Business in Vancouver

Business in Vancouver
January 4-10, 2005; issue 793

Gerald Tritt - Age: 35 - Co-owner, Vera's Burger Shack

Noah Cantor - Age: 33 - Co-owner, Vera's Burger Shack

The stars have been smiling on Toronto Argonauts defensive back Noah Cantor . Not only are he and his business partner Gerald Tritt growing a popular hamburger restaurant chain, but the former five-year B.C. Lion beat his ex-teammates to win his fourth Grey Cup championship in November.

"Winning the Grey Cup is still exciting and very special," said Cantor. But now that the season is finished, he can concentrate on his partnership operating fast-growing Vera's Burger Shack 's four outlets.

Cantor bought into his longtime friend Tritt's business in 2001 when Tritt opened his second Vera's outlet in Kitsilano.

Tritt had bought the original Vera's outlet in West Vancouver a year earlier from longtime restaurateur Vera Hockfelder .

"There really is a Vera. It's not just me on Friday nights," Tritt joked.

Tritt and Cantor expanded the chain, opening outlets on Denman Street and Davie Street in the last two years. Those outlets have helped them grow Vera's revenues 1,500 per cent in four years to $2.5 million in 2004.

They expect to open four new stores within the next year and a half thanks to current employees opening Vera's franchises. Tritt and Cantor have already approved two employees to open franchises and they are all scouting the Lower Mainland for locations.

"Franchising allows us to have the best of both worlds," Tritt said of the strategy to charge a one-time $25,000 fee and collect a five-per-cent royalty on sales. "We can expand faster and still protect our philosophy."

That philosophy centres on both staff and customer satisfaction.

Tritt has worked his way up from being a restaurant busboy as a teenager to jobs as a waiter, bartender and cook. He is proud that, as a business owner, he has never paid the minimum wage.

Tritt also aims to boost staff morale by hosting regular team-building events. Each summer month he plans an outing. Last year, that included a day at the beach, a day at Splashdown Park and a day playing paintball.

Staff morale aside, Tritt said the formula to keep customers smacking their lips is to never freeze their fresh-made meat patties. "Our belief is quality over price," Tritt said. He explained that instead of cutting corners, Vera's uses the best local ingredients.

Further separating its burgers from those of the competition, Vera's offers burgers with uncommon toppings such as Provalone or blue cheese and a fried egg. Customers can also order burgers made from ground turkey or ground lamb.

Outside work, both are active with charities. Cantor visits children in hospitals while Tritt is active with the Jewish Community Centre.

Tritt is on the JCC's board for its annual sports dinner and is also on the board for his synagogue. His business interest led him to join the Dundarave Business Association and the Davie Street business improvement area. Otherwise, he spends time with his wife Marni and their two children.

Tritt and Cantor have sponsored teams at the Kitsilano Community Centre, made floats for Vancouver's annual Pride Parade and sponsored a weekly barbecue to raise money for an AIDS hospice.

"I don't think we've ever said no to a request for a gift certificate or for a donation," Tritt said. "We can always find a $10 or $20 gift certificate to support something."

Noah Cantor

Profession you would like to try: Chiropractor

Where do you feel most comfortable? With family

Favourite movie: Slapshot

Currently reading: Flyfishing for Dummies

Toughest decision: Over easy or scrambled

Car: 1996 Ford Bronco

Would most like to meet: Al Capone

Born: Ottawa

Last CD bought: Jennifer Gasoi's Songs for You

Education: BA, Mary's University

What's left to do: Travel the world

Gerald Tritt

Profession you would like to try: Professional poker player

Where do you feel most comfortable? In my skin. I feel comfortable pretty much anywhere

Favourite movie: Ferris Bueller's Day Off

Currently reading : Hold 'Em Poker for Advanced Players by David Sklansky and Mike Malmuth

Toughest decision: To let someone go from the business

Car: Dodge Durango SUV

Would most like to meet : Bill Clinton

Born: Toronto

Last CD bought: I've downloaded a lot of Lynyrd Skynyrd from the Internet recently

Education: A BA. I took history at both Carlton University and York University

What's left to do: I could think of a million and one things that are left to do but the most important thing is to raise good kids