By Peter Saunders
At the beginning of 2011, the name ‘Woody’s Bar-B-Q’ was completely unfamiliar to most Canadians, other than snowbirds. Over the course of the year, however, the slow-cooking food-service franchise has achieved rapid growth on this side of the border.
“It’s been around for 30 years and franchised since 1989, so it’s taken a very slow, gradual, regional approach to growth,” says Dan Masters, Canadian master franchisee. “It started in Jacksonville, Fla., which almost borders Georgia, where barbecue is huge. And until 2007, they only had locations within Florida.”
A former consultant with 28 years’ experience in the franchising sector, Masters discovered the restaurant—which is best known for its baby back ribs—while spending a period of semi-retirement in Florida, eating there once a week.
“I used to sit there with my wife thinking, ‘This would go great in Canada!’” he says. “So I met with Woody’s and ended up spending two years helping solidify the chain’s expansion in the U.S. before moving on to Canada.”
The first Canadian franchise was opened in Barrie, Ont., by Ian Wiber and his wife Maureen at the end of June, just in time for the bustling Canada Day long weekend, at Centennial Beach on the shores of Kempenfelt Bay.
“I’d played a lot of golf in Florida and recognized the name when Dan started advertising in Canada,” says Wiber, who had experience in hospitality and customer service. “We were the first to respond to the ad and it just seemed to happen naturally from there, being in the right place at the right time. We got a location along the waterfront, near the main public beach, and we put signage in place to let people know we were coming soon, which helped build word of mouth before we opened.”
Despite competition from a rising number of barbecue restaurants in Barrie, the Wibers set franchise system-wide sales records on their fifth day of operations.
“We already get some customers coming in two to three times a week,” says Wiber. “Barrie’s a bedroom community for people who commute to downtown Toronto. Any night of the week, restaurants are crowded. And the population is projected to double in size in the next 12 to 15 years.”
“They’ve done very well and the city has embraced them,” says Masters. “While barbecue is trendy and there are other guys in town, we’re not selling the same product. We use traditional methods, actual smokers and hardwood for flavour. When you provide superior barbecue, it will do well and not ‘fad’ itself out.”
For these reasons, Masters feels the full-service dining, takeout and catering franchise concept will work well all across Canada.
“We’re close to 20 franchisees, stretching from St. John’s to Vancouver Island, most of which are converting existing restaurants,” says Masters. “Landlords and lenders alike feel we’ll be very successful.”