006 Keyshawn Johnson, a former wide receiver for the Carolina Panthers and a commentator on ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown and Monday Night Countdown, teamed up with several experts in business development and food service and hospitality to form First Picks Management. First Picks is a development company that focuses on franchise businesses in the food-service and hospitality industries. Two franchises among First Picks' portfolio are Cold Stone Creamery (the company has partnered with a multi-unit franchisor in Dallas) and

Panera Bread (PNRA) -- one of Johnson's favorite eateries.

The company opened its first Panera in California in 2007. First Picks will have a total of 10 Panera stores open by the end of the year.

"I was looking for a concept that made sense both economically and that I liked," Johnson told TheStreet in October 2011. "Panera was one of those brands I would frequent quite often. It didn't even really dawn on me that it was Panera. I was just going there and eating and buying the food. As I started to get into the franchise business, this was one of the businesses that came up, and I was, like, 'Wait a minute. I know that logo.' "

The restaurant business is not far from Johnson's comfort zone. He had previously owned Reign, a southern-style restaurant in Beverly Hills, and Profusion in Tampa, Fla.

Stand-alone restaurants are a "little harder in terms of maintaining" compared with a proven franchise "where you have a blueprint you follow and understand," he said.

"Once I started getting into the business model it, just made all the sense in the world," he added. "It's a growing business and wants to grow on the West Coast. It became the perfect opportunity for me."

More recently Johnson has brought on some of his NFL friends as investors in the development company, including Reggie Bush, Dennis Northcutt, Anthony Henry and Terence Newman, Keith Rivers as well as retired NBA player Joe Smith.

Johnson aims to keep expanding in his own territory (which allows for up to 25 restaurants) and others between California's Central Coast and Metro Los Angeles, including the area around the University of Southern California, where he went to school.

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