2022 Regional Company of the Year: White Spot

Warren Erhart, president; Dina Moffett, director of Operations, White Spot and Paul Volk, director of Operations, Triple O’s | Photography by Jens Kristian Balle

As Canada’s longest-running restaurant chain, White Spot has a long history of beating the odds in the face of industry downturns. That resiliency played a significant role in overcoming the challenges that the pandemic brought to the foodservice industry. Yet president Warren Erhart says they never take that for granted.

“We’ve kept relevant after 94 years by making sure we have our finger on the pulse of the market. Remaining relevant is important to all of us. We often say internally that past success doesn’t guarantee future success.”

White Spot was founded in 1928, when Nat Bailey launched Canada’s first drive-in restaurant. Now, 94 years later, the company boasts annual sales of more than $250 million, and operates 55 casual family-style full-service restaurants and 77 Triple O’s quick-service locations, serving more than 15 million guests annually.

While COVID brought unprecedented challenges, it did not impact all sectors of the industry in the same way. Erhart and his team saw opportunities alongside the obstacles. “COVID forced a lot of operators to look at things like curbside pickup and deliveries, guest-facing technologies, and different equipment to create more frictionless experiences for staff and guests. In our case, it really helped us accelerate a lot of initiatives within our full-service restaurants through technology. We put many things in place to make that happen.”

In fact, 2021 proved to be a banner year for the Triple O’s brand, which opened seven new locations including the first in Ontario. The company also launched its R+D Kitchen outlets. The new test-kitchen concept provides the opportunity for consumers to be the first to experience new and innovative menu items direct from White Spots’ Culinary Centre.

“We were looking for a concept that would allow our executive chef to try new things before they find their way into our White Spot restaurants as well as experiment with new equipment,” explains Erhart.

White Spot also experienced a number of noteworthy achievements in 2021 and 2022, including Platinum status as one of Canada’s Best Managed Companies for the 12th-consecutive year. It recently received a gold award in the 2022 Canadian Franchise Association Award of Excellence for Triple O’s in the Traditional Franchises Category, as well as the Association’s 2022 Franchisee’s Choice Award for both White Spot and Triple O’s.

White Spot also has the distinction of being the only restaurant in Canada that allows employees the opportunity to complete their Red Seal Chef apprenticeship in-house. “This is a great recruitment and retention strategy for us,” says Erhart. “Employees can work, get paid and get their Red Seal without having to leave their job to go to school.” It’s also the only restaurant in B.C. to have Certificate of Recognition (COR) WorkSafe certification, demonstrating that it goes above and beyond to assure the safety of its employees.

The company has been a fixture in regional and national foodservice industry activities. Not only is White Spot a founding member of Restaurants Canada (previously the Canadian Restaurant Association), Erhart previously served as chairman and vice-chairman. In addition, both Erhart and White Spot executive chef James Kennedy have been inducted into the B.C. Restaurant Hall of Fame for their contributions to the industry.

For decades, White Spot has also been a high-profile presence in the communities it serves. For more than 40 years it has provided all the food and staffing to look after the thousands of volunteers at the Variety, the Children’s Charity annual telethon. And for more than 55 years, it has sponsored the White Spot Pipe Band and Highland Dancers, a group that focuses on musical development of youth. It also supports the Zajac Foundation, as well as numerous other charities, hospitals, and causes. Throughout the pandemic, Triple O’s On the Go food trucks were deployed to feed healthcare workers and first responders.

Another trademark that has stood the test of time has been its buy-local policy. “We have always had a passion for buying local before it became a trend,” says Erhart. “Although we are a chain, we have always kept to sourcing local growers and suppliers.” White Spot’s longest-standing supplier relationship, in fact, dates to a handshake between White Spot’s founder and the patriarch of Delta, B.C.’s Guichon family, provider of White Spot’s signature Kennebec potatoes.

Part of community spirit is looking after one’s own people, including franchisees, says Erhart. “We spend a great deal of time listening to our franchise community. We won’t do anything unless we have tried it out in our corporate restaurants first and can prove that something is a good investment for their business. We take the first investment risk.”

Moving forward, Erhart says the company continues to adapt to the changes the pandemic brought to the industry. “Flexible working models and working from home impacted many downtown locations. As we look at the growth of takeout and delivery throughout the pandemic, much of that is here to stay and will be a bigger part of our business moving forward.”

The company is also working on several new initiatives in terms of technology, equipment, and processes, he adds. “The pandemic really accelerated that whole piece. We have also invested in our leadership-development programs. All those things are important in keeping us current.”

He believes it will take a lot of effort to regain the magic of the industry, but the spirit is there. “Things have changed, but there is still a lot of excitement working in hospitality. The industry has gone through challenges in the past and has had to re-build. What we have learned from the pandemic is that we have to be smarter as operators as far as making jobs easier for people and for guests.”

While it may all sound complicated, Erhart boils success down to a simple philosophy. “At the end of the day, we are making a difference. It’s not difficult if you treat people the way you want to be treated.”

By Denise Deveau | Photography by Jens Kristian Balle

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