Cover StoryPrevious IssuesSeptember/October 2023

Meet the FDF Franchise Family

This franchisor has been instrumental in expanding four beloved food brands across Canada

By Jordan Waterhouse

You might not have heard of FDF Brandz, but chances are you know at least one of its four restaurants: Ricky’s Restaurants, Fatburger Canada, Famoso Italian Pizzeria, and Humpty’s Big Plate Diner. Many of them are located in Western Canada, but together they represent one of the leading privately-owned food franchise companies in the country, with more than 200 restaurants across Canada.

FDF Brandz wasn’t always this big, of course. When award-winning B.C. restaurateur/franchise developer Frank Di Benedetto became the majority owner, president, and CEO of Ricky’s back in 1998, there were fewer than 33 locations under the franchise company’s banner. By 2015, however, that number hit about 140. And today the company is looking to grow well beyond 200 restaurant locations as it eyes further expansion into Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritimes.

So how has FDF Brandz found such success across Canada? Raymond Ho, the company’s VP of marketing and communications, says there are several reasons. “For one, our restaurants have continuously innovated their menus to appeal to the changing needs and demands in the market. Plus, as a Canadian company with a deep collective pool of Canadian experience, we have insight into the local markets—from the towns to the cities and provinces.” More recently, Ho says that it has also helped that the company sources a range of locally produced food for its restaurants. That makes it easier to deal with the current challenges around supply production and pricing.

But a big part of FDF Brandz’s overall success comes down to its franchisees and the support system around them, says Ho. No matter the restaurant brand, the company provides six to eight weeks initial franchisee training. It also conducts area meetings with training components every trimester, provides additional in-person or online training when necessary, and provides kitchen training for new feature menu and limited-time promotions. “We support with ongoing advertising and marketing support—from radio, TV, and digital ads to SEO marketing, loyalty [programs], in-store merchandizing, and community sponsorship,” says Ho.

As for what FDF Brandz looks for in the ideal franchisee, Ho says they don’t need a background in food service, but it can be beneficial to have previous business or management experience. They should also be a self-motivated and hands-on person, driven when it comes to the success of the restaurant, he adds. “And, of course, since we are in the restaurant business, they have to be interested in and passionate about food. We are also in the service business, so it would be good to have social skills that can help them not only service their customers, but also manage their team.”

Keep reading to discover what each FDF Brandz restaurant concept is all about.

Ricky’s Restaurants and Humpty’s Big Plate Diners

Ricky’s origins go all the way back to 1962, when it started in Vancouver, British Columbia as a value breakfast restaurant called Ricky’s Pancake House. It has since expanded into the 110-plus locations, when tallied with Humpty’s Big Plate Diners. “Both concepts, while different in history and branding, share substantial crossovers in the full-service family dining sector, giving franchisees a great choice for maximizing revenue and taking their entrepreneurial ambitions to the next level,” says Ho.

Humpty’s Big Plate Diner has is a chain that originated in Alberta and has developed a legacy as an old-style diner. Since it joined the FDF Group, it has been developing new and innovative food items to entice old and new guests.

“Like Ricky’s, Humpty’s was able to take advantage of the success of its value breakfast menu and extend its reach to build a robust lunch and dinner program,” says Ho. “Now it’s a leading full-service family restaurant chain with high-quality food and value that has big appeal for families and seniors, whether it’s breakfast, lunch, or dinner.” He also notes that the system has a serious commitment to community and charitable causes like the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

“Humpty’s is a relatively straightforward concept that, compared with many restaurant chains, requires lower levels of franchisee experience, fewer menu changes, and less refurbishment to be profitable and competitive.”

In addition to these restaurants, a major focus for Ricky’s has been the expansion into hotel locations across Western Canada. To date, it has partnered with 25 hotelier groups to provide breakfast, lunch, and dinner not only to hotel guests but also to serve the local community as a standalone restaurant brand. This partnership has proven to be one of the most successful strategic divisions of the Ricky’s chain.

Another strategic initiative since the pandemic has been the better utilization of large size legacy locations by dual-branding them with Famoso Pizzeria (a sister brand within the FDF chain mentioned below). Currently there are six integrated locations in Abbotsford, Langley, Ladner, Sechelt, Vernon, and Burnaby, with an additional five to seven more opening by the end of 2024. Ricky’s has targeted about 30 existing locations for this dual brand, single facility format.

No matter the concept, however, customers can expect friendly service and exceptional value, says Ho. “Ricky’s is known as a neighbourhood family favourite. Our famous big breakfasts have been appealing to multi-generational Canadian families since 1962, and now with more lunch and dinner options, we appeal to even more customers wanting the fresh, home-style meals we’re known for.”

Fatburger Canada

Like Ricky’s, Fatburger has its Canadian origin story based in Vancouver. The franchise started in Los Angeles in 1952, but the first location north of the border opened in Vancity in 2005. Today, there are about 70 Fatburger locations from B.C. to Ontario.

The big draw for customers is—surprise, surprise—the burgers, says Ho. “Fatburger makes big, juicy burgers using old-fashioned cooking techniques. These cooked-to-order burgers are made with fresh, never frozen Alberta beef patties that are free from fillers, artificial additives, and by-products.

But it’s not just about the burgers, adds Ho. “Fatburger also sets itself apart with its legacy music and unique callouts in the kitchen.” Furthermore, its chicken sandwiches, wings and tenders have grown in popularity, making up about 25 per cent of sales.

Fatburgers come in a number of different models. Other than the typical restaurant, which is a 1,700-square-foot high-profile end-cap corner unit in a major retail centre, Fatburgers can also be found in casino, drive-thru application and express module size formats.

While Fatburger continues to expand its reach in smaller communities, it has also launched its growth into Eastern Canada with three locations opening in Toronto by Spring 2024 and other provinces like Quebec and the Maritimes in the future.

Famoso Italian Pizzeria

This authentic Neapolitan pizzeria has indeed become quite “famoso” since launching in Edmonton, Alberta in 2005. It was acquired by FDF Brandz in 2018, and currently has 26 locations in Canada. “It’s known for the quality of the food it serves,” says Ho. “With a vision to create a pizzeria where everyone in the neighbourhood can come enjoy its food and inviting and lively atmosphere, Famoso presents a unique experience that guests have come to know and love.”

That experience starts with the pizza, made with a similar technique used in Naples. The tomatoes are imported from the Naples region. The fior di latte mozzarella, invented in Naples, is made from 100 per cent Canadian cow’s milk. The flour is highly refined and low-gluten, making it easy for digestion. When that dough is hand-tossed, topped, and then fired in an authentic bell-shaped oven imported from Italy, the result is a pizza straight out of the famous southern Italian city, says Ho.

The atmosphere is perhaps just as well-known as the pizza, however. With its open-concept design, expanded Italian fare menu, and solid beer and wine options, it’s the perfect spot for a quick lunch, social evening, or place to watch the game, says Ho. This fall, Famoso will introduce “Pronto,” a new hybrid concept featuring Italian and North American-style pizzas, pastas, and Italian street food.

The first location is scheduled to open in Edmonton, Alberta in late fall/early winter, followed by downtown Vancouver in the spring of 2024. “This format will give potential franchisees a lower start up cost, and it will feature both counter and table service to facilitate rapid production turnover,” says Ho.