Takes Two to Tango

Initially reluctant, franchisee Devon Nel was converted by his Mexicali Fresh experience

Devon Nel, Mexicali Fresh "We went gangbusters within days of opening"

You might call Devon Nel ‘the reluctant franchisee’. Before he joined Mexicali Fresh in 2013, he says he knew little about franchising and what he thought he knew, he didn’t like. ‘I thought it was about being controlled or being at the mercy of someone else all the time,’ he says. ‘But I was looking for a job or business, so I cast my net wide and came across this new food franchise. 

‘I’d eaten a lot of Mexican food in California and knew how good it could be. Mexicali Fresh had been popular on Princes Wharf in Auckland since 2005 and one of the top people at the company lived in my road, so I got in touch and cut to the chase by asking, “What are the numbers?” They had all the answers on labour costs, overheads, etc, to hand immediately. As a former merchant banker, I found that very refreshing.’ 

Devon was equally impressed with the team behind Mexicali Fresh. ‘It’s a family-led business run by young, vibrant people who have massive experience and genuine passion for their product. And what finally clinched it for me was that the market is going in the right direction. Mexicali Fresh is an emerging brand in fast-casual dining and New Zealand is catching up all the time with the States and Australia where the concept is well-established.’ 

But there was one further hurdle to overcome – finding the right site. ‘Mexicali Fresh already had a site selected and I thought it was terrible,’ Devon laughs. ‘But on reflection they knew what they were doing – it had the right population, traffic, visibility, access and demographics so it was a superb choice, even if I couldn’t see that at first. Anyway, my family co-investors and I took a punt and the place took off – we went gangbusters within days of opening and were able to open a second store within a year.’ 

Devon was only the second Mexicali Fresh franchisee when he opened his first store, but says that the concept was clear right from day one. ‘What we offer every day is fresh food, prepared in-store and served fast. Our target market is people wanting restaurant-quality food in a reasonable time. That’s the key difference between us and the fast food outlets, and it makes us highly popular: our regular fans come three to four times a week and are a big part of our business.’ 

invaluable assistance

He may have been a reluctant franchisee originally, but Devon now says that having a franchise behind his first business venture was so invaluable that he’s opened a second and is planning for more. ‘In terms of getting you up and running, the Mexicali Fresh franchise system is excellent – it would have taken me much longer to do the same thing on my own, if I could have done it at all! The support office is always on call, and any call I make is answered very quickly. And it’s not about being controlled, like I thought: today I have quite a lot of input into the franchise, and I realise that for it to work you must be aligned with the same vision as that of your franchisor. 

‘As the second franchisee, my training was the school of hard knocks to some extent, but they’ve moved mountains since then and we are developing a MexiUni to enable both franchisees and staff to improve their skills, build better businesses and gain qualifications off-site. We sell food, which sounds easy, but the reality is that it is the people you have in store who drive the system. The more I can focus on them, the more I can help them develop, the more they give back.’ 

from single units to multiple stores

Mexicali Fresh is looking for enthusiastic, energetic people like Devon who are passionate about great food and great customer service to open further outlets around the country. ‘This is a proven system with nearly 20 stores open, and we’re expanding all around the country,’ says Nathan Bonney, the general manager of Mariposa Restaurant Holdings which owns Mexicali Fresh and its sister franchise, Burger Wisconsin. 

‘Mexicali Fresh represents a great opportunity for ambitious owners to get into their own hospitality business. The investment required is around $400,000 +gst and our strong track record means the banks are willing to provide finance for the right people. 

‘We believe in selecting great franchisees and supporting them throughout their journey,’ Nathan continues. ‘Devon is opening his third store in Lincoln Road, Henderson, this year, with a plan to have around five sites in three years. The franchise suits multi-store ownership as well as single unit operators, and we are more than happy to discuss your options or goals with you.’ 

Devon offers some final words. ‘If you are up for the challenge then be prepared to ride the wave and watch the magic unfold. This is a fantastic opportunity and a growing trend with very broad appeal. If you can share the vision, do what I did and jump in with both feet. I’ve never regretted it.’  

This advertorial is taken from Franchise New Zealand magazine Year 25 Issue 2

Luc Identity