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Achieving work-life balance with Fatburger

Vancouver’s Harbour Centre is a great location, near lots of office buildings and Simon Fraser University’s (SFU’s) downtown campus.

Setting down roots
The opportunity to travel for business was a particularly fortunate turn of events, as I ended up meeting May Lyn, my wife, in Malaysia. She had never been to British Columbia before. We got married in 2006 and moved into a condo in Burnaby, B.C. Later, we moved to a townhouse in Delta, B.C. Our daughter Chloe was born in 2011.

My wife was a college instructor until our daughter was born, at which point she took on the full-time job of raising her. As I looked to support my family, I considered buying and running a Triple O’s restaurant of my own. In the end, however, I got in touch with Frank about Fatburger, which he currently operates under the FDF Restaurant Brandz banner.

While Fatburger had been founded by Lovie Yancey back in 1952 in Los Angeles, California, I liked how it was still a relatively new brand in the Canadian market, having arrived in 2005 and expanded through franchising since 2009. And I liked all of the existing stores I checked out, particularly as the food was cooked fresh to order, including Alberta Angus beef burgers, marinated full-breast chicken sandwiches, turkey burgers, chicken wings and tenders.

I signed my franchise agreement in 2013 and opened my location in early 2014, when my daughter was still just two years old. Since restaurants made up my entire career and I had met so many franchisees over the years, I knew what I was getting into. The most stressful part of the process was getting a big loan from the bank. Also, I would become the first person in my family to own a business. They all encouraged me to take the risk. And I knew I had the right skills to run the restaurant successfully.

Courting customers
The location was already set up in a newly renovated food court in Harbour Centre. I liked this option because it was less expensive than a stand-alone store and the hours of operation would be shorter: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m on Saturdays, closed on Sundays and holidays. Otherwise, a restaurant that’s open from breakfast through dinner can mean a lot of working hours for its franchisee. I liked that I could open and close my shop within a reasonable schedule.

Actually, at the beginning, I opened my restaurant at 7 a.m. on weekdays. That turned out to be too early, so I changed it to 8 a.m.

It took a while after the food court renovations—which were just ending when I opened—for people in the area who had forgotten about the shopping mall within Harbour Centre to rediscover it. The addition of better signage helped them find us, as did growing awareness of the Fatburger brand. Today, there are five locations in downtown Vancouver.

I arrive each day at the food court around 7 a.m. to get ready before we open for business at 8 a.m.

As mentioned, I live in Delta, which is not very close by. I have a one-hour commute into town. I get up at 5:30 a.m., catch the bus and train starting at 6 a.m. and arrive at the food court around 7 a.m. to get ready before opening for business. That’s when I do a lot of my paperwork, which I prefer not to handle at home, as I want a balanced life. For the same reason, I prefer not to drive, which would be too tiring and stressful.

It may seem surprising that customers would think to go to a restaurant named Fatburger for breakfast, but it actually does really well. The service was added to the business concept right when I signed on. We have a full breakfast menu, including hearty servings of eggs, toast, bacon, sausages, pancakes, etc. A lot of people pick up a meal from us on their way to work, then eat it at their office. I would say our business is 60 per cent dine-in and 40 per cent takeout. At Triple O’s, by way of comparison, the ratio was closer to 70 per cent dine-in and 30 per cent takeout.

It also helps that there’s a Starbucks café right in front of my shop, which helps bring more people into the food court for breakfast, as they’re picking up their morning coffee.

At 515 square feet, my franchise is large for a food court location. And when you walk toward the food court, it’s straight ahead. So we have very good visibility here.

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