If founders, chefs and other creatives are the beating heart of the restaurant industry, franchisees are the veins that spread their ideas to every corner of the world. Franchising is essential to the success of the industry, allowing brands to quickly grow their big ideas using other people’s capital. And whether it’s a family restaurant owner with one or two franchised restaurants or a seasoned veteran whose influence in the industry is well known, franchisees – with all of their individual attributes, styles and personalities – have a huge impact on the success of a business.
This month, we feature long-time A&W Restaurants franchisee Craig Van Horn, who has been in the fast-food drive-thru business since he started working at his father’s A&W restaurant in California in 13 years old. We spoke with Van Horn about his family business and the triumphs and challenges of being a franchisee today.
Four A&W restaurants in Visalia, California.
“My parents bought our first A&W restaurant in 1967, when I was eight years old. […] When I was 13, I started working and getting a paycheck at the restaurant, and I worked there until I was 19 or 20. I then left to work for an auto parts company and my father asked me to come back because he wanted to develop the company. […] We grew the business to five stores in the 90s and I’ve been here ever since. After the death of my father in 2010, I opened our sixth restaurant. But at the moment we only have four stores because we had to close two of them due to a lack of performance.
“When I was a kid, I was the most popular kid in school because you get free burgers and root beer. I had an integrated job and I had some freedom of schedule because it was my family. After high school I thought I wanted nothing to do with the restaurant business […] But when my father invited me back, we ended up becoming business partners. He is now deceased, but my mother still does accounting. And my son, Nick, has been with the business since he was 15, and he’s now 30 and will take over the business from me one day.
The impact of COVID
“In our small community, we’ve never had a problem recruiting and keeping good employees. Our area has a lot of farmers and for some reason the unemployment rate is relatively high. So we always had people lining up to work for us. But that has changed dramatically in the past two years. You have to raise wages to keep people. A lot of our core staff have been there for 20 years and they’ve stayed, but they’ve had to work really hard for the last two years. […] Back then, we had a lot of young adults who worked for us for a long time, but these days we mostly have high school kids who are only with us temporarily. […] The two restaurants I closed recently, one was our original drive-thru with car hops. COVID was the nail in the coffin of this store […] My saving grace was the drive-thru company which was really good.
The Secret to Low Turnover
“You don’t get rich working for us, but I treat them with respect. Our general manager in one of our stores has worked for us for 40 years, since she was 16 and about to retire, which will definitely be a loss for us.
Steering wheel ramp
“I was renovating one of our stores in February 2020 and then the pandemic hit and I was like ‘how am I going to repay this loan [for the construction costs]?’ […] But in April, the drive-thru was booming. Our sales nearly doubled through drive-thru and I was blown away by the volume of business we were generating. And that was, I mean, we were doing like 40% 45% of drive-thru sales before the pandemic. So obviously, with the closing of the dining rooms. It all happened through drive-thru, and our sales nearly doubled through drive-thru, and I was blown away by how much we could pump out.
“We are looking at a store in a town about 20 minutes away. I am in talks with the owner at the moment to try to renovate it as it is currently another restaurant. I would like to make it an A&W because I’m very loyal to the company: I grew up with them.
“For me, it’s about the local vibe. My father always instilled in me to get involved in our community. […] So we transformed an old milk truck into a truck to serve root beer floats and took it to community events. […] I feel like A&W is local. We are not an American company that just serves you food. We get involved. »