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Vera's Burger Shack expanding to Alberta with three new stores

New franchised restaurants in Calgary bring chain's number of locations to 13
One of Vera's Burger Shack's locations is at 1030 Davie Street | Google Street View

The Vancouver-based, 10-location Vera's Burger Shack has hatched a partnership with an investor who wants to own and operate three franchised locations in Calgary. 

If all goes well, that operator may be sold rights to own the Calgary market, Vera's Burger Shack CEO Gerald Tritt told BIV this afternoon.

"We're going to walk before we can run," he said of the decision to not yet provide exclusive rights to the entire city of Calgary to the new partner.

Tritt said his company is also negotiating with potential franchisees in northern Alberta, and in Saskatchewan. 

Vera Hochfelder founded the company with partner Frank in 1977 with a location on the West Vancouver waterfront in the Dundarave neighbourhood. Hochfelder then sold her single-store venture to current CEO Gerald Tritt and his partner Noah Cantor when she retired, in 2000.

The duo started opening corporately owned stores in 2001, with both men earning Top Forty Under 40 awards from BIV in 2005.

The two grew their chain to five corporately owned stores before selling a few of the locations to franchisees.

One setback came in 2007, when the District of West Vancouver, in a controversial move at the time, terminated the restaurant's contract in order to establish a generic Dundarave Concession Stand.

Tritt through the years has revealed big plans for Vera's Burger Shack. 

In 2007, he told BIV that he planned to have 40 restaurants across North America by 2012. 

In 2011, when the chain had 16 locations, Tritt said that he planned to soon open a location in Portland, Oregon, and then expand to have between 15 and 18 locations in the U.S. Pacific Northwest by 2014.

"The partner that we had for Portland ended up having financing fall through," Tritt said today to expain why that expansion never took place. 

Thirteen of their 16 restaurants in 2011 were franchised. 

Today, they are all franchised, Tritt said. All but one location is in Metro Vancouver, while one is in Ottawa, because of a family connection to Cantor, who is originally from the Canadian capital.

Tritt counts the company's catering division as being like an 11th location. One franchisee owns a store and the catering division, while one other franchisee owns two locations. All other franchisees have one location each. 

Vera's charges franchisees a $30,000 franchise fee, and tells those interested that it will also cost them between $164,500 and $353,000 to build out their restaurant. Other initial costs, totalling $59,000, include opening advertising and promotion, rent and deposit, opening inventory and working capital.

BIV asked Tritt if he had a goal of a certain number of stores by a specific future date. 

"No, I've learned from my mistakes," he said with a laugh. "We're very content growing with good partners, and ensuring that we've got the right people in place. If that means that we're going to grow at a pace of three stores a year or 33 stores per year, then we'll take that as it comes."

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