For McDonald, the biggest challenge in running Fonda is adapting to an evolving role as the business grows. His various roles have included market researcher, product developer, restaurant designer, waiter, property manager and now business manager. “You can see a drastic difference between working on a little start-up to a $15 million business that employs 160 people,” he says. “We’re kind of on our own and have to work it out for ourselves. Dave and I are ultimately accountable and that’s definitely challenging but also makes it exciting. It’s really up to us to be self-disciplined.”
Their business mentors are chocolatier Shane Hills, founder of the Koko Black chocolate stores, and Geoff Harris, co-founder of Flight Centre Travel Group. Harris bought 25 per cent of the business and has come on board as a director.
“At Flight Centre, Geoff’s effectively ridden the business lifecycle journey from being a founding director to being front-and-centre in a large, publicly listed global company, so he’s someone we can now go to for advice and mentorship on how we should be performing,” McDonald says. “And that mentorship is crucial. It’s great when you’re young, confident and going for it, but at the same time you have to remember that you’re young and you don’t have the benefit of hindsight or experience – you’ve got to seek advice.”
After reading Family Village Tribe, a book on the inner workings of Flight Centre, McDonald reached out to Chief Executive Officer Graham Turner. Turner sent the email to Harris and, shortly afterwards, Harris called and they organised to meet up for coffee the next day.
Harris, who gets several offers a week to invest in fledgling businesses, says he was immediately impressed with Fonda. “Tim and Dave are both young guns with a small start-up that had clearly worked, but needed capital and experience to take it to a medium to large multi-outlet business,” he explains. “This is a growth model with great potential. I also liked that the founders have great values and we all wanted a company only and not a franchise model, and I love the ‘fast casual’ concept.”
One way Fonda is following the Flight Centre model is by keeping all stores under company ownership and not franchising. Store leaders have a profit share so they are incentivised to care about the profitability of the business.