When you think of Newfoundland & Labrador, you may not immediately think of chicken – but maybe you should. Canada’s easternmost province is where Mary Brown’s Chicken & Taters launched in 1969, and 50 years later, Mary Brown’s franchisees from across the country gathered there to celebrate the company’s five-decade milestone.
It’s an exciting time for this 100 per cent Canadian brand. Today, you’ll find Mary Brown’s locations coast to coast across Canada. Expansion and growth have been exceptional.
“We are proud to be the largest Canadian quick serve chicken restaurant. Currently there are nearly 170 stores across Canada, and our goal is 200 by the end of 2020,” says Safiah Arooz, VP Franchise Development. Mary Brown’s is primarily targeting Ontario, British Columbia, and Nova Scotia markets, but there are also opportunities in all other provinces except Newfoundland & Labrador, where the brand has already reached iconic status. “We don’t have any stores in Quebec yet – but we would entertain someone who is interested in being the master franchisor for that province – someone who has boots on the ground and understands the differences in that market.”
The company is also looking at new markets internationally, initially in Latin America, the U.K., and the Middle East. “We expect to open a store outside of Canadian borders in the new year,” said Arooz in late 2019.
Back in 1969, there really was a Mary Brown, and her unique chicken recipe remains at the core of the business. To protect the secret recipe, the company uses three different suppliers to assemble parts of the recipe, then brings those three mixtures together to create the final breading that is sent out to stores. Aside from the unique flavour profile, says Arooz, the brand is known for its product quality and freshness, and its exceptional Guest service. “Our core menu items are all made in-store – the chickens, potatoes, and cabbage for coleslaw are all made fresh and hand-cut daily. All menu items are made in small batches, with a focus on serving freshly prepared and cooked food.”
The menu has evolved over the years, keeping perennial favourites like Signature Chicken, Taters, and the Big Mary® Chicken Sandwich – as well as adding other options like Tater Poutine™ and Chicken Pop-Ins™. More recently, Mary Brown’s has added zesty options reflecting changing taste profiles and demographics, including Thai Chicken Pop-Ins and the Buffalo Mary Chicken Sandwich.
The Mary Brown’s look and feel has also been updated in recent years. “We rebranded in 2018, with dramatic new store interiors and a refreshed logo. People are noticing our very vibrant, colourful, and modernized look,” says Arooz. “That really has propelled our growth as well.”
Preparing franchisees for success
Mary Brown’s is looking for hands-on owner/operators who want to grow with the franchise, and potentially to become multi-unit operators. Franchisees come from a range of backgrounds. Experience in food and/or QSR is helpful, but not necessary, since Mary Brown’s provides an extensive three-week training program – delivered through seminars, one-on-one sessions, and classroom style courses – covering all aspects of operations both front and back of house, including its Guest-focused, service-centric approach. That initial training, conducted in a corporate store in Newfoundland, is followed by one-week pre-opening support by the operations team in the franchisee’s new store, and up to one week post-opening to ensure the new owner can execute and is fully comfortable going solo.
There are regional marketing managers across Canada who help with pre-opening marketing and promotion, creating a buzz on social media and through print materials and mail drops. That marketing support (including both regional and national initiatives) is ongoing once the store opens, as is operational support including regular site visits by each region’s dedicated operations team. The corporate team works with individual franchisees to help build the business and to optimize efficiencies and the profitability of each store.
Ongoing training for both the franchisee and staff is available through the online Learn MB portal. “Different employees have access to various training modules, depending on their role in the business, and they are able to log in and complete the modules at their leisure,” Arooz explains. “Even part-time employees have essential modules to complete as a pre-requisite before they start working with us.”
Staff retention is a common challenge faced by the QSR sector, and some Mary Brown’s franchisees have introduced profit-sharing or opportunities for managers to own shares in the franchise location that they work in. “It’s very motivating and empowering for staff to have a vested interest in their store,” says Arooz.
That ‘vested interest’ principle is also part of head office culture – each regional operations team meets with and has input in approving any candidate who wants to open a franchise in its geographic area, says Arooz. “We want them to have a say, because they will be the ones who work closely to support the franchisees in the field.”
The careful vetting of applicants, and the continuous monitoring and assessment of operational processes, service standards, quality control, hygiene and food safety – these are the kinds of practices that ensure brand integrity and consistency, and give Arooz confidence that Mary Brown’s Chicken & Taters will continue to thrive. As the folks at head office would say, “Our way of doing things is decidedly Canadian – be polite, keep your promises, and put people first. No matter how many stores we open across this great country – and beyond – we’ll stick by those values.”
By Kym Wolfe