KFC owner converting restaurants to protect jobs

Daniel MacEachern dmaceachern@thetelegram.com
Published on July 21, 2012
Ten KFC locations, like this one in Carbonear, are being turned into a new chain called Oppy's Diner.
— TC Media file photo

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