Experience matters in the restaurant industry. Led by President Frank Westermajer and his 30 years of restaurant experience, Westar has grown over the past seven years by providing an experience and environment that keeps customers coming back.
Westar consists of Westar Foods Inc., West Partners Inc. and Café Foods Inc. In addition to Westermajer, leading the company are business partners Steven Barrett, Ronald Damiana and Wayne Glasser. The organization was founded in 2007, investing in a number of Hardee’s franchises at a time when Hardee’s was looking for franchisees to take on some corporate-owned locations.
“At the time, I was a regional vice president with Hardee’s and thought it would be a good time to get into the franchising side of the business,” Westermajer says. “We started with 18 stores that ranged in size from 3,000 to 3,500 square feet.”
Westar has grown to own and operate 33 Hardee’s franchised restaurants throughout Iowa, Nebraska and Illinois. The company has taken advantage of the strength of the Hardee’s brand while also ensuring its locations offer the best experience and amenities possible.
“We have been in the process of reimagining Hardee’s, building exceptional units and great facilities,” Westermajer says. “In the last few years, we had an agreement in place with Hardee’s to remodel all of our stores, and 32 of 33 have been remodeled. The last one we will rebuild entirely in Oskaloosa, Iowa. [We] hope to have that open by end of summer.”
All together, Westermajer says the company has put $11 million into remodeling and new store construction in the past six years, and notes it is money well spent. “It has all been part of reimagining the concept and making our experience exceptional for our guests, matching the quality of the food,” he says.
Westermajer says the company has an agreement with Hardee’s to add 11 stores over the next five years.
In addition to Hardee’s, Westar recently added two Corner Bakery Cafe restaurants in the Kansas City market under Café Foods Inc.
“We wanted to add some balance to our company,” Westermajer says. “We’ve done really well with Hardee’s, but we felt we needed another restaurant brand to partner with us. Corner Bakery Cafe is an exceptional concept with great operations, a great menu and is well-positioned in the fast casual segment.”
Just as it is planning to grow its Hardee’s footprint, Westar plans to grow its Corner Bakery Cafe. “We also have an 11-store development agreement with Corner Bakery Cafe,” Westermajer says. “We are planning on opening two to three new cafes per year.”
Although it is relatively small, Westar operates like a larger corporate entity. The company has a general manager in place at every location, and district managers oversee from three to eight stores depending on geography.
“We have strong operational procedures in place, because good procedures ensure exceptional operations,” Westermajer says. We also have strong relationships with both Hardee’s and Corner Bakery Cafe. Both concepts have exceptional management teams in place that work well with its franchises.”
Westar invested in initiatives to ensure payment card industry compliance and upgraded its POS system. That included investing in a VeriFone system for all of its stores, and it upgraded to the Windows 7 operating system for its back office.
In the years ahead, Westar will face many challenges and opportunities. The impact of the Affordable Care Act is still uncertain, and Westar is working to understand how its healthcare costs will be impacted. “We want to make sure we have healthcare plans for our partners and managers, but like everyone else we’re not really sure of the ACA’s impact on our operations,” Westermajer says.
The company is always reviewing feedback from its guests. Westermajer says he reads every guest survey that comes in, because both positive and negative surveys provide useful feedback on how it is serving guests. In addition, Westermajer likes to get out into the field and hear from managers and hourly employees to get their take on how the company can improve its operations and service to guests.
“You can’t just run a service-based business like this from an office; you need to be out in the field listening to your operators,” he says. “That is where you get the best feedback. We need to make sure we are taking care of our staff and partners so we can better take care of our guests.”