Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Brandon lands first Qdoba

Timing crucial to inking deal with U.S. chain

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Winnipeg isn't always the first place U.S. retail chains land when they jump into Manitoba.

Qdoba Mexican Grill, a chain with 630 outlets in the U.S., opened its first Manitoba outlet on Monday -- in Brandon. In fact, it's the first franchise in Canada.

The same thing happened in 2010 when the Five Guys Burgers and Fries chain made its Manitoba debut with a franchise outlet in Brandon. It was more than 18 months later before the first Five Guys eatery opened in Winnipeg.

The owners of the Qdoba franchise -- Brandon's Laird Lidster and his wife, Tracy -- and Qdoba spokesman Bill Nelsen said timing is the reason Brandon landed the first outlet in Canada.

Nelsen, who oversees Qdoba's franchise operations in Canada and the western U.S., said the Colorado-based chain was negotiating with potential franchisees in Winnipeg and in Ontario when Lidster approached them last fall about opening an outlet.

"Laird was the last guy (to approach the firm), but he was the one that moved the quickest," Nelsen said. "So Laird is our first (franchisee) in Canada."

"It was good timing," Lidster said. "We were ready to discuss it with them and they were ready to move."

Lidster said it also helped that he only wanted to open one outlet, while others were looking at multiple locations. So that complicated negotiations for the others.

And he didn't have to look far to find a suitable location. He leased a former Roger's Video store next door to one of the two Dairy Queen franchises he and his wife, Tracy, own in Brandon.

Timing was also a factor in Brandon beating Winnipeg to the punch for Manitoba's first Five Guys restaurant. Brandon restaurateur Ben Hernandez was a member of a group that had acquired the Five Guys franchise rights for Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Hernandez said Tuesday they were looking to open outlets in Winnipeg, Brandon and Regina, and Brandon was the first city where a suitable location was found.

Also, the group wanted to set up a training centre to train workers from both provinces, and Brandon is located between Winnipeg and Regina.

Hernandez and the other members of the group later sold the Manitoba and Saskatchewan franchise rights to another group of investors, who have since opened two Five Guys outlets in Winnipeg.

Franchisee Brett Hansen said a third outlet is slated to open in February with three or four more to follow over the next three or four years.

A Qdoba spokeswoman said it's also in an expansion mode, with plans to open 70 to 85 more outlets in 2013 in Canada and the United States.

Public relations manager Lauren Preston couldn't say where the new outlets will be located, but said there is a lot of interest from potential franchisees in Canada, including Winnipeg. But nothing has been finalized.

murray.mcneill@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 5, 2012 B3

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