Springdale, Newfoundland - May 13, 2011 - “My whole family has been in business,” says Greg Roberts. “My father, his father before him and then his father before that, so I’ve got a pretty good history when it comes to how to run a business and what-not.”
In fact, Mr. Roberts started working in his father’s store when he was 12 years old. As he grew, his passion to be self-employed fuelled even more, along with his passion for rural Newfoundland and his hometown of Triton. After high school he went on to Memorial University of Newfoundland and did a business degree and eventually worked his way to becoming a chartered accountant with a firm in St. John’s.
“Even when I was working as a CA in St. John’s, I would drive back home every weekend,” he said. “I love it here – it’s home.” Then one day he heard talk a local restaurant was up for sale back in his hometown. Taking what he’d learned and acquired up to that point, he took a risk and bought it.
“People thought I was crazy – I used credit cards, loans, whatever I could to get it off the ground, but I really wanted to be self-employed,” he recalled. Today, that restaurant is considered to be the one that started it all. Now run by his brother, on Mother’s Day he took his mom out for dinner there, he said.
Looking around, Mr. Roberts probably took a trip down memory lane and thought back to how far he’s come. From that one little restaurant in his hometown, he is now the owner of an international company, Mary Brown’s Famous Chicken and Taters. In fact, it’s the second largest quick service chicken chain in Canada and is experiencing the highest sales increases in its 40-year history.
On top of that, since those early days of the small restaurant in Triton, Mr. Roberts has now become one of the top 40 under 40 in the entire country – an honour bestowed on the most elite of society from coast to coast. Not bad, he admits, for a guy from rural Newfoundland.
But Mr. Roberts’ history with Mary Brown’s didn’t start at the top. “After the restaurant in Triton, I also bought a pharmacy in town, as well as some real estate,” he explained. “From there, I got the Mary Brown’s franchise in Springdale, and really saw the value of the company and the potential for it,” he said. When the original owners of the company were ready to sell, Mr. Roberts beat out seven other bidders to buy the company and took over the national brand, and all its 80-plus restaurants.
Since the purchase, the company has doubled sales, he said, and is now expanding internationally, to places like Guyana, Pakistan and Eastern Europe. When asked if it’s a bit much to take in for a small-town guy from the bay, he says for him it’s all about perspective.
“It’s been such a long process getting to where we are now, I don’t think I’ve realized all we’ve done,” he said. “It’s only when people start asking you about it, you really start thinking back, and I guess then I realize that to some people it’s a big deal, but I’m still a very normal person despite it all.”
Mr. Roberts, who now lives in Grand Falls-Windsor, says he has no desire to move to a big city and live the corporate lifestyle. His love for Newfoundland and Labrador remains true, and his desire not to go overboard is probably one of the reasons he’s managed to be so successful.
“I’m not a materialistic person,” he said. “We live in a very normal house, on a normal street, and that’s what we enjoy. I still have the same friends I always had, and I don’t want that to change.” He said even the attention he’s been receiving lately with the top 40 under 40, of which he’s the only person in Atlantic Canada to receive this year, is a bit much, since he enjoys the anonymity that he currently has.
"I don’t see it as a big deal – I don’t even know if my neighbours know what I do for a living, and I like that,” he said. “Yes, it’s an honour to receive the recognition, and I’m excited about the opportunities that will come for us out of this, but when you think about it, there were people on this list who are doing research that could help cure brain cancer someday,” he said, followed by a pause. “All I do is sell chicken.”
Never-the-less, his success is definitely something to be reckoned with and a major success story out of small-town Newfoundland. Mr. Roberts says he has no intentions of stopping yet, because he loves it way too much. “I think people need to realize that it doesn’t matter where you come from, you can always do what you want to do,” he said. “I absolutely love what I’m doing – I’m passionate about it, and as long as I love it, I’m going to keep doing it.”
When asked if he believes in the old adage If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life,” he chuckles slightly. “That’s good,” he says. “I’ve never heard that before, but that’s a really good way of putting it.”
By Rudy Norman, The Norwester