As Founder and CEO of Quesada Burrito-Taco, Steve Gill was one of the first to recognize an opportunity for the QSR burrito business in Toronto and its immense potential across Canada.
Growing up in Scarborough, Ontario, Mr. Gill has always had entrepreneurial leanings. After high school and while completing a degree in Computer Science at the University of Toronto, Steve ran his first successful businesses employing crews of university students to build fences and repair driveways in suburban Toronto.
After graduation, Mr. Gill worked for 8 years in software development. From 2000 to 2002, Steve operated a software consulting practice and spent several months at a client in Denver, Colorado. In Denver, Steve developed a passion for burritos and realized Mexican food was starting to spread north and east across the US. Sensing an exciting opportunity, Quesada Mexican Grill was conceived to bring the gourmet burrito concept to Toronto and Canada.
BeTheBoss - What’s the story behind Quesada Mexican Grill?
Steve Gill - I was down in Denver, CO on a software development contract and had been thinking about starting a business of my own. In fact, my wife and I almost got into the fresh-cut flower business. A colleague in Denver convinced me that Mexican food and burritos were a growth sector. Burritos were already big in the US and I really enjoyed them but there were no burrito concepts at home in Toronto. Although I I had no experience at all in the restaurant business I decided to open a burrito restaurant anyway. The learning curve was steep but we succeeded and then my brother Greg, who was also in IT quit and joined the business and we opened two more Quesadas. Since partnering with Tom we have opened two more corporate restaurants both of which are very successful.They were a success and then we got into franchising.
BTB - What made you decide to franchise?
SG - My brother and I had discussed franchising but we had planned to grow our chain to about 10 outlets first. Then Tom O’Neill, a Quiznos VP and former Subway area developer (and a regular customer), approached me to see if Quesada was interested in franchising. We had some preliminary discussions and realized that between myself, my brother Greg and Tom, we had the right combination experience and skills sets. So we decided to partner with Tom and get right into it sooner than later.
BTB - Tell us a little about the Industry or market?
SG - Mexican in general and burritos in particular is a cuisine that has tremendous potential and a capacity for sustained growth. Peoples tastes have changed and they are now looking for that spiced and tangy southwestern and Mexican flavour profile. People are more adventurous about food than they used to be but they are also more health conscious. And judging by the line ups in our restaurants and the awards we are receiving, people sure like what we are serving.
Franchising as an industry has always had room for franchises with a good business model. And there is a strong demand for good concepts. One thing we are really focused on is developing a win-win business model and a well thought out infrastructure. By win- win I mean the franchisee, not just the franchisor, needs to be able to make money. After all, it’s your franchisees who will grow the brand for you if they make money.
BTB - What have some of the challenges been in growing your franchise?
SG - Establishing systems that allow our franchisee to control their food cost and labour cost. Structuring the franchise and development agreements so they are fair and developing programs so the franchisees will have input into the company’s direction. Developing training programs and an operations manual. In fact developing systems that will let us help franchisees succeed and that will allow us to turn on a dime to adjust to changing market conditions.
Developing marketing programs that give us and our franchisees the biggest bang for the buck. I mean what you are saying to a franchisee is that you can help them replicate your success. Well, that means every aspect of every system that makes you successful. So everything from market and site selection, to store design and training, to procurement and ongoing support, to marketing and franchisee relations has to be analyzed, improved, incorporated into systems.
Then there is marketing the franchise. We believe the internet is where information gathering and franchise decisions are being made. So we are investing heavily in the internet portals that promote franchises.
BTB - Who has been your greatest inspiration?
SG - Richard Branson from Virgin. He has what I think is the right balance between entrepreneurial drive and social awareness. Dream big, drive your business but do the right thing by people and your community
BTB - What are some of the advantages in being a Quesada Mexican Grill franchisee?
SG - A lot of companies pay lip service to the success of their franchisees. We made a commitment to forgo making money on the initial investment. Compare us to the other brands and most are twice the price. For example we include the cost of design and blueprints in our franchise fee, we don’t mark up equipment and we allow our franchisee to use their own contractor to build out the restaurant. So our franchisee don’t start out carrying an enormous debt load. If you are really sincere about win-win relationships and teamwork those are the things you need to be doing,
We have a great product with enthusiastic public acceptance. and the lineups and awards prove it. The Now Magazine Readers Poll has named us Best Lunch under $10 two years in a row and Best Mexican.
We are highly disciplined when it come to site selection. At the end of the day, franchising is about reducing the franchisees risk. If you have great sites, a great product, excellent management systems and a seasoned team, then you have the tools to make your franchisees successful.
BTB - What “Gadgets” (Blackberry, Iphone, Ipod, etc) can’t you live without?
SG - Well I am unfortunately never too far from
BTB - What do you do in your spare time?
SG - Well I have less and less spare time but I like team sports so I play soccer and hockey. I also snowboard and my new individual favourite is kite boarding.
BTB - What advice do you have for someone looking to acquire a Franchise?
SG - As the Russians say “Trust but Verify.” Its easy to want to believe what you are being told by the franchisor. See if their track record matches up with their rhetoric. The internet provides many ways of checking up on the track record of franchisors.
Find a segment that dovetails with our personality. I don’t recommend the restaurant business for everyone. If you don’t have a passion as well as the personality for service (and that means people) then this is not the place for you. That said, for the right person it can be a rewarding opportunity. It’s a chance to increase your net worth while belonging to a community of franchisees all striving for the same goals.
BTB - In your opinion, why do you think that Quesada Mexican Grill would be a great opportunity for someone?
SG - It’s a ground floor franchise opportunity but management is not ground floor. We have the background and the track record to help our franchisees succeed.. We are all current owners of Quesada Mexican Grill restaurants. We have invested our own money in our restaurants. The Mexican segment is one of the fastest growing segments in the QSR (Quick Service Restaurant ) market and our product is second to none.
The opportunity we see is the opportunity we are offering our franchisees. It the opportunity to be in on the ground floor of building the first truly national Mexican food brand in Canada. As with any great opportunity the best opportunities come to those on the inside. As this brand develops our franchisees will be well positioned to take advantage of the doors that open for them.