Home-Grown and Locally-Owned: Big Smoke Burger, Mr. Sub, & Ledgers Canada

Red 100% Canadian stamp on white background

You have to start somewhere. These three Canadian franchises all began with one location each. Two of them started in Toronto and the third began in Sydney, Nova Scotia. Their single location days are long gone, as these franchises have grown to become established Canadian brands. They are proof positive that a good idea and a good product or service will mean a prosperous system and an excellent return for an investor.

Big Smoke Burger

Bruce Miller, Brand Leader for Big Smoke Burger, says in 2008 there wasn’t a gour­met burger on the quick service restau­rant market. So, Big Smoke provided one by serving a product that he says is simple in concept but difficult to get right.

Well, Big Smoke must have got it right because starting from just one location in Toronto 10 years ago, there are now 13 franchise locations in Can­ada and another eight in the Middle East.

“We’re spread out,” says Miller about the Cana­dian system, which stretches from Ottawa to Southern Ontario and as far west as Winnipeg and Calgary. Under construction and expected to open this year are four more franchises in Markham, Hamilton, Mississauga, Oakville and Aurora, all in Ontario, with three more coming on-stream next year.

Anyone interested in investing in Big Smoke will need some food industry expo­sure, says Miller, speaking from a regional office in Richmond Hill, Ontario, who says he’s “OK” with both owners and owner-operators, although he prefers the lat­ter. Training in Toronto takes five weeks, with one week in-class and the other four on-site. A full time staff also provides in-field coaching for franchisees.

Owned by MTY Group, the cost of a Big Smoke fran­chise ranges from $350,000 to $575,000 depending on location and other factors. Big Smoke restaurants can be found in a range of malls and at street fronts. Size ranges from 1,200 square feet to 1,500 square feet. Miller says his target customer could be anybody.

“The reality is everyone loves a burger,” he explains. “We do skew a bit younger and male, but not much.”

Like his customers, Miller’s investors, men and women, come from equally broad demographics, and get owner­ship in the premium quick service concept in Canada, he says.

“They get to be leaders of the pack with fresh gourmet burgers.” Further, he continues, there’s a great marketing team behind Big Smoke and 10 years of experience with its signature product.

Ledgers Canada

Ledgers Canada is a one-stop solution for small busi­nesses that want to keep their financial house in order. Whether it’s accounting, business plans, tax returns, or bookkeeping, Ledgers Canada has the answer.

President and CEO, Gordon Haslam, says the com­pany began in 1994 in Sydney, Nova Scotia, when a group of chartered accountants realized the small business market was being short-changed. Haslam, who was running a very successful payroll service, bought the business in 2000. Since day one, franchis­ing has been the preferred expansion model.

There are now 47 franchises, Haslam says from head office in Newmarket, Ontario. About half of them are in that province, and the rest are spread evenly across British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan in the west, and New Brunswick and Nova Scotia on the East Coast.

As for who his clients are, Haslam says generally they are businesses with fewer than 20 employees and less than $20-million in revenue. Ledgers Canada offers a “central processing” setup, Haslam explains. That means franchisees sell Ledgers Canada services and provide customer service; the actual number crunch­ing can be performed at headquarters in Newmarket. “We are really adapted to iCloud technology,” says Haslam, adding franchisees will need a virtual office, however.

The cost of a franchise is $40,000, which includes mar­keting and materials. Training in-class in Newmarket lasts five days and there are another three days of on-site train­ing to cover promotional events and similar expenses.

“We definitely see more men than women [investing with him], but most of our best operators are women, says Haslam.

There’s a range of ages among his investors, some of them Canadians who want to work for themselves, and others recent immigrants who want to pick up where they left off in their home countries. There are six expan­sion franchises in the Ledgers Canada pipeline, Haslam continues, and he’s looking at expansion everywhere, with Western Canada looking particularly promising.

As for the skills he’s looking for, they are very similar to those required for every service industry.

“They (investors) need people skills,” says Haslam. “We’re dealing with people’s finances and it’s very, very personal.”

The benefits of becoming a Ledgers Canada franchi­see are substantial. Haslam says system support is the biggest of them, with the firm’s buying power second to none: Ledgers Canada is QuickBooks Canada’s larg­est customer, for example. As well, the system offers franchisees a liability package, helps them prospect for clients, and employs a social marketing manager. Plus, Haslam concludes, Ledgers Canada franchises don’t suffer from seasonal variability.


Toronto’s Yorkville neighborhood is one of the premier parts of town. It wasn’t always. In the 1960s it was hippy central and it was there in 1968, with a single location, that MR. SUB got its start when two friends put the iconic submarine sandwich franchise together.

MR. SUB’S growth over the last five decades has been exceptional. This year, it’s celebrating 50 years of serv­ing sandwiches – and helping the community. This past July, over a period of one week, $1 from the sale of every large Assorted Sub – its best seller – was donated to the Breakfast Club of Canada. And to further celebrate its 50th anniversary, MR. SUB now serves a choice of pro­teins that are raised without antibiotics.

MR. SUB has 270 stores in Canada – about 70 per cent of them in Ontario – and nine more in places such as India and Dubai. And expansion won’t stop there. Jason Brading, Brand Vice-President at MR. SUB, bought in 2011 by MTY Group, says he’s still looking at opportunities coast-to-coast and expects to open another 20 to 30 stores a year.

MR. SUB began franchising in the early 1970s, and Brading says the model that works best for the system is that of the owner-operator. Some hospitality background would be useful for new investors, he continues, and so is a positive approach.

“It’s a lot to do with personality,” explains Brading, noting how outgoing owner-operators certainly seem to thrive within the system. Brading points out that a lot of stores are passed along from parents to children, and many franchisees who sell their businesses return to the fold later on.

A franchise costs anywhere from $250,000 to $260,000, and training takes three weeks. There are two weeks of training in-store and another week at MTY University at the regional office in Richmond Hill, Ontario.

Brading says MR. SUB attracts a real cross-section of investors, split about 50-50 between men and women. The system’s customers tend to follow the demographics of store locations, he continues, with the main customer base aged 30 to 55, all of whom love their sandwiches.

“Our customers appear to be extremely loyal,” says Brading.

That’s one benefit of a MR. SUB franchise. The oth­ers, says Brading, are a national marketing program, the strength of its core menu, and an opportunity for fran­chisees to work for themselves.

By David Chilton Saggers