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Entrepreneur of the Year: Mark Torchia

“If you don’t have good people working for you, you’re going to just be having a bunch of challenges everyday.”

Mark Torchia can trace his business success back to two great meals.

The 2009 Northern Ontario Business Awards (NOBA) Entrepreneur of the Year enjoyed eating at a Wendy’s restaurant in Florida during a family vacation during his youth. Years later, he ordered dinner at Boston Pizza on a business trip to Oakville.

The two meals were the inspiration that propelled Timmins-based entrepreneur, Mark Torchia, to the success he experiences today. The Wendy’s meal led Torchia to eventually seek franchising opportunities in Timmins at a time when the fast food restaurants were only as far north as Barrie. Today, Torchia owns 12 Wendy’s, from Bradford to Timmins, making him the second-largest Wendy’s franchise owner in Canada. He also acquired three Boston Pizza diners. His 15 restaurants employ up to 800 people and are part of Torchia’s small empire in Ontario.

Torchia’s journey began in 1986. After quitting university and then running a Volkswagen dealership into the ground, Torchia and his father, John, bought the rights to open the first Wendy’s franchise in Timmins. It wasn’t until 1993, after significant planning that the restaurant opened its doors.

“In hindsight, it’s good that it took that time because I would have built an old-style Wendy’s, which wouldn’t have been able to accommodate the volume (of customers) that Timmins had in 1993 and still does today,” says Torchia.

“It’s my number one store. It’s probably in the top five in Canada.”

He worked closely with former business partner Kerry Barbour to manage day-to-day operations and expand the existing business.

“In ‘93 when we opened up our first Wendy’s, that’s all I thought. I’d open up a restaurant in Timmins and life would be good. I never even dreamed that 16 years later I’d own 12 Wendy’s.”

In 2004, Torchia’s portfolio grew when he purchased the rights to open Boston Pizza franchises in Barrie, Sudbury and Timmins. All are in operation and the company has rights to build second locations in Sudbury and Barrie.

Torchia calls his father, John, his greatest mentor. An Italian immigrant who came to Timmins in 1949, John owned and operated John’s Neon Signs and was also involved in the construction business.

“He’s a business associate, confidant, and best friend,” says Mark.

He credits his father for not only allowing him to go into business by becoming a silent financial partner, but for teaching him to put his money back into the business.

“The deal was, until we paid our loans off, we’d always put our bonuses back into the company.

“So when a location came up, we were ready for it.”

It also helps to have that money during fiscally difficult times, says Mark.

“Now with the recession, we don’t have to sell restaurants and I built a restaurant in the recession because we saved our money.”

John also taught his son to surround himself with good people.

That’s the number one key, says Mark.

“If you don’t have good people working for you, you’re going to just be having a bunch of challenges everyday.”

The younger Torchia gives his staff rewards, such as a pension fund where he will match dollar-for-dollar the amount a longstanding employee puts into a fund.

“Without them, I’m nothing,” he says.

It’s challenging when you’re doing a high volume of business day-in and day-out. Managing a chain of restaurants out of Timmins still gives Torchia his share of stress.

“You lose sleep over everything. Things break and there’s so many things that happen every day, especially when you have 15 restaurants.”

To relieve the pressure, Torchia relies on his personal support network to get him through the day. In the past, Barbour helped manage some of the operations, but now he relies on office manager Cheryl Allard to help through the rough patches.

“It’s nice to be recognized for the success we’ve had. Entrepreneur of the Year singles me out as one person, but there’s so many other people who have helped us grow to what we are today.”

Even though his business has expanded south, Torchia remains committed to keeping jobs in Northern Ontario.

“Everything is run out of Timmins. It’ll always be out of Timmins for sure.”
Giving back to the community is priority for Torchia, who regularly distributes funds 15 times a week to various charities. He does this as a longstanding member of the Timmins community.