If founders, chefs and other creatives are the beating heart of the restaurant industry, then franchisees are the veins delivering their ideas to all corners of the globe. Franchising is critical to the success of the industry, allowing brands to quickly scale their big ideas using other people’s capital. And whether it’s a mom-and-pop restaurant owner with one or two franchised restaurants or a seasoned veteran whose influence in the industry is well-known, franchisees — with all their individual attributes, styles and personalities — make a huge impact on the success of a business.
In this week’s installment of Franchisee Spotlight, we spoke with Leeza Brazier, a former McDonald’s franchisee in the U.K. who sold her restaurants, came to the U.S. and bought a Farmer Boys franchise in Gardena, Calif. with her daughter Leila. We spoke about her transition from the U.K. to the U.S., why she sold off her successful McDonald’s stores, and what it’s like operating a restaurant with her daughter.
How she got into franchising
I first started working in Belgium where my husband’s brother-in-law was. We went over to start up a fish business that was supposed to be for my brother-in-law and his wife to run…but after a few weeks they didn’t like it…so we bought the business. Our neighbors were so shocked. They thought we weren't gonna make it, but we were there for 14 years and we started selling poultry as well as fish. Then our daughter was born in 1994….Then as the Euro started to come in, the markets changed and we experienced a 30% loss overnight…. Then we went to America on vacation and was introduced to Farmer Boys, even before I got involved with McDonald’s….Then in 2000, we decided to apply [to be franchisees for] McDonald’s and within two days, they got on the phone to me and said ‘we need to see you in London.’
Career with McDonald’s
I ended up [training at] one of the busiest McDonald’s stores in the UK. They were already using digital communications in the store so it was a little bit of a shock. We were making a million pounds a week…. I did my training and I enjoyed it and I just got sucked in, although I thought, ‘what's the point of doing all this?’ So I worked really hard that week…Then at the last exit interview before the end of training, I said ‘You know what’s really interesting? You don’t even have a knife in the kitchen.’ Back in the fish shop, we had a wall of knives. The majority of the food was ready to go and that just blew my mind…. We took over a store in June when my daughter was around four or five. Then, later on, when we got into Farmer Boys in 2018, she was quite a bit older at 24. I ended up selling my McDonald’s restaurants and using that cash to start our business. It actually took us two years to get our Visas.
Mother and daughter franchisee team
We’re extremely close and always have been. At work, I don’t want her calling me mom because we’re colleagues and I don’t call her my daughter either. Because of employees, I'm called Louisa, I say that you have to be professional…. Driving to work in the car, we will have a discussion about something and if I'm not happy about it, I'll call into the office and say, ‘We can't let that happen’ She’s had quite a long five-year learning curve on how to run the business. Although she was in McDonald's with me she only saw the outside of it all and she wasn't in the art of running financial side and the accounting side of things. She loves all of this.
U.K. McDonald’s vs. U.S. Farmer Boys
The change from the UK system to the American system was quite an upheaval: changing from Centigrade to Fahrenheit… And the whole HR system is similar but different. The accounting side of things is what I'm used to, obviously computer work, and similar money in the restaurant. It’s no longer everything out of the bag from the freezer: it's prepping, taking stock, making sure you're not over-ordering or under-ordering….. Knowing what we were getting into for quite a number of years helped us adapt. But you know, when I first started my training, it was a bit of a shock. Having someone prep [all of the vegetables] is just so different to what they used to do with McDonald's because everything was ‘open the bag and put it on the table.’
With McDonald's, we were number one. We had very few competitors. Success was guaranteed….I will never manage to do the same capacity again. That's what the difference is to be over here where there's a lot of competition. Your customer service is the number one thing you have to take care of here. No one’s gonna forgive you here like they would in the UK. That's one of the biggest things that I found.
Farmer Boys goals
Before we started, we had this dream of seven Farmer Boys restaurants. McDonald's is a lease you own on license for 10 years. You don’t actually own anything apart from that lease and secondhand equipment. Here though, you have the option to buy everything. So for me, it was a good way of investing in the brands. For Leila to take over my business in England, it wasn't a good investment. However, because she's joined me here, she's part of the business. She's a franchisee in her own right. We have a second one coming that we signed up for in May, that will be a new build….We’re trying to bring Farmer Boys into the 21st century with technology and a drive-thru. We don’t have an opening date yet, but that one's been signed up. If it wasn’t for COVID, we’d probably be on store three by now. I think if I can open three, four or five in the Gardena area, that’d be great, but we’ll see how it goes. It all comes down to financing.