KFC owner converting restaurants to protect jobs

Daniel MacEachern
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Ten KFC locations, like this one in Carbonear, are being turned into a new chain called Oppy's Diner.

The businesswoman converting her 10 KFC outlets originally wanted to sell them, but decided to convert them instead because her staff wouldn't be guaranteed jobs with new owners.

Renée Marquis revealed to the Carbonear Compass earlier this month she would not be renewing her franchise agreements with Yum Brands, Inc., which owns the fast-food brands KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, and that she would instead convert them to a family restaurant chain of her own called "Oppy's Diner," the first of which is planned to open next month in Carbonear.

"In the beginning, I did have my business for sale, and it didn't sit properly with me because I have a lot of long-term employees that have basically worked their whole career with me and there's no possible way that I could protect their positions, so I decided not to sell," she said.

In June, Yum announced it was looking to expand KFC in Atlantic Canada and was opening up new franchise opportunities in Newfoundland for the first time in 20 years. The impending closure of the restaurants it does have - in Carbonear, Bay Roberts, Clarenville, Marystown, Gander, Grand-Falls Windsor, Lewisporte, Deer Lake, Corner Brook and Stephenville, opened by Marquis's father Leo - was not mentioned. Yum Canada president Sabir Sami did not return messages left by The Telegram requesting comment.

Marquis acknowledged Yum representatives were "taken aback" when she informed them of her decision.

"They asked me to repeat myself," she said, laughing. "They couldn't believe it. They'd wanted me to look at the St. John's operation as well, and they had offered me, actually, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia a year or so before, and I declined, because it's difficult to run an arm's-length operation, especially off Newfoundland."

It's Marquis' father who provided the inspiration for the name of her new venture. "My son couldn't say 'Poppy' when he was little, so my father became 'Oppy,' and these are his locations, so I will name them for him," she said. Marquis said she'll be expanding on her family restaurants in the new operation, and is looking forward to having a little more freedom - while being careful not to criticize the company with which her family has had a longstanding relationship. She said she wants to provide a wider range of healthy menu options.

"KFC's been good to my family. It's fast-food, but it's the most un-fast fast food there is in terms of its preparation. It's down in-store, fresh Country Ribbon chicken," she said. "(But) I think I'm delighted to not be cooking deep-fried chicken right now. I'm delighted to be cooking other things." She added that her menu will include some fried options as well.

Marquis said she might open an Oppy's Diner in St. John's at some point - and as recently as last fall had a space staked out in St. John's for a new restaurant - but it's not happening yet. "I'm never going to say never. There's a possibility. There's a strong possibility, but I'm not going to bite off more than I can chew, as it were," she said. "I would rather start in my areas, the areas I know, with staff that I know, than come into St. John's at the moment. But clearly I'll be looking at St. John's."

Looking to fill the KFC void outside of St. John's is a New Brunswick-based company, Franchise Management Inc., which bought the locations Marquis turned down. Co-owner Dwight Fraser told The Telegram the company has locations settled on, but as franchise details have yet to be completely finalized, it's premature to discuss the company's plans for Newfoundland, even though the company has run ads looks for cooks and cashiers for KFC operations in Newfoundland.

"We're still in the due-diligence stage," he said. "We haven't finalized our deal with the franchiser yet."

As excited as she is to start her own operation, Marquis knows she's leaving behind a well-known brand, but she's confident diners will come.

"Anybody who's wanting a fresh alternative is going to be curious and want to sample my food. If I have great food, why wouldn't they come back?" she said. "To me it's a cyclical thing. You need your fix of crunchy, yummy chicken. Sometimes you just do. Other times you're looking for something a little different."

dmaceachern@thetelegram.com Twitter: TelegramDaniel


Organizations: Yum Canada, Pizza Hut, The Telegram Taco Bell Franchise Management

Geographic location: St. John's, Newfoundland, Carbonear Atlantic Canada Bay Roberts Clarenville Marystown Lewisporte Deer Lake Corner Brook New Brunswick Nova Scotia Country Ribbon

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Recent comments

  • Marth Tolkien
    December 13, 2012 - 21:32

    That is really interesting. I wonder if there will be pizza in calgary because of this. That is really cool that they would do that.

  • St john KFC
    December 10, 2012 - 15:33

    it appears all KFC in St. John's Metro Area will be closing on Jan 3 .

  • Sandra
    December 09, 2012 - 21:45

    We went to Oppy's in Corner Brook tonight to celebrate a birthday. There were 8 in our party, and I would have to rate our meals as poor to mediocre. We had ordered 4 orders of Onion Rings, only had 2, just as well as they were not fit to eat. Turkey was dried up and stingy, gravy horrible, food was cold and on and on. They didn't even have ice cream for their sundae's on the menu.Needless to say we were not impressed, probably should have reconsidered that KFC conversion. Don't think Oppy's will be successful in Corner Brook!!!

  • From Calgary
    July 24, 2012 - 15:13

    I know there is an owner of fast food in town that would toss all the staff away for a buck. Good to see her doing the right thing

  • Jack
    July 23, 2012 - 14:15

    If KFC wanted to expand in Newfoundland, how come they are not bringing other "sister company" franchises like Taco Bell and Pizza Hut to the island as well? In other provinces, notably Nova Scotia, many KFC and Taco Bell outlets are located in one place.

  • Jack
    July 23, 2012 - 14:13

    Even if Renee Marquis was to sell her KFC to another franchisor, the effected employees will not lose their jobs. In other provinces, restaurant franchises change owners all the time, but doesn't necessarily mean that current employees will be let go. That's due to the fact the new franchisors would have to obey YUM! Brands regulations and conform with their policies. Too bad new Taco Bell and Pizza Hut locations will not be coming to Newfoundland at this time. Sorrento's in Corner Brook is alright, but not as good as Pizza Hut.

    • carol caprio
      October 31, 2012 - 18:42

      i went to gander today & i sure did get a surprise of my life when i stopped at KFC to pick up some chicken for supper no sign up nothing i was shocked to learn they closed down i worked for KFC IN ONT FOR 10 YRS WE WERE ALWAYS BUSY i guess with todays life style ok trying to eat a healthy life style kfc i miss eating the chicken allready come back to gander but i wish the owner every success in her new business

    • Joe
      November 27, 2012 - 10:09

      @jack. It's not going to be a KFC anymore. Mary Browns apparently bought them out. So no the KFC employees will not be guaranteed jobs with the new owners

  • saelcove
    July 22, 2012 - 10:07

    looks good on her

  • Carbonear Canadiens
    July 21, 2012 - 09:33

    I knew it wouldn't take long. There is a tender call right now to construct at least 4 brand new KFC's, Carbonear, Corner Brook, Lewisporte and Gander. Huge mistake she made.

  • David
    July 21, 2012 - 08:55

    I'll habnd it to her...she's a great marketer! First, all the free media coverage from throwing KFC food under the bus, now she follows it up with being a savior of her employees "careers" (!!.....these are the much-decried "Tim Horton's" jobs that Newfoundlanders hurl as pure insults in any discussion of wages and contract disputes, BTW.) Turns out per the article that YUM brands decided earlier this year to expand and add more restaurants here, competition for Marquis that she clearly doesn't want or appreciate....so she has turned to biting the hande that feeds her (pardon the pun). The media has been duped into promoting her as an Albert Schweitzer, when she's really just a monopolist woman scorned.

    • John
      July 21, 2012 - 14:37

      It's not often you find an owner of a private company who truly cares about their employees, especially to go to such lengths as to open up your own chain of restaurants to protect their jobs; that's a big personal monetary risk that might not pan out. I would wager a guess that the real reason she didn't sell her stores to FMI is that there was a disagreement between the two parties on the purchase price. I would also wager a guess that 'opening' her own chain is a scare tactic to try to get FMI to cough up more money to buy her out. The easiest thing for FMI would be to buy her stores lock, stock, and barrel and just continue to run business as normal. But with her 'opening' her own chain, it means FMI has to build it's own buildings for the new KFCs, equip the stores, find new employees and managers, plus Oppy's will be competition for FMI's KFCs. Renee Marquis still has the franchisee licenses until the fall, so maybe she's going to use that time to entice FMI to offer her more money, and in the end she'll claim she decided against opening her own chain afterall because market conditions changed and it wasn't the right time. I've read the press release from YUM where they stated they wanted to open new, and renovate existing, KFCs in NL. My guess is that the two companies that own the KFCs in NL (Marquis Ltd. and Chelsea Food Services Ltd.) didn't want to spend the money to renovate their stores (the ones that needed it anyway), so FMI offered to buy them out. Anyone been to the KFC in Manuels lately? Not sure if it's been renovated or not; last time I was there two years, it was like stepping into a time warp to the '70's. For anyone interested, I've heard that the KFCs in St. John's, Mount Pearl, Manuels (i.e. the ones not owned by Marquis Ltd.) have been sold to FMI, or should I say, are in the process of being sold to FMI.

    • David
      July 21, 2012 - 15:45

      John, if she wants more money to walk away, she should have kept her mouth shut about criticizing the quality of KFC food....companies like YUM are more likely to sue her over that bit of slander rather than pay her off over it. And as far as being "nertvous" about a new chain goes.....seriously? But it is possible that she's bumbling through, and just doesn't know how how to play her cards properly...,there's certianly no evidence yet that she's a genius at business strategy. If the 'healthy food' thing drives KFC and it's peers back to a final beach head for one last stand in all of North America, I'd bet my mortgage that it would be Newfoundland....and YUM seems to agree.