Jhonny Mercado lived most of his early life in Caracas, Venezuela. At the age of 18, he joined his family’s business in the textile industry where he remained for 14 years, learning from his family the values of entrepreneurship, hard work, and perseverance.
In 1998, Mr. Mercado ventured into the food service industry when he became a Wendy’s franchisee in Venezuela. Due to his success in Venezuela, it inspired him to expand and he began pursuing other restaurant brands with great success. In a short span of time, he became a multi-brand franchisee in Venezuela with various restaurant concepts including Benihana Restaurants and Chili’s.
Aside from his passion for the restaurant business, Mr. Mercado decided to expand his business venture portfolio and branched off into other industries. In 1998, Mr. Mercado founded Global Express, an inter-urban transportation line, where he served as CEO until 2004. In 2004, he acquired an aluminum structure company, Reynolds Aluminum Venezuela (ALCOA), but decided to focus on the restaurant industry and sold that company in 2006.
In 2005, Mr. Mercado acquired American Deli, a local bakery brand (comparable to Panera Bread). Mr. Mercado revived the financially struggling company and re-named it Miga’s. In a few short years, Mr. Mercado developed and expanded the brand from its original six (6) restaurants to 18 successful restaurant locations. Mr. Mercado’s achievements in Venezuela were well recognized and he was awarded with the prestigious, Most Innovative Franchiser award (2006 – 2007) and the Highest Projection Franchiser award (2008 – 2009).
In 2006, Mr. Mercado also partnered with other local investors to develop a strip mall and office complexes.
In 2007, Mr. Mercado decided to pursue the ‘American Dream’ and ventured into the US market. Mr. Mercado’s first operation in the United States was the purchase of five (5) Wendy’s restaurants located in Florida as JAI International Investment. In addition, Mr. Mercado became a Corner Bakery franchisee, opening the brand’s first restaurant in South Florida.
In 2010, Mr. Mercado wanted to enhance his restaurant portfolio and became a franchisee of Pizza Hut. That same year, Mr. Mercado extended his Wendy’s franchise operations to Panama, where he opened 10 restaurants, which he continues to operate today.
By 2013, Mr. Mercado had expanded to 77 Wendy’s restaurants and five Corner Bakery Cafes throughout Venezuela, Panama and the United States. That same year, Mr. Mercado was presented with the Exceptional Employer Award by Florida’s former Governor, Rick Scott.
In early 2014, Mr. Mercado sold the Pizza Hut restaurants and focused on the 64 Wendy’s restaurants operated by the team across Florida and New Mexico. Mr. Mercado then negotiated the acquisition of 15 restaurants in the El Paso, TX market. At that time, he expressed his vision of growth as a company to former Wendy’s CEO, Emil Brolick. Soon after, Mr. Mercado invited another Wendy’s franchisee to join his company. Due to their merger, JAI International Investment became JAE Restaurant Group (“JAE”). Shortly after, they acquired the Florida restaurants in the Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach markets from The Wendy’s Company. In 2017, JAE was presented with the Mega Growth Leadership MVP Award at the Multi-Unit Franchising Conference (MUFC) and that same year, received the Business of the Year Award from the South Florida Business Journal. Thereafter, JAE acquired the Knoxville, TN and Daytona, FL markets to become one of the largest multi-unit franchisees in the United States. JAE grew to operate 235 Wendy’s restaurants with a gross revenue of over $370 million in annual sales. JAE became the fifth (5th) largest Wendy’s franchisee in the US.
Mr. Mercado was the owner and Co-Chairman of JAE Restaurant Group and was actively involved in overseeing the real estate, development and acquisition sectors of the company. In 2018, Mr. Mercado expanded his portfolio by purchasing Japan Inn and Kimura. In 2021, JAE was sold. Mr. Mercado retained the markets in TX, TN, and NM under the name of Wen JAI Restaurant Group.
Mr. Mercado is a prominent businessman and philanthropist. He actively lives the Dave Thomas legacy of “Give Something Back”. With the Wendy’s organization, he proudly supports the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. Mr. Mercado has also been a long-time supporter of San Juan de Dios Hospital in Venezuela for the past 14 years, as well as a supporter of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in the United States. In 2019, he became actively involved with The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS). His participation with LLS in the Man and Woman of the Year campaign honors his friend and former business partner who recently lost his battle to cancer. Mr. Mercado broke records during the fundraising campaign. In February 2020, he became a member of the Board of Trustees for Dave Thomas Foundation.
Mr. Mercado is a devoted husband to his loving wife, Gabriela and loving father to four beautiful children. He is faithfully committed to his family and continues to actively build his legacy with honesty, integrity, and with a generous philanthropic heart.
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