Darragh Fanning talks healthy eating and the power of social media with IF&CR’s Beth Mason as the brand celebrates three successful years in Ireland this month.
All food-to-go managers know the importance of consistency but for a franchise that operates around the globe, ensuring every customer experience is identical is the key to success.
“Word of mouth is the strongest advertising you can get,” says Darragh Fanning, owner of the Zambrero franchise in Ireland. “If someone has a bad experience they’ll tell seven people but if they have a good experience they might only tell a few people. That’s why it’s important to serve the perfect meal with the perfect service every time. You have no idea who the next person to walk through the door will be.”
Last month Zambrero welcomed some very important customers. Two Australian women, currently living in London, made the trip to Dublin especially to visit Zambrero for a taste of home.
“That’s essentially what franchising is; it’s about being served the same meal wherever you are in the world. Whether you have a Zambrero in Dublin, or Sydney, or Boston it’s the same quality ingredients and flavours,” says Darragh.
Described by its Irish owner as a “really slick operation” the Zambrero franchise has been rolled out across the world from kiosks in busy forecourts to 3,000 sq. ft. restaurants, and drive-thru outlets too.
Having lived and worked in Canberra for 18 months, former rugby union player Darragh returned to Ireland in 2016 with an idea to bring Zambrero – a fresh and healthy, Mexican style franchise– to Dublin. Since then he has facilitated the opening of five stores across the country; four standalone restaurants and one concession in the busy Maxol service station on the Dublin Road in Dundalk.
“I suppose for me, I was looking for something after rugby; an opportunity to go into business where from day one I would essentially be my own boss,” says Darragh. “It’s hard work but every day you see the brand growing and that’s what makes it enjoyable.
For Darragh, one of the aspects of the brand that has always appealed to him is its commitment to corporate responsibility through donating a meal for every burrito or burrito bowl purchased. By 2025 Zambrero aims to have provided 1bn meals for Rise Against Hunger through the initiative Plate for Plate.
“We don’t push it in people’s faces – it’s just something we do. All the staff are trained in the process and are able to talk about it with customers. It’s just a really nice aspect of the business and we actually broke 30m meals on April 4, which was another milestone for the company on the quest to breaking 1 billion.”
Like most business owners in Ireland, one of the biggest challenges Darragh faces is finding the right employees. When he first entered the business he had no previous interviewing skills but support from the franchise enabled him to hire effectively. However, he tells IF&CR that his criteria has changed somewhat in the last three years.
“When we first started out I used to hire people who would jump in the kitchen and get stuck into the washing up but now I’m looking for personalities. Yes, we need people that can do prep work but we also need staff that are able to sell the product, who are nice and friendly and have a good relationship with customers. We have staff in all of our restaurants who know a regular’s order before they get to the counter and that’s what customers love.”
Frequent Zambrero diners also return again for the nutritious options on offer, with Darragh stating many visit the restaurants over four times a week.
“I still eat the food every day and I still love it,” he says. “If I’ve been away I will actually stop off at a Zambrero on the way home from the airport.”
Part of the franchise’s appeal is the customisable menu that suits a huge demographic of consumers whether they are looking for a low calorie meal before the gym or a more indulgent weekend treat.
On his return to Ireland from Australia in 2016, Darragh noticed a shift in the nation’s eating habits from when he last lived in the country. Where health and wellness had once been a trend, it is now a way of life for the majority of the nation.
“The country as a whole has got more healthy and people are only going to get healthier. A lot of our consumers are health conscious people who are willing to pay to put good nutrition in their body. There are no additives in any of our ingredients and everything is prepared fresh; it’s good, clean, healthy food.
“Definitely over the last couple of years, the Irish palette has massively changed. Irish people love spicy food now. Going back years ago to when I was a child, Uncle Ben’s curry was an exotic hot dish but now I’ve got kids coming in as young as four years of age asking for jalapeños.
“If you look around Dublin, or any of the other Irish cities, there is such a variety of cuisines available with different concepts coming into the market all the time now. The Irish have become quite picky in that they expect good quality, high end ingredients and a range of options.”
As for the future, this business owner sees the recent uptake in health continuing to grow and this summer will add a selection of fresh, seasonal salads to the menu to continue capturing the burgeoning wellbeing market.
“Now the operation is running really smoothly it is time to follow more of the innovations we have seen in Australia. Our pilot site in Maxol Dublin Road Dundalk has been great for giving us an understanding of how we work in service station concepts and we’ve learned a lot from them and their operation processes. For now we’re concentrating on opening more restaurants and growing the brand awareness.
“In a couple of year’s time I would love to stop people on the street and have 100 percent of them recognise what Zambrero is,” concludes Darragh.
For more information on Zambrero or to find out about franchising opportunities contact Darragh on: firstname.lastname@example.org