Franchisee Success StoriesNew Canadians in FranchisingNovember/December 2018

The First Year: Nowhere to Go But Up!

When Vishal Vaghani immigrated to Canada from India in 2011, he had big dreams. A stu­dent at the time, Vaghani studied Retail Man­agement at Sheridan College in Brampton, Ontario before heading west to begin his career and new life in Saskatchewan.

It wasn’t long before Vaghani was working as a man­ger in his field of study. Soon, he was offered the position of Area Manager, a role in which he would be responsible for overseeing ten additional retail stores. That’s when the budding entrepreneur had an epiphany.

“Instead of working for someone else, I started to think, why not work for myself,” Vaghani reflects. “That had really been my goal since I came to Canada.”

That’s when an opportunity to invest in a Fatburger restaurant presented itself. The award-winning burger chain, which first got its start in Los Angeles in 1952, came to Canada in 2005 when it opened its first location in Vancouver. Today, the brand is a staple for residents in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, with 54 locations.

Like many Western Canadians that try Fatburger’s juicy hamburgers, Vaghani was immediately sold on the brand.

“I truly believe this is the best burger you will ever have,” he says. “So, when a Fatburger franchise location became available, I decided to go for it and start some­thing on my own.”

In September 2017, Vaghani took over Fatburger’s sole location in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, the province’s third-largest city of about 35,000 people. With the Prince Albert Fatburger being a corporate location prior to his investment, the first-year franchisee had big shoes to fill according to the company’s Director of Marketing & Cre­ative Services, Tracy Frazer. “Our Prince Albert location has always had a great standing in the community,” Frazer says. “We needed a franchisee who could maintain and grow this reputation and Vishal has lived up to the challenge. The feedback we get from guests about their experience has been fantastic.”

Now, as the new franchisee puts his inaugural year behind him and kick-starts his second in the restaurant industry, he is learning and growing from his experiences.

Learning the ropes

Like with any new role, Vaghani spent a large portion of his first-year with Fatburger learning on the job, and experienced first-hand the many challenges new franchi­sees face.

One of the more daunting of these challenges for Vaghani was familiar to any business owner in the food service sector: inventory management. Fatburger serves fresh, never frozen beef in all of their hamburgers as well as fresh produce to top burgers and sandwiches. Because of the consistent need for fresh ingredients Vaghani says that determining how much inventory to order from sup­pliers can get tricky. It was one aspect of the job that he admits took some trial and error to get right.

Inventory wasn’t the only challenge the franchisee had to overcome during the first year. Because Vaghani took over a corporate location, staffing was already in place, but that didn’t mean the hiring process was some­thing he could check off his to-do list.

“There were a lot of people who left when I took over,” Vaghani recalls. “And that happens everywhere. When new management comes in, people tend to leave.”

Whether it be staffing, inventory or the day-to-day issues that arise on the job, Vaghani says he was seam­lessly able to handle these typical first year challenges with the help of Fatburger’s franchisee support system.

Before officially taking possession of a Fatburger location, corporate personnel supply prospective fran­chisees with need to know information about the brand, including extensive training at an existing location. For Vaghani, that meant spending time at a Fatburger restau­rant in Saskatoon, where he shadowed an experienced franchisee. What’s more, he needed to pass a written exam at Fatburger Canada’s corporate support centre in Burnaby, British Columbia.

Onboarding franchisees must be well-versed in Fat­burger’s cooking and service standards as well as a long list of menu items in order to pass the exam and move on to opening the doors of their new location. With corpo­rate support centre staff on site two to three days before the doors open, franchisees get the opportunity to ask last minute questions and make sure their restaurant is fit to serve guests.

“The training is awesome,” Vaghani says. “They promised me before they officially handed me over the store, that they would make sure it was ready. And that’s exactly what they did.”

The initial training isn’t the only thing Fatburger franchisees can expect during their career as a small business owner. Vaghani says franchisees receive con­tinuous training, and with new company promotions occurring on average every two months, it means opera­tors receive training on a regular basis.

Jump right in

Though Vaghani is still new to the business, he’s confi­dent enough to tell any prospective franchisee seriously considering investing in a Fatburger franchise, to go for it. When asked what makes Fatburger such a strong investment opportunity, Vaghani points to the drawing power of the brand itself.

“This franchise is known for its high-quality product,” he says. “This is the best burger brand out there so the product really sells itself. As a franchisee I don’t have to worry about working too hard to promote the business because guests already know how great it is.”

Still, Vaghani says being a franchisee isn’t always easy. He maintains that hard work, no matter what the indus­try, is a must. And when it comes to running a Fatburger franchise specifically, the one crucial piece of advice he From the cash station, to the grill, to the assembly line in the kitchen, there are many aspects of running a restaurant that makes it tick. Knowing each station inside and out is fundamental, especially when it comes to training employees.

“If you let someone else train your employees, they won’t necessarily follow the proper protocol,” he explains. “That’s why I am hands-on with everything. You never want to compromise the quality of the prod­uct or service you give your guests.”

Being hands-on has certainly paid off. Vaghani isn’t just a Fatburger owner. He is a part of the crew. Work­ing in the restaurant seven days a week, Vaghani says he wouldn’t have it any other way. It not only lets him see how his business is moving along, but he has come to know his guests and their orders, allowing him to provide guest with excep­tional levels of hospitality.

“We want our guests leaving our restaurant happy. That’s what we’re always striving to achieve,” he adds.

Looking towards the future

No matter the sector, the first year as a new franchi­see will have its ups and downs. But for Vaghani, he only sees the positive.

“So far, my experience has been wonderful,” he proclaims.

So wonderful in fact, that the entrepreneur has big plans for his future with the brand. Vaghani is committed to opening more Fatburger locations if and when the opportunity presents itself, which may be sooner than he thinks.

“We’re in a great period of growth right now,” says Frazer. “We are also in the wonderful position of having numerous multi-unit franchisees who have opened one location and then decided to open more. It’s a position we’re happy to be in.”

This bodes well for Vaghani who says he is willing to move outside provincial lines and open another restau­rant in Alberta. And if you ask Fatburger Canada corpo­rate support centre if he will make a perfect multi-unit franchisee, the answer is a resounding “yes!”

“He’s very customer service oriented,” says Frazer. “He’s hard-working and is really focused on learning our brand inside and out, which is key. In addition to all of that, he’s kind, caring, and approachable which are per­sonality traits well suited for the restaurant industry.”

By Kristin Di Tommaso