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Another grill ready to be fired up

Beginning March 31, Peter and Gale Waurechen hope to make your hamburger a beautiful thing. [Will Sloan / The Observer]
Beginning March 31, Peter and Gale Waurechen hope to make your hamburger a beautiful thing. [Will Sloan / The Observer]
Peter Waurechen has worked at Harvey’s restaurants for 31 years. When a 14-year-old gets his first job at a fast food chain, he typically doesn’t expect to be working there three decades later, but as he and his wife Gale prepare to open the new Elmira location, he’s found that he’s never been able to stray too far from the sizzle of a fresh burger.

“I started when Harvey’s was still doing fresh-cut fries and charcoal under the grill, rather than gas,” says Peter Waurechen. “One of my first jobs was filling the charcoal at four o’clock. I’d come in and start cutting French fries and basically work until two in the morning.”

Waurechen got his start at the chain’s King and Weber location in Waterloo; when the owner sold it, Waurechen followed him to Kitchener at Highland and Westmount, eventually taking the business over. “My wife and I met, got married, and basically the rest is history,” he says.

The sizzle of the grill … the warmth of the flames … the taste of the meat … all these things are sensuously highlighted in any number of Harvey’s restaurant commercials. Waurechen, however, insists that the “flame-grilled burgers, fresh toppings, and ability to have a burger made the way you want it” (to quote from official marketing) aren’t the key ingredients of a successful restaurant.

“It’s customer service,” he says. “Especially in a town like this, if they see that the owners are in the restaurant, it builds back loyalty.

“You can do all you want with the registers, and how many of this and that you’ve sold, but if you’re not going to be actually in the restaurant, and talking to the guests where the guests can see you …”

But when a chain becomes as ubiquitous as Harvey’s, does it become too big to fail?

“It’s not that it’s too big to fail,” he says. “They do a lot of research into locations before they go up. They’re picky on who they choose as franchisees; you have to qualify to be a franchisee, not just financially but you’ve got to be able to do the job. You’ve got to be evaluated to make sure you can do the job.”

The Waurechens, who live in Waterloo on the edge of St. Jacobs, say that they’ve been eyeing Elmira for a while. “We know quite a few people in Elmira, and we’ve always been told over the years, ‘You should do one in Elmira,’” says Peter Waurechen. “Our other restaurant was almost a half-hour drive from our house to get in every morning. We’re in Elmira all the time, and we saw the amount of traffic.”

“And the people are so friendly,” adds Gale Waurechen. “Not that Kitchener’s not, but it’s a very nice town.”

Thus began the long process of selecting, approving, and building on the site.

“This one was supposed to happen almost three and a half years ago, but it kept getting delayed, delayed, delayed,” says Peter Waurechen. “Finally, we sold that one because we were told in the spring it was going to start, but it was delayed a little bit again, and now finally it’s happening.”

The new venture will offer a different challenge for the Waurechens: it is part of a new strategy by parent company CKE Restaurants to combine Harvey’s and Swiss Chalet. Peter Waurechen says the head office has figured out a way to combine Harvey’s fast-food ambience with the more upscale Swiss Chalet brand.

“The idea is, where a town wouldn’t necessarily support a full-size Swiss Chalet or a full-size Harvey’s, they put them together. The Swiss Chalet is still on porcelain plates, but you order at the counter and they will deliver it to the table. It’s basically two businesses in one.”

The Harvey’s/Swiss Chalet opens March 31 in the Foodland plaza.

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