November 12, 2015 11:42 am
Updated: November 12, 2015 11:59 am

Swiss Chalet owner says quarter chicken dinner sales hit by oil slump

Sales and traffic to Cara banners in Western Canada are "challenged," the head of the company said Thursday. "Eastern Canada is doing really well."

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If you live near a big-box plaza, you’ve likely frequented their establishments on innumerable occasions. All those restaurant chains at the mall—we mean all of them (or most, anyway) —are owned by just one company: Cara Operations Ltd.

Montana’s, Milestones, Kelsey’s, Casey’s, East Side Mario’s (have we missed any?) are banners owned by Cara, the largest full-service restaurant operator in Canada, with annual sales approaching $1.8 billion.

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But those banners, as popular as they are, aren’t the biggest money makers for Vaughan, Ont.-based Cara. The heavyweights in Cara’s portfolio of restaurant chains are two iconic Canadian names: Swiss Chalet and Harvey’s.

With more than 200 Swiss Chalet locations sprinkled across the country, the banner accounts for nearly a third of sales. Harvey’s, a burger chain if it needs mentioning, has a store count of 260 or so, and accounts for about 15 per cent of Cara’s sales.

After years of existence as a private company, Cara listed itself on the Toronto Stock Exchange earlier this year, providing a glimpse behind the curtain, hence the level of detail about which banners account for the biggest portion of sales.

The details stop there, though. If you wanted to know which banners are doing particularly well (or the opposite), Cara’s execs won’t break out individual banner performances.

“We don’t break it down,” Bill Gregson, head of the restaurant giant, said on a conference call Thursday.  “We never do. We are a multi-brand company.”

“We’re diversified across banners and we’re diversified across the country,” he said.

West ‘challenged’

Gregson did say that the restaurant business in Western Canada is “challenged” right now, thanks to the commodity slowdown playing out, while locations in the eastern half of the country are seeing good traffic growth.

“We’re challenged in Western Canada and eastern Canada is doing really well,” he said.

That won’t deter Cara from its plans to open additional restaurants in the west this year and next though, he said. “It’s a cycle, it’s not going to be like this forever.”

“This is probably an opportunistic time … we’re not changing our approach.”

Here’s how Cara stacks up against the country’s other food giants:

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