Imagine becoming the franchisee of 12 Wendy’s restaurants and not yet hitting your 30th birthday. It makes sense that an outsider might get confused about your role within the company. That kind of success isn’t supposed to happen that early.
“There are days when I’m in meetings and people think that my manager is the owner and I’m the manager,” says 25-year-old Kathryn Chayka with a laugh.
But no matter, it doesn’t really bother her or husband John, 28. They have bigger things to worry about, like adding two more Wendy’s locations to their roster this year and renovating another. Like leading hundreds of employees at those 12 locations between Burlington and Fort Erie, Ontario.
Like making sure that entire team feels valued.
“Any time you take over a business, there’s always some people who are leery about what the future may hold,” says John. Especially when it was only in June 2015 when the Chaykas acquired those 12 locations.
But communication is key, adds John.
“They don’t want to just come into work and punch the clock. They want to understand what we’re about and how we’re doing things. So the more transparent you can be, the more they’ll want to be a part of what you’re doing.”
No doubt the Chaykas both learned parts of that transparent leadership style while at Western University’s Ivey Business School in London, Ontario, where they met during a calculus class.
Before university, Kathryn grew up in franchising, as her mom was — and still is — a Tim Hortons franchisee. After university, she worked with Canadian entrepreneur powerhouse Kelsey Ramsden, who was named Canada’s top female entrepreneur in 2013 by Profit Magazine.
And as for John, after leaving Western University, he started the sports data company Stathletes. Today, he’s the General Manager of the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes. You read that right. In 2016, just shy of his 27th birthday, he became the youngest GM in the history of major North American sports.
But as interesting as that story is, we’re here to talk about his and Kathryn’s franchise company, Compass Restaurant Group. Understandably, Kathryn is more involved in the day-day operations of the company, but John still plays a big part in shaping Compass’s vision and goals.
So how did they land on Wendy’s as the franchise that would form the bedrock of the company?
“Well,” says John, “we thought Wendy’s had done a nice job recently of reinvigorating itself with the new, modern branding and the way its menu has evolved. It’s kind of helped turn the fast food industry — which was stagnating — into a bit of a growth industry. We wanted to be a part of that.”
In 2017, Wendy’s added 97 locations to its roster, its most additions since 2004. By 2020, they expect to grow to 7,250 restaurants worldwide, up from the current 6,634 locations. The brand is currently franchising across Canada.
Finding “A-level” people
That kind of growth doesn’t happen without having the right people in place. And that’s something Kathryn and John have taken to heart since day one.
“What I’ve found in my young career is that when you surround yourself and you hire those A-level people, something special happens,” says John. “They push one another, and they hold each other accountable because they want to do something great.”
As for how they find those “A-level” people in the first place, it may not be surprising to hear from a stats guy like John that it comes down to collecting as much information as possible about potential hires.
“And,” he adds, “I think it’s hard to find a person for a role if you’re not exactly sure what that role is and what you’re looking to get from that role. So you have to keep in mind what your ideal would be and then work backwards to find those types of people that fit that ideal.”
As Kathryn says, though, once you think you’ve found those people and you’ve hired them, it can sometimes be tough to get them to buy into your vision. Particularly when you’re younger than many of them.
But if you meet the Chaykas, you’ll understand pretty quickly that they’re easy people to get along with. That helps with building those bridges and getting that buy-in, they both say, as does engaging in common causes like community outreach programs.
One of their biggest initiatives is supporting the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, which helps find adoptive homes for children in foster care across the U.S. and Canada. Every November, for instance, their restaurants engage in a full week of activities dedicated to raising funds and awareness for the foundation.
“We also just listen to our employees, and hear about what they want to support,” says Kathryn. “If they have their kids in different programs that they need help sponsoring, for example, we’ll do that. We had one store that sponsored a baseball team, where we gave all of them free Frostys after every game. That kind of thing really resonates with the group that we have.”
That kind of openness comes with being young, they both say, and it’ll continue to play a pivotal part in the way they’ll engage with their team in the years ahead.
“We’re not tied to any previous way of doing business,” says John. “We’re very open to hearing different opinions and perspectives and hearing about what’s worked in the past. But at the same time, we’re looking to push the boundaries a bit and find any competitive advantage to grow.”
This year they’ll be growing by two more locations, and they also have a renovation planned for one of their stores.
And they won’t be stopping there. Though they’re wary to be too specific about how many locations they want to open in the next three to five years, they do say that they have aggressive plans for growth.
As long as it’s sustainable growth, says John.
“We take a day by day, week by week, month by month approach, and then we know that our goals will take care of themselves,” he says. “But everything is an opportunity cost, so you really have to weigh your short-term and long-term goals and understand that if you try to accomplish some things, it’s going to be at the expense of something else. It’s all about balance.”
Those lessons haven’t necessarily come easy in their first few years in business. And they are, of course, still learning. But if they had to give two pieces of advice to young entrepreneurs like themselves looking to get into franchising, they’d be this: have a passion for what you’re doing, and be committed.
“It sounds cliché, but for the amount of work it takes, you have to enjoy it, otherwise you won’t be able to do it,” says John. “So do your research and work ahead of time to find a brand that resonates with what you’re about, with what you’re trying to do.”
“It’s very different than just having a regular job,” adds Kathryn. “You have to be committed to it and you have to be able to handle the ups and downs that come with it. It’s never even keel. One day there could be a flood and a fire, and the next day, nothing. So you have to get used to the unexpectedness it brings.”
Unexpected age confusions at meetings included.
By Jordan Whitehouse