'Undercover Boss': Fatburger CEO Andy Wiederhorn Finds Franchise Half-Cooked
So perhaps it's not surprising that as the latest CEO to appear on "Undercover Boss," Wiederhorn took to heart the troubles that an employee reported at a Mesa, Ariz., franchise. Posing as "Myron Leeds," a former real estate agent appearing on a "second chances" reality show, Wiederhorn visited the Fatburger restaurant and found that the franchise was a mess.
Angelica, an assistant manager, showed that the faucets in the kitchen couldn't be turned off. Sales were at an all-time low too, Wiederhorn conceded on-camera. And to top it off, the franchise -- which is part of a company that brings in $100 million in revenue a year and is looking to expand to 200 more locations -- has failed to pay its workers. "By the time we get our paychecks, there's no money in the bank," Angelica reported to "Leeds." (As seen in the video above.)
While speaking to "Leeds" during a break outside the franchise, Angelica also described in detail the problematic culture at her workplace. "The only time we see the owner is when something is broken," she told him. There's no positive reinforcement: The manager "doesn't come around see how we're doing." And then the ultimate blow in Angelica's list of grievances: "It's like I am working for you -- but why?"
Wiederhorn, for his part, seemed to take the criticism seriously. So in the reveal at the end of the show, he took the extraordinary step of inviting Angelica's manager, franchise owner Marcus, onto the set. And Marcus didn't put up a fight. "I don't want to let you down anymore," he told the assistant manager.
As a way of helping to boost the franchise, Wiederhorn told Marcus that he'd forgive a debt of around $50,000 that he owed him. And then he also told Angelica that he would pay for her tuition so that she could attend nursing school, as well as give her a $10,000 bonus toward a honeymoon. (She's barely been able to take a vacation in the two-plus years she's been with Fatburger, which is about the same time that she's been married.)
Such showdowns between workers and managers are central to of the DNA of "Undercover Boss," now well into its fourth season. But most of the time they are between the workers and the CEO. Sometimes they are initiated by the boss, as when Checkers and Rally's CEO Rick Silva decided on the spot to shut down a poor-performing branch in Florida, then gave its workers a stern lecture. At other times, the showdowns are initiated by the workers themselves, as when Philly Pretzel CEO Dan DiZio forgot that he already had met with one husband-and-wife team of franchise owners, and they had to remind him of the meeting.
Wiederhorn's choice to side with and advocate for his worker against middle management was a rare moment on the show. Less rare was what happened during Wiederhorn's other site visits on the episode.
As was the case with DiZio of Philly Pretzel, Wiederhorn was outed during his first site visit to a franchise in Sherman Oaks, Calif., close to the company's headquarters. Val, who's worked in the business of making hamburgers for 29 years, put it bluntly: "You look like the president of Fatburger ... like a brother." Wiederhorn couldn't help but out himself.
And the generosity of the boss, which some critics of the show deride as a public relations ploy, was also on display. During one site visit, Wiederhorn worked with Ramon as a baker technician in Carson, Calif., which basically involves assessing the quality of buns at a company warehouse.
"Leeds" learned that Ramon had worked for 25 years for the company and, as the father of four, had a life that he felt grateful for. Yet on a recent family trip to Mexico, Ramon's wife was refused re-entry to the U.S. over her immigration status. (The show did not go into detail about her status.) So in the reveal, Wiederhorn told Ramon that he would give him $50,000 so that he could hire a lawyer to handle her case.
"This is like a family," Ramon said.
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Dan Fastenberg was most recently a reporter with TIME Magazine. Previously, he was a writer for the Thomson Reuters news service's Latin America desk. He was also a reporter and associate editor for the Buenos Aires Herald while living in South America.
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