Mustafa Yusuf, founder and owner of Toronto’s gourmet burger chain, has gained local stardom with his fast-casual concept, Big Smoke Burger. Since joining forces with Fransmart, the franchise development company behind booming brands such as Five Guys Burgers and Fries, Qdoba Mexican Grill, and zpizza, Big Smoke Burger is penetrating markets with astounding force, signing multi-unit deals with five different franchise groups for various regions – groups all brought to the table by Fransmart, after working with the brand for only a year.
When signing with Fransmart in 2011, Big Smoke Burger had four corporate stores open in Toronto, and have since increased that number to six, with the additional two locations consisting of high profile sites – one in a food court at one of Canada’s largest malls, and the other an HMS Host location at a busy travel plaza. But their franchise expansion took off worldwide after partnering with Fransmart and signing deals for NY/Chicago and Kuwait earlier in the year, and three other development deals for Colorado, Michigan, and Bahrain in the last month.
The qualified candidates turned over to Yusuf and Big Smoke Burger by Fransmart included JCT Management Company LLC who signed a five unit deal for the Denver, CO metro area; the Abdelfattah brothers who signed a 10 unit deal for Southeast Michigan, covering four counties; and Sevens Holding, a group with a diversified business portfolio (including other food brands) who signed a five unit deal for the country of Bahrain.
Big Smoke Burger is a dominant ‘better burger’ brand and is poised to be a quick favorite in any market that it breaks into. Fransmart CEO, Dan Rowe, says “Big Smoke Burger is a unique player in the segment due in part to its unique signature sauces and offering of traditional Canadian poutine.” Other factors that set it apart are the practice of flame broiling their burgers (hence the name Big Smoke), unique protein options like chicken and lamb, and its gourmet burger ‘lounge’ ambience - a more upscale feel than the typical fast casual restaurant, without varying in price point.
One of the concept’s new franchisees was quoted as saying they were most impressed by Big Smoke Burger because of their “profitable business model, powerful partners, and their unique and delicious flavor profile.” And their contact at HMS Host says, “They [Yusuf and his wife, Vanessa] have done a great job with the brand and support. The staff loves the brand.”
After already selling deals in Kuwait and Bahrain, Yusuf, who is from the UAE, demonstrates optimism for the Middle East. “The Middle Eastern countries are ravenously procuring successful concepts from the U.S. and Canada. The investors are keen on the ‘next, next thing’ among fast casual concepts, and we are that next concept.”
And as for the U.S. he says, “I see Big Smoke thriving in the U.S. as it already does in Toronto. Few Americans will be familiar with poutine because there are no other chains that offer it in the traditional Canadian fashion that Big Smoke does – but it is so delicious that they’re bound to go nothing short of crazy over the dish once they’ve experienced it.”
Yusuf, a restaurant industry veteran who worked his way up the corporate ladder from busboy to CEO, wanted more than the frozen, pre-packaged patties typical of the “better” burger segment at the time. In a market now swamped with copycat brands, Big Smoke remains on the front line of the burger scene. Of his expansion with Fransmart, Yusuf says, “I always believed this concept had the potential to hold a global presence, and thanks to Fransmart and the capable franchisees they’ve brought forth, I am quickly seeing that belief materialize.”