Vera’s Burger Shack started as a concession stand by Vera Hochfelder and her husband Frank in 1977 with a location on the West Vancouver waterfront in the Dundarave neighbourhood.
Today, co-owner Gerald Tritt, who bought the brand in 2000, has built the company to 10 current locations in the Lower Mainland with plans to expand into the Alberta market.
“Back in 2000, Shake Shack didn’t exist. Fatburger wasn’t in Canada. Five Guys wasn’t around. None of these brands were around,” said Tritt. “I felt that there was an opportunity to get into this sort of up market burger segment. I thought this was a good launching pad to test the waters and see what it was about.
“So I ran the concession for the first summer in 2000. In 2001, I brought in Noah Cantor (co-owner) and we opened our first standalone location in Kitsilano, two and a half blocks from the beach.”
In 2007, the concession stand was closed.
The company has entered into a strategic three-location deal with franchise partners for Calgary.
“Western Canadian beef. We’re beef eaters. That’s our nature. That’s what we’re about,” said Tritt.
A few years ago, the brand was in Alberta in a casino for a while in Edmonton. It was very successful. But when the casino was sold, Vera’s was no longer there.
“That was our first foray into Alberta. We liked the marketplace. Obviously beef. You can’t get much ‘beefier’ than Alberta,” said Tritt.
There was a period of time as well that Vera’s worked with a company doing container restaurants for delivery only with locations in Calgary and Edmonton.
“But at the end of the day, it just wasn’t like having our own location and the best product, the best quality, the best use of our business acumen in terms of making a great burger is in our own space,” explained Tritt.
“Over the years, we’ve had several people that have come to us, asked us about doing Vera’s there and for whatever reason we’ve just never had the right feeling and I think when you’re going into a market you need to have partners there that understand the market, that have some experience and have the work ethic. And the group that we’ve done this agreement with checked all the boxes. They’re young. They’re a young family. They have business experience. They have burger experience and they’re really motivated, really great people. So we’re very excited about it.”
The first location will open in the Spring in the redevelopment of the Northland Village Mall in Calgary owned by Primaris REIT.
“We’ve got the one location secured. We’re looking at several other locations to see what the opportunities are. They’re all going to be in the Calgary market. This agreement we have in place right now is for the Calgary market specifically,” said Tritt.
“We think the Calgary market could be into the double digits. Calgary is a vibrant market. It’s a growing market . . . Every time I go there, there’s another development, there’s more buildings, there’s more houses. I know people who are moving to Calgary. I know people that are doing business in Calgary. It’s a vibrant market.
“In Alberta itself, obviously Edmonton’s a good market, Red Deer’s a good market. Then you get up into the oilsands and Fort McMurray. There’s lots of really great markets for a really great product and I think we check those boxes.”
Tritt said there is also room for the brand to grown in B.C., particularly the Interior in places like Kelowna, Penticton and Kamloops as well as Prince George and Fort St. John.