BUSINESS

Back to the straw for the turkey

JIM ROMAHN August 17 1981
BUSINESS

Back to the straw for the turkey

JIM ROMAHN August 17 1981

Back to the straw for the turkey

The name, The Great Canadian Turkey Corp., tapped an upbeat mood when 83 farmers from British Columbia to Nova Scotia plunked down a cool $500,000 to launch a nationwide chain of fast-food restaurants featuring a turkey menu. Six months later the venture has turned out to be a turkey with a different flavor. Wattles, the House of Turkey, located along the golden mile strip just inside Guelph in Southwestern Ontario, is being put up for sale this week and George Gray of Georgetown, Ont., has departed from his executive vice-presidency post in the corporation. For farmers who invested in the fowl experiment, there is little left but bitter memories.

Gray, former president of the Ontario Turkey Producers Marketing Board, sold the concept on his long-standing ambition to make turkey more than Thanksgiving and Christmas cuisine. The corporation, which planned to open several restaurants this year—including one in Quebec—was optimistic. The site, sandwiched between McDonald’s and a Frank Vetere’s, seemed perfect and so did the timing: turkey is a bargain at meat counters and processing companies are rushing dozens of new products into supermarkets.

So what went wrong? Mismanagement, says John Deklerk, a turkey

farmer from the Burlington area and the corporation’s secretary. Good food, generous portions, low prices and ambience-down to the crisp linen tablecloths—were a demonstrated cut above the competition. It also pushed the restaurant into the red.

Corporate goals might have been more clearly defined, suggests Glen Dales of Price Waterhouse Ltd., the Mississauga chartered accounting firm hired as receiver and manager of the restaurant by the Bank of Montreal. The corporation’s executive-farmers, most of them doubling as leaders of the Canadian Turkey Marketing Agency —which has the power to set turkey production volumes—wavered between using the chain as an advertising and promotional vehicle or running it strictly as a profitable franchising venture. In the end, a dozen of the 83 farmers couldn’t be persuaded to com-

mit another $100,000 to the operation.

Wattles is not the only turkey of a restaurant in the farming community. In April, a scaled-down independent restaurant called Gobbles folded in nearby Cambridge, Ont. And the Ontario Pork Producers’ Marketing Board has written off its own franchising idea and is concentrating on making its 180seat Pork Place in downtown Toronto a viable operative.

The real issue raised by these failures is whether farmers should stick to the soil or have a role in expanding markets for their commodities. Deklerk is one who believes farmers should do more marketing: he has launched his own company to market dozens of new turkey products. “Some farmers don’t deserve a marketing board,” he says bitterly. “They don’t give a damn what happens to their product once they sell it. When the truck leaves their farm, it could drive into the lake, for all they care.” — JIM ROMAHN