By Blake Le Bras
When I felt ready to become a quick-service restaurant (QSR) franchisee in Saskatoon, I decided the best route to success would be to work with a brand that was new to the city. The timing turned out to be quite fortunate, as Fatburger’s Canadian franchisor had already targeted Saskatoon for expansion and even had an initial site planned. I took it on and today I am a multi-unit franchisee, with two successful Fatburger restaurants.
Growing into an entrepreneur
I grew up on a farm just outside Arborfield, Sask. I enjoyed both the freedom of activities like four-wheeling and the opportunity to develop a strong work ethic on the farm.
While I knew farming was not what I wanted to do when I grew up, my dad was his own boss, which inspired me to want to become a business owner. I just didn’t know what kind of business would be right for me.
At school, I enjoyed writing stories and essays for English class, but by Grade 12, I was feeling a bit lost in terms of preparing for a future career. In the end, I moved to Saskatoon in 2008 to take a two-year course in hospitality and restaurant management at the Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology (SIAST), later renamed Saskatchewan Polytechnic.
During my studies, I worked part-time at several local hotels. The first of these jobs was at the front desk of a Days Inn. After I graduated in 2010, I went full-time at the front desk of the Sheraton Cavalier. Eventually, I became a supervisor and filled in for the evening manager.
I really enjoyed working in the hotel industry, but my goal was still to become a business owner—and it is hard for a young entrepreneur to buy even a half-decent hotel, given they are very capital-intensive undertakings.
As I continued to consider business ownership, I was attracted to franchising, as I did not want to have to create my own concept from scratch. At the same time, I wanted to work with a brand that was new to Saskatoon, so the bigger chains that were already successful here—such as McDonald’s or Tim Hortons—were off my list.
Not what I expected
My dad had eaten at a Fatburger restaurant in Prince Albert, Sask., and he liked it. When he first mentioned it to me, however, I dismissed it simply because of the name, as I wanted something more health-conscious!
After compiling a list of restaurants that were not in Saskatoon yet, we travelled to Edmonton to check out a bunch in person. We were not too excited by most of them.
Finally, I agreed to visit a Fatburger location at South Edmonton Common, Canada’s largest retail ‘power centre.’ I have to admit I was really impressed. It was not what I expected!
For one thing, it was not unhealthy, as I had assumed. There were options to lettuce-wrap your burger or have a salad.
Indeed, what impressed me most was the range of menu options. In addition to beef burgers, there were chicken, turkey and veggie burgers. This type of selection appeals to a larger group, as a lot of people today do not eat beef. So, the menu was more inclusive than I would have guessed.
Fatburger was founded in Los Angeles, Calif., by Lovie Yancey way back in 1952 and became an iconic success by creating the biggest, juiciest hamburgers anyone had ever seen; hence the name. Along with the burgers’ distinctive seasonings, another signature touch was blasting music to go with customers’ meals.
More than 60 years later, the chain still cooks burgers to order, the way Lovie did. The Canadian franchises, for their part, use fresh, never-frozen Alberta Angus beef, with no additives, binders or fillers, and add fresh, hand-cut lettuce, tomatoes, onions and the customer’s choice of free toppings. There are also home-style onion rings, hand-scooped ice cream shakes and chicken tenders that are lightly battered and hand-breaded right when they are ordered.
As for music, the restaurants play current hits, rock ‘n’ roll, classic soul and R&B to keep their customers grooving in their seats.