Mexican-inspired fast food restaurant Zambrero is on track to expand from 13 to 20 restaurants across Ireland over the next year, with a number of new openings imminent.
The healthy eating focused fast food restaurant opened its 13th Irish restaurant in Blackrock, Co. Dublin this month and now expects even more growth.
Darragh Fanning, General Manager of Zambrero Ireland, who first brought the concept from Australia in 2015, is a former Leinster professional rugby player who attracted franchisees across the country after his unlikely journey into Ireland’s booming casual dining sector.
“We have Liffey Valley opening in November, Maynooth in January and we have deals in place for some more early next year and some more are well advanced in the pipeline,” he said. “We’ve grown well over the past few years and it doesn’t look like it’s slowing down.”
Fanning went to school at St Mary’s College, Rathmines, a year behind Johnny Sexton: ‘He was my captain and after that I played professionally for Connacht. In the first year things went really well. We played in Münster on St. Stephen’s Day. Two days later my appendix burst and I missed the second half of the season.”
His professional contract fell through and he moved to Australia and played semi-professionally for a year: “When I came back to Dublin I thought I had missed the connection in rugby. I enjoyed playing for Marys again but Joe Schmidt spotted me and it just got crazy from there.”
He played on the wing for Leinster for three years and loved every minute. But at 30 in 2016, when the end came, it was fast and brutal.
“The training during the week went very well. but [Coach] Lion [Cullen] called me and said, ‘You’re not going to sit on the bench or travel this weekend.’ That was it. I hung up and broke down crying. My father took on the role of my agent and negotiated my exit. I signed the offer on a Thursday and then flew to Barcelona for a bachelorette party. But in the end I walked away happy. Playing for Leinster was a childhood dream.”
For more than a year he had been quietly hatching another plan. Two weeks after leaving Leinster he opened the first Irish Zambrero on Dublin’s Hatch Street.
That was only because he put the plan into action long before he left Rugby. In fact, the idea of launching the brand originally came about during a stay in Australia. Fanning had helped Sean McCarthy, an old friend of St. Mary’s, open two Zambrero franchise restaurants in north Queensland. He returned to Ireland and reconnected with McCarthy a few years later in 2014 at a wedding. His friend now had 30 stores and had a business development assignment with the chain. Despite playing for Leinster, he suggested to Fanning that he bring Zambrero to Ireland.
“I made my decision quickly and said yes. It slowly started meeting suppliers and real estate agents after training. It took about 17 months for Hatch Street to open in 2016. It couldn’t have happened if I hadn’t met Niall O’Connor, our operations manager. He came with great experience and was brilliant.”
After opening three company-owned stores and establishing a supply chain, they were allowed to franchise the brand.
“Our first franchise opened five years ago and it has always been about getting the first person to trust you and take the plunge. Franchisees could invest upwards of €250,000 in a restaurant, so they have to trust me to make it a success. This trust drives me. There’s no point in opening a bunch of unsuccessful restaurants. But it’s going great. September was a record month for us and I think October will be another record.”
Today, in celebration of World Hunger Day, Zambrero is hosting its first-ever meal packaging event. With the help of over 100 volunteers, Zambrero Ireland aims to pack 30,000 nutritious meals to be donated to those in need in the developing world.
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