“ It was two weeks before our first restaurant opened, and I went full two feet into it. My original plan was learning it in the background and the hands-off, and the way it’s worked out, obviously going to finish the way I did with Leinster, but it’s stood me in good stead now with Zambrero that I really understand the operation. I could still walk into a Zambrero restaurant today and run it from open to close and do all the tasks that I needed as a team member working not only as a manager or supervisor but as the team member on the shop floor.”Darragh Fanning
We are back with our BlogCast, a Bizimply blog series!
Meet Darragh Fanning: Former rugby player and current general manager of Zambrero Ireland.
He shares his transition from professional sports to running a fast-growing restaurant chain. On top of that, Zambrero also boasts a strong commitment to donating meals to those in need. He shares what are the biggest challenges in the recruitment process in Ireland now and how personality is the key to working at Zambrero.
- Darragh’s entrepreneurial journey from rugby to restaurant management.
- Challenges faced during the career change.
- Hiring by personality.
- Building a business as a force for good.
- Networking, goal-setting, and maintaining consistency within a franchise.
Journey after Hospitality: From Rugby Field To Restaurant Franchise
“So, yeah, my background was probably not in traditional roots. I grew up with a rugby ball in my hands as a child. My dad played rugby at Leinster, which is our province and the team I would have played for. During my journey with rugby, again, wasn’t probably the traditional roots. I spent a year down in Galway with Connacht, which is another province in Ireland.”
“[…] Unfortunately, I got caught in budget cuts at the end of the season, which was kind of heartbreaking while I was being caught in a business decision rather than on a rugby-based decision. I had an opportunity to go to Australia to play with a guy, played a team that was coached by a guy, Shaun McCarthy, who I used to play with and was a good friend of mine.”
When life gives you lemons… You better call a friend!
“And Shaun was a player-coach there in Australia. So I got told on a Tuesday night at about 10 o ‘clock coming out of the cinema that I was getting caught the next morning. I was devastated, heartbroken, and didn’t know what to do.”
“I rang Shaun on the way home from the cinema at night. I was like, ‘Is there still an option for me to come to Australia?’ He’s like, ‘I could have you here this weekend’. I was like, uh, Wednesday morning. I was back in Dublin at my parents’ house at the time. And Wilco came down that morning and told him I was cut from Connacht. I was moving to Australia.”
The adaptation to Australia:
“So, uh, the big scramble that I got in a plane the next morning, um, ended up in Canberra in Australia, which was madness […]”
“[…] but while I was there, one of the first things I did, I moved into a house with a couple of Australians and one Kiwi, the first thing they did on the Sunday after the beta match on Saturday was bring me to Zambrero.”
The decision to bring Zambrero to Ireland
“Shaun, who had brought me to Australia, actually got involved with Zambrero and took it from Canberra up to North Queensland into Townsville.”
“I suggested maybe Ireland”
“That phone call was nine years ago in August. I had plans to get into the restaurant business; I definitely knew I wanted to do something for myself. I have probably always been quite entrepreneurial. I’m in that opportunity came I took it, but we didn’t think it was pretty rational, but I’m delighted I did it now.”
Balancing Rugby Career and Zambrero
“No, my first, so from that August, that the following season, I actually, that was probably my best season, my land.”
“I played the very first game of the next season and didn’t play again. I exited either two years after my contract, and they bought me out of my contract, and which ended up being great kind of what eventually got a deal.”
“Our coach unfortunately got let go at the end of that season, and I played the very first game of the next season and didn’t play again. I exited either two years after my contract, and they bought me out of my contract, which ended up being great kind of what eventually got a deal.
“It was two weeks before our first restaurant opened, and I went full two feet into it. My original plan was learning it in the background and the hands-off, and the way it’s worked out, obviously going to finish the way I did with Lancer, but it’s stood me in good stead now with Zambrero that I really understand the operation. I could still walk into a Zambrero restaurant today and run it from open to close and do all the tasks that I needed as a team member working not only as a manager supervisor but as the team member on the shop floor.”
“I could still walk into a Zambrero restaurant today and run it from open to close and do all the tasks that I needed as a team member working not only as a manager supervisor but as the team member on the shop floor.”
Zambrero Concept and Progress:
“So yeah, so we jumped in, I suppose Zambrero is an Australian franchise founded by a Sri Lankan Scottish doctor selling a modern Mexican fusion food, so it’s a complete melting pot of stuff”
“But it’s, it’s essentially we are a modern Mexican fusion where burritos, bowls, tacos, we are like your traditional burrito bar.”
“But I see a bit of a twist. We’ve definitely a big health element. You come into a restaurant where we still have your traditional Mexican elements with a sort of healthy and fresher twist. So you still have your rice, your beans, your protein. But then rather than say somewhere in the village, you might have one bit of salad, one bit of salad, we’re very heavy salad, salsa, fresh produce, focused and the great side is Zambrero and from Sam’s background and through his mother, he’s, we have a great CSR side of the business with our plate for plate model where for every burrito bowl sold, we donate a meal to one in need, which is currently at about 74 million meals donated, which is phenomenal number.”
Franchising and Training Approach:
“The big thing for me is the simple operation. Zambrero is so easy. Now I don’t really know much else. I’ve learned more over the years. I’ve got to see other brands and see back house operations, but we’ve no chefs in our kitchens, you know, all our staff do all our tasks. So I know from a pal of mine involved in it, in a different franchise, they’re chefs, takes four months to train up. If that chef leaves at four months, one day, they’re back to square one. We have a four-day training plan. For us, you get a staff member in, if you come to me, want, with a bit of training, I will teach you how to open the closing row very, very easily. And that’s the great thing for us. It is very, very simple. It’s, it can be simply the wrong, but it is simple as well. So that’s why training and staff is a huge part of our business.”
“You need to hire personalities. You need people to come in and as we call it a bit of theatre behind the counter and a bit of entertainment and a bit of chat and a bit of conversation.”
Training Approach and Recruitment Challenges
“Yeah. So recruitment has got harder. We used to put an ad and […], you’d have all different walks of life, all different from local kids in college at the farm. Students coming in, studying English, we’d hundreds and then it went stage. We could have an ad and it’d be two days late for someone to apply for it. It’s gotten back a bit easier now, but the one thing I learned since day one and do now is you need to hire personalities. You need people to come in and as we call it a bit of theatre behind the counter and a bit of entertainment and a bit of chat and a bit of conversation.”
“What I thought was great stuff, day one, day two in Zambrero is not like the guys. I remember in Zambrero, we opened the Hatch first, you know, lunch would be winding down and guys were running to the kitchen, jumping, washing dishes. And I was thinking, these are the guys I want in my restaurant. You know, look how keen he is to get the dishes washed.”
“For me, I associate as a child being made washing dishes as nearly a punishment when actually now if I’m in one of the restaurants or washing it, it’s actually a grand task that you’d be standing chatting to your friend beside you. So it’s actually not as bad as I used to think as a child, but what I realised over time, Is it’s not the staff that are running to get away and hide out back. It’s the staff that are hanging around their front chatting to customers, remembering faces.”
” ‘Did you enjoy that last week? How was that? Why don’t you try this instead? I noticed you always go for Chipotle. Why don’t you go for mix-up a little bit of red chilli, and make it hotter?’ That’s what people love, and you’d be surprised how much. People just love the usual, like that is the simplest thing ever, but some people just love that they know that’s my place, that’s my guy, he knows my dish and it’s easy. So that’s a big thing for us for training.
“So we have obviously our standard four-day training plan, but a big thing for us for recruitment is trying to meet a young guy, a young girl who can safely look you in the eye and have a conversation with you.”
Author’s Note: I briefly worked at Zambrero and got to see how they train. Despite it being my first time making a burrito, I picked it up in just a couple of days. It’s quick and efficient, and chatting with customers while preparing food adds a unique vibe compared to other places. Still have good friends working there!
Do you want to hear more about the inspiring stories of Darragh Fanning? Discover by tuning in to his Hospitality Mavericks podcast episode. Don’t miss out!
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