By Peter Saunders
After many years working with a number of well-known food-service franchisors, Michael Gazer joined Copper County Foods last year as president and led the business—which makes frozen meals and delivers them to senior citizens at their homes—through a major rebranding process to help push it into its next phase of growth. Now known as Heart to Home Meals, the company is looking to expand outside its Ontario base, beginning with Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia and eventually across the U.S.
Gazer was born in Brantford, Ont., and started to work in the franchising sector while earning his master’s degree in business administration (MBA)—focusing on marketing and strategy—at the Schulich School of Business at Toronto’s York University.
“I joined Pepsi’s Toronto offices in the Taco Bell division,” he says. “This was when Pepsi owned Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), Taco Bell and Pizza Hut; and Taco Bell was still an unknown brand in Canada. It started out as a summer job in their real estate development department, which was an amazing training ground. I loved it, so when they asked if I could stay on while at school, I continued to work there part-time while I completed my studies.”
Thus, when he graduated, Gazer already had a full-time job waiting for him at Pepsi. A few years in, he was transferred within the company from Taco Bell to a financial planning position for KFC.
“The job had quite a different mandate,” he says. “I would stop developing stand-alone Taco Bell restaurants and instead focus on multi-brand locations that featured both Taco Bell and KFC together. This was at a time when some of the KFCs really needed a facelift.”
The two quick-service restaurant (QSR) concepts proved complementary, as Taco Bell was most popular at lunchtime and KFC at dinnertime. It was up to Gazer to determine which KFC locations were the most financially viable for retrofitting with the addition of Taco Bell.
“I had to make business cases and submit them to our corporate headquarters (HQ) in California,” he says.
A taste for food franchising
From there, Gazer moved to Vancouver to work for A&W Food Services of Canada. He was responsible for marketing the chain’s food court locations across the country. After a year, there was a corporate restructuring and he returned to Ontario, joining Dairy Queen (DQ) as head of marketing for Canada.
Next, he worked as a Canadian account director for Simon Marketing, which was then the global marketing agency for McDonald’s. While this meant Gazer was no longer employed directly by a food-service franchisor, he was highly involved with the promotion of everything from the annual Monopoly sweepstakes game to Disney toys in Happy Meals to corporate sponsorship of the 2000 Summer Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia.
Following a stint in the booming business-to-business (B2B) technology field with Pitney Bowes’ MapInfo geographic information system (GIS) software, he returned to KFC by joining Priszm Brandz, which by then operated hundreds of Yum! Brands restaurants in Canada, including KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and WingStreet franchises.
“I was at Pitney Bowes for three years, but I missed the food-service franchising sector and its more personal relationships with clients,” he says. “I ran Priszm’s marketing for KFC in Canada and then started my own consulting firm, where my clients included Arby’s, KFC and several franchise startups.”