By Peter Saunders
In 2013, after a long career in finance, Jacques Kavafian decided to start his own business. He opened Fresh Burger in Richmond Hill, Ont., to focus only on serving classic hamburgers and french fries, without any gimmicks. The straightforward concept won a loyal following and there are now several franchises across the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).
From finance to food
In his previous career, Kavafian was a chartered financial analyst (CFA). He worked on Toronto’s Bay Street for 30 years, commuting from his suburban home in Richmond Hill.
“One sunny day in 2013, while I was out for a walk during my lunch hour, I just had this gut instinct it was time for a change,” he says. “I hopped on the subway, went home, called my boss and quit my job.”
He rented a 960-square-foot spot in a strip mall on Leslie Street just south of 16th Avenue and, with no previous experience in the food-service industry, created a restaurant from the ground up.
“I was 53 and didn’t have a lot of time to learn an entirely new trade,” he says, “but I realized the barriers to entry aren’t huge. This industry is easily learnable. And
I got into it because everyone has to eat three times a day. You can achieve a high return on a low investment.”
He originally considered specializing in gourmet, ready-made sandwiches, which he knew sold well in downtown Toronto, but in the end, he decided burgers were a better fit for his area.
“Everyone knows what a burger is!” he laughs. “People want good, old-fashioned food.”
Yet, to thrive in this particularly crowded quick-service restaurant (QSR) category, he knew his product would have to stand out from the crowd. His only ‘gimmick’ was to keep things simpler than his competitors. So, Fresh Burger opened in September 2013 with a simple, stripped-down menu of burgers and fries—which has changed little in the five years since.
“During my days in the financial industry, I travelled the world and discovered the best food could be found in restaurants with limited menus,” Kavafian says. “In Toronto, though, people were trying too hard to be different and there was too much ‘mumbo jumbo’ on their menus. I just wanted to serve a classic burger, using fresh, high-grade beef, fresh vegetables and fresh buns.”