Company Profiles May/June 2020

Innovative Burger Franchises

Canadians love their burgers, and these three burger franchises are delivering more than the typical ketchup-and-mustard treatment. Big Smoke Burger, Cheese Curds Gourmet Burgers & Poutinerie, and Fatburger serve the modern, discerning burger-lover in a relaxed, friendly atmosphere.

Big Smoke Burger

Since opening its first location more than 10 years ago on King West in Toronto, Ontario, Big Smoke Burger has been serving up premium burgers to hungry customers who want more than the usual fast-food burger experience.

“Big Smoke offers fresh products, charbroiled burgers with no fillers, and amazing signature toppings,” shares Bruce Miller, Big Smoke Burger’s brand leader. “We’re in three provinces in Canada, and we’ve been expanding community by community — we’re slated to be able to open up five more locations this year.” He adds that the company also has four (soon to be five) locations in Dubai, UAE.

Setting Big Smoke apart from its competitors is its dedication to satisfying customers’ adventurous and deluxe tastes. “We’re always looking to bring out new and innovative limited-time offers,” says Miller. “We are presently running our world tour, which provides a taste from various parts of the world on a burger. We do this for our guests two to three times a year.”

Part of why Big Smoke continues to deliver is its commitment to perfecting the burger. “We don’t do chicken wings, we don’t do pasta, and we don’t do steaks. We do burgers, and we do them incredibly well,” says Miller.

Because of the chain’s focused menu, the brand presents an operational advantage to potential franchisees. “It’s a lot easier to learn the processes,” says Miller of Big Smoke’s streamlined operations, adding: “This also makes it easier to be able to execute that perfect burger experience every day.”

Big Smoke’s ensures support is always available for its franchisees. “We like to grow with new franchise partners, as well as our current franchise partners,” says Miller. “We have a couple of multi-unit franchise owners who have been very successful opening up a second, third, and in some cases a fourth or fifth location. That speaks volumes as to how the brand treats our franchise partners.” The brand also offers extensive centralized marketing and advertising, as well as on-site support on a regular basis.

Miller’s advice to anyone considering a Big Smoke franchise? It’s not necessary to have food service or restaurant experience to be successful with the franchise, as they will provide training to new franchisees. As Miller says, “We have a mix of in-store and in-classroom training, including a one-week university for Big Smoke.”

Big Smoke is also interested in giving back to the communities they’re in. Miller explains that Big Smoke partners with schools in downtown Toronto, like George Brown College. “We’re helping students who are working to add to their resumes with opportunities wherever possible.” With an action plan like that, it’s no wonder that Big Smoke locations are beloved by Canadians on both sides of the counter.

Cheese Curds Gourmet Burgers & Poutinerie

Looking for tacos with your burgers? You’re in luck! Cheese Curds Gourmet Burgers & Poutinerie and Habaneros Modern Taco Bar is a combined quick-service restaurant experience that provides two of the most popular quick service cuisines in one place in premium form

“We’re cooking most of the food on-site instead of using pre-processed product,” says Bill Pratt, CEO and founder of Chef Inspired, the restaurant group who owns Cheese Curds and Habaneros, among other restaurant brands. Of the benefits of the combined-restaurant approach, Pratt adds: “You have two revenue streams from one location while only paying one rent, one manager, and one build-out cost, while the restaurants look completely different inside.”

Pratt’s passion for serving quality food to the chain’s customers is clear, as is his belief in Cheese Curds’s concept. “Burgers are the number one food in the world right now and will never go out of style. I started my first burger restaurant with a unique concept: allowing customers to choose how they build their burger. It’s the same with our tacos. People get to choose from a wide variety of toppings.”

The franchise offers its franchisees the ability to be a part of two thriving quick service chains in one, guided by a strong training and support system. “We send you to burger and taco school to learn all our systems,” says Pratt. “Then we have a team help launch your store in order to set you up until you’re comfortable on your own. We also have ongoing support daily and weekly.”

In addition to a dynamic support network, being a part of a bustling franchise means that the brand’s buying power benefits its individual franchisees. “Food and labour costs are critical in the restaurant business,” Pratt explains, adding: “We have experience negotiating leases and rents more than the average person and we have a proven business model that the banks and lending institutions love.”

As for what makes an ideal franchisee? “What you need is the right attitude and the willingness to learn. You need to be passionate and to want to succeed. You need to be proud of the food that you’re serving. If you are a true entrepreneur, we are going to want to grow more stores with you,” says Pratt, with confidence that owners who find success with one location will no doubt want to expand.

Fatburger Canada

Fatburger founder Love Yancey is quoted as having said, “The name of the store was my idea. I wanted to get across the idea of a big burger with everything on it … a meal in itself.” After first opening its doors in 1947 in Los Angeles, California, this quick service burger restaurant has been satisfying customers around the world.

Tracy Frazer, Fatburger Canada’s director of marketing and creative services, echoes Yancey’s sentiment today: “Fatburger has a history of serving big, juicy burgers made to order, with premium ingredients. Our food takes a little longer because it is cooked from scratch, and each burger is prepared one at a time — with love as the secret ingredient.” Using only fresh Alberta Angus beef, each burger is indeed lovingly cooked using the same techniques as those first burgers in Los Angeles all those years ago.

“The quick service restaurant category is experiencing significant growth and it’s expected to continue doing so,” says Frazer. “In today’s fast-paced world, consumers have an increasing reliance on quick meals, but they don’t want to sacrifice quality.”

This sentiment is what drives Fatburger and other premium burger franchises today — the desire to provide quality food that franchisees can feel good about serving to their busy, hungry customers who crave something beyond the standard fast food patty options. “Our guests appreciate that at Fatburger, they can enjoy real food made from premium ingredients served quickly,” Frazer explains. Because of the company’s ability to satisfy this growing customer base’s needs, the brand continues to expand rapidly across Canada, and Fatburger Canada is celebrating its 15th anniversary this May.

While recruitment and retention can be difficult in the food service industry, Fatburger Canada has a dynamic support system in place for franchisees, helping them manage labour and development. Of the ideal franchisee, Frazer notes that it is always a benefit if you’re willing to “roll up your sleeves — and maybe even get some mustard on those sleeves.”

Beyond that, Fatburger Canada looks for people who are invested in the service part of quick service. “Being a ‘people person’ who loves being part of a team is a huge asset,” Frazer shares, continuing with some advice for those looking for the right franchise fit: “Find something that you are passionate about and do it! We love seeing a new guest’s reaction to how great our food looks and tastes when it arrives at their table. We take joy in making people smile.” And with their premium ingredients and holistic approach, it is no wonder Fatburger continues to thrive today.

By Jessica Burgess

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