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Let Him Eat Cake

Bob Beeson: president and co-founder, the Cheesecake Cafe

Dec 1, 2008

by Colleen Seto

Forty years ago, Bob Beeson worked as an assistant deputy minister for Saskatchewan’s then-Liberal government. When a change in government caused a change in career in 1969, Beeson found himself flipping burgers in Alberta. Well, not quite. With a partner, he bought out the Hannigan’s Hamburgers chain and grew it from eight to 75 locations, sold it, and became the first Western Canadian Burger King franchisee. In 1988, they decided to try out the full-service format, opening restaurants that included Moxie’s and the Cheesecake Cafe. Beeson now remains the sole owner of the Cheesecake Cafe, which has grown from one location in Calgary to five throughout Alberta. Over the last 20 years, the cafés have served an estimated 19 million guests, employed 16,000 people and dished up 3.6 million slices of cheesecake, including Roasted Banana and Wild Blueberry, Beeson’s favourite. Talk about having your cake and eating it, too.

AV: How do you go from being a civil servant to a restaurant owner?
BB:
I guess I had a latent interest. A friend of mine was a Hannigan’s franchisee, so I got to know the people. And it was time for me to leave government. When the NDP took over, they didn’t think I was much of a socialist. [laughs] So I moved to Alberta, along with half the population of Saskatchewan, and went to work for Hannigan’s.

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Why did you decide on cheesecake?
We’d seen a number of dessert restaurants in the U.S. that seemed strangely popular. We thought that was a nice kicker to separate yourself in the restaurant business. Originally, we were looking at pies, but nobody was doing cheesecake.

So how’s business?
We’re hoping to do two more locations in Alberta in the coming year – another in Edmonton and one in Medicine Hat. The labour market creates challenges, but I think we’ve fared better than most. We’ve got a reasonable reputation as a good employer. Our restaurants are busy, so people get good hours and make money. We keep our hiring standards up, and most of our employees come as referrals from existing employees – that’s a good sign. There’s still people out there spending, so the labour issue is easier to deal with than operating in a market where sales are down.

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