After striking a brand licensing agreement with Ford Motor Co., Southwest Florida-based FG Restaurant Group thinks its Ford’s Garage gourmet burger/craft beer concept can work anywhere in the country. The first expansion target: Ford Motors’ home turf in Dearborn, MI.

The deal is a coup for Fort Myers, FL-based FG. Its three existing Ford’s Garage restaurants already pay unofficial homage to Ford Motors founder Henry Ford, whose nearby winter estate is a big draw for Southwest Florida tourists. The group now has the right to use the official Ford logo and has access to other elements of Ford’s brand imagery including “archived historical photographs, images of vehicles and actual Model-Ts,” the company says. 

The agreement is an exclusive for the restaurant industry. "It's the first licensing deal ever made pertaining to a bar,” says Zak Kearns, v.p. of Kearns Restaurant Group, one of the two entities that make up the FG partnership. “They have over 400 licensees; we're the only one that's a restaurant and bar." 

It’s a treasure trove for a company that hopes to create a large chain of Ford-themed restaurants. “Having access to the brand is a major benefit to the restaurant,” says FG co-founder Frank Kearns. Indeed, especially when the idea is to sell franchises of your restaurant at some point. Who hasn’t heard of Ford cars and trucks? 

But what’s in it for Ford Motors, a multibillion-dollar company that’s the second-largest auto builder in the U.S. and ranks number eight on the Fortune 100 list of the country’s biggest companies?

It turns out Ford welcomes the additional exposure. 

“The casual dining industry allows us to bring the brand experience directly to the customer’s table,” says John Nens, who heads global brand licensing for Ford Motor. “We are looking forward to expanding the Ford’s Garage establishments around the nation and in our home state.” 

Ford’s Garage currently operates restaurants in Fort Myers, Cape Coral and Estero, FL. Each unit offers a lengthy menu of gourmet burgers plus other comfort food options. Customers can choose from among 200 types of bottled craft beers plus 22 more available on tap. These existing units are awash in 1920s-era automobile-theming, much of it Ford-related. Servers wear auto mechanic jumpsuits, and full-sized Model-T and Model-A Ford cars are located on the premises. 

Restaurants built around car-related themes have proven to hold special appeal for a vast customer base that ranges from NASCAR racing fans to automotive nostalgia enthusiasts to car owners who feel a deep allegiance to certain brands. Another variant: in-dealership full-service restaurants designed to enhance the car-shopping and waiting-for-repair experience. The list include the upscale Vintana, located at Lexus Escondido near San Diego; and, since 1966, The Horseless Carriage, at Ford dealer Galpin Motors in North Hills, CA. There’s also Bistro F-1 at Ferrari Maserati Silicon Valley in Redwood City, CA, and Twin Creeks Cafe at Frank Kent Honda in Fort Worth, TX. 

The deal with Ford Motor Company could enable Ford’s Garage to expand into multiple new markets. In addition to Dearborn, the company is already looking at the Tampa/Sarasota area on Florida’s Gulf Coast.