The owner of the 35-location Fatburger Canada and the 70-location Ricky's All Day Grill told Business in Vancouver that he is close to acquiring a third restaurant chain to give him traction in Ontario.
Frank di Benedetto only operates two Ricky's restaurants in Ontario and he wants to expand in Canada's most populous province.
"Ontario really is the bigger market," he said. "By mid-year the deal should complete. It's a franchise operation in the same segment of the restaurant market. It's not a large chain – less than 20 units – but it really helps us in Ontario."
Di Benedetto opened Fatburger Canada's 35th location in the Harbour Centre mall last week and he plans to open 12 more franchised Fatburger restaurants by the end of the year. The next B.C. opening is slated for Mission in mid-May.
"We have 105 locations and we'll add 17 restaurants this year between Ricky's and Fatburger," di Benedetto said. "We're also positioning ourselves to have an excellent 2015 with about 20 store openings."
All of his restaurants are franchised except for 12 Fatburger franchises that di Benedetto corporately owns.
Di Benedetto is one of those rare entrepreneurs who, nine years ago at 51 years old, was not content to run just the fast-growing Ricky's restaurant chain.
He wanted to run a second brand.
So in 2005, his Frankie's Family Restaurants Ltd. launched the Fatburger brand in Canada and expanded it to now operate in B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan.
Canadian landlords frequently like the balance of having the family-casual Ricky's and the upscale fast-food Fatburger brands together in the same development.
That's why, in locations such as on Dunsmuir Street by Stadium SkyTrain station, the two operate successfully side by side.
Di Benedetto's first exposure to Ricky's came in May 1998 when he took a consulting assignment to redevelop what was then Ricky's Pancake House and to raise the profile of its brand. He went on to be the company's president and, eventually, its owner.
It was not Di Benedetto's first stab at being an entrepreneur, although most of his early career was climbing the corporate ladder within McDonald's Corp. (NYSE:MCD).
His first job was at a McDonald's in his hometown of Prince George as a young teenager. He moved to Vancouver after he turned 18 and soon became the assistant manager at McDonald's first downtown restaurant in Canada, at the corner of Smithe and Granville streets.
The next year, in 1973, he was promoted to a store manager in Montreal. He returned to Vancouver to be a store manager before agreeing to go to Winnipeg, at 22, to become a regional manager.
The realization that he had an entrepreneurial passion prompted him to leave McDonald's in 1986, when he was in his early 30s.
He invested with the upstart Umbertino's chain, which sold fast-casual pasta. Within a few years, however, the chain collapsed.
Other ventures followed, but none had significant success.
Finally, in the mid-1990s di Benedetto found his mark.
White Spot Restaurants Ltd. president Warren Erhart hired Di Benedetto as a consultant to help develop the concept for what is now Triple O's.
It was that one-year assignment that gave Di Benedetto renewed vigour and confidence and the ability to land other prime consulting jobs. His next stop was the Ricky's assignment, from which he never looked back.