Hero Certified Burgers

Promoting Uniquely Healthy and Sustainable Food Options

Since the opening of its first location at Hazelton Lanes in the Yorkville district of Toronto in 2003 Hero Certified Burgers has continued a momentum of impressive growth and popularity with consumers throughout the Greater Toronto Area – and far beyond – thanks in large part to the countless hours of hard work and dedication of its founder John Lettieri and the strong team he’s assembled around him.

Fast forward 15 years and there are now 55 restaurant locations, including one in Montreal and a brand new location in New York City, right in the heart of Manhattan.

The Canadian Business Journal recently had an opportunity to speak with the always outgoing and friendly Lettieri, who serves as both president and CEO at Hero Certified Burgers. In fact, on the day of our discussion he was transporting a large 15-foot by 10-feet black steer mannequin to a new location north of Toronto. The company is still very much in an expansion mode having had tremendous success to date and generating positive reviews from consumers.

“We’re just opening up in New York City right now in Manhattan on the Upper East Side,” begins Lettieri. “We’ll see how we do in New York City and are looking to expand more in the U.S. for sure.”

Since 2015 Beretta Farms has served as the exclusive beef provider for Hero Certified Burgers, which has always maintained a consistent focus on all-natural, fully traceable Canadian Angus beef burgers range-fed and farm-raised without hormones or antibiotics.

“With a strong mutual focus on how food is brought to the table, this new premium Canadian partnership seemed a natural fit,” says Lettieri.

With Beretta’s antibiotic-free Angus beef complementing Hero’s non-GMO burger buns and toppings, it pushes Hero to noticeably stand out from other leading burger chains.

The menu

In addition to their delicious hamburgers are many other items on the menu including Wild Alaskan Salmon Fillet, a 100% vegetarian burger, a turkey burger, a grilled chicken breast, a crispy chicken breast, a soul burger and all-beef hot dog . Hero Burgers’ French fries are never frozen, and there are scrumptious cheeses such as Real Canadian cheddar, Swiss cheese, blue cheese, smoked cheddar and goat cheese. The Hero Burger toppings includes crispy or sautéed onions, guacamole, fire roasted peppers, Portobello mushrooms, fried egg and strip bacon. The tasty sides include ultimate fries, sweet potato fries, onion rings and poutine. Whether it’s the types of breads, condiments, sauces or desserts, each have all been meticulously handpicked amongst many products currently available in the market just like the burgers and the other protein sources.

Lettieri and his team have continued to devise new plans for adding greater volume to the stores. Through intense networking with experts within the industry, he was able to source the best all-natural programs, i.e. hormone free with full traceability while also understanding the metrics of the macro environment, including sustainable practices. Each of these aspects is of critical importance to Lettieri and Hero Certified Burgers.

“Our proteins are standard and all certified Canadian Angus Beef. We have grilled chicken breasts, crispy fried chicken, Alaskan Salmon Fillet, turkey, hotdogs and 100% vegetarian burgers,” he says. “The numbers of customers are increasing. There is also a big increase on delivery orders.”

Lettieri has been known to travel to many various destinations around the world as a means of experiencing different cuisines to find inspiration and fresh ideas and it has resulted in a positive impact on increasing same-store sales. Lettieri and his team are always mindful of what sells and what does not through constant engagement with the franchisees and customers.

In 2018 Lettieri and his team are analyzing the company’s data on what should stay and what should be removed from the menu. This in its 15th year, the data on Hero Certified Burgers provides an in-depth understanding of what is popular with the public. As an example, the New York store that has just opened will be streamlined and there will be experimentation with a new fresh patty.

The staunch promotion of healthy eating through the use of non-genetically modified organisms and going that extra distance to provide such high quality foods for the public is essential to the brand’s outstanding reputation, but Lettieri and his team have managed to do so while simultaneously finding a way to keep meals affordable for families. There are special combo meals that can be purchased for under $10.

“Our average meal is $15. We have 10 items that are free of GMO and each year we add at least one more item to the menu either driven by our own initiatives or due to market demand,” he says.

Another method of saving money for customers is through the company’s ‘Deal of the Week’ offer, which has been extremely well received.

“We’ve introduced our App, which is very easy to download to a smartphone. When you get the App the individual receives a $5 voucher. People can then register with us online and receive weekly offerings,” explains Lettieri.

Expanding the Brand

Lettieri and the executive team are still very much in an expansion mode, believing there are many more regions where Hero Certified Burgers would be a resounding success. There are current franchise opportunities in Scarborough, Waterloo, Guelph and Kitchener but other cities are also being reviewed for possible addition.

“We recently opened a location in London and in Alliston and another on in St. Catharines and one north of Toronto,” says Lettieri.

Success is about building long-term relationships with both suppliers and customers. It’s something Lettieri is keen aware about and stays on top of each and every day.

“We have a great relationship with our suppliers. They are actually our partners and we work very closely on how we execute the food that we’re offering,” reveals Lettieri.

On the franchisee side, Lettieri always looks for a business person who will staunchly adhere to the best practices of the organization and add to the stellar reputation of Hero Certified Burgers within the public domain. In spite of the chain having grown so much larger over the past 15 years, Lettieri always ensures that he finds time to communicate with the various locations on a regular basis.

“The profile of the franchisee has changed quite a bit,” says Lettieri. “We’re definitely aiming more towards someone who has experience in the restaurant business and an insight on data and what it means to grab customers’ information and how we at head office communicate to our subscribers and our customers. Previously it was more traditional. Now it helps to have that business savvy because it’s become much more sophisticated.”

In addition to having excellent leadership from the head office the success of any franchise depends solidly on the individual franchisees that become part of the team.

“We find that a lot of people coming out of business school are quite savvy and looking to buy a business. The landscape has really changed,” notes Lettieri.

The general public is also becoming much more health conscious, which is something that will continue to benefit Hero Certified Burgers with its commitment to excellent nutritional value, the GMO promise and gluten-free options.

“We’ve had traceability in our beef and were really the first within the industry to do this,” Lettieri proudly says.

As a smaller restaurant chain it has allowed Hero Certified Burgers to develop very strong relationships with suppliers who are essential components to the process and overall success.

“They are our partners. We market with them, we brand with them and share social space with them. All their customers are also looking at where their food is coming from,” continues Lettieri.

Despite the tremendous success and pride he has in Hero Certified Burgers, Lettieri says taste is a subjective thing and recognizes that everyone has different likes and dislikes.

“But what I can say is that we stand for really being able to understand as much as possible where our food is coming from,” he says. “We have great partners and great franchisees who engage in this. We need to continue communicating to the public that our food is real and it’s good.”

Everyone associated with Hero Certified Burgers constantly strives towards not only meeting those high standards of food excellence but exceeding them and it’s been part of the mission statement from Day One.

In addition to an already hectic schedule of maintaining and expanding the company, Lettieri just recently introduced Hero Certified Pizza as a spin-off to the Toronto market this past March. The dough rises naturally for at least 24 hours with no added fats or preservatives with 100% natural beer yeast and 100% whole peeled, gluten-free Italian tomatoes. Each ingredient is non-GMO and non-BPA.

Delicious breakfast pizzas include such toppings as blue cheese, fig-jam, or a classic egg and bacon. There are also combinations of cured meats and cheeses and pies loaded with potato-rosemary-sausage and there is also the tomato-olive-caper-anchovy pizza.

Lettieri and Hero Certified Burgers are in the midst of a major push with the food truck catering due to a huge public demand. There’s also the burger box catering and a new breakfast menu, which includes the classic eggs, bacon and hash browns meal, or scrambled eggs, egg and cheese sandwiches and great coffee and organic teas.

“We’ve also now got an amazing burger box for catering. Our whole method of delivering for catering is completely changed,” he says.

Community support

Lettieri and Hero Certified Burgers are also known for their outstanding community involvement with local charities and organizations that desperately need ongoing support. Lettieri and his company have been extremely generous in providing assistance to organization such as Bikers Against Distress and the Hospital for Sick Children as well as the Humber River Hospital.

“When you give back it’s helping the community at large,” says Lettieri.

Hero Certified Burgers allocates prominent importance on building long term relationships with suppliers and customers alike. Canadian consumers are returning the favour by showing confidence and gratitude in having a tasty, all-natural option by visiting the restaurant chain in growing numbers. It’s not just about how they bring food to your table, but just as importantly, how it gets there.

This year Lettieri and Hero Certified Burgers put their support behind Mackenzie Health Foundation’s 4th annual Ride for Health on Sunday, June 3, 2018 at Copper Creek Golf Club.

Lettieri’s work is now and always has been a passionate labour of love. Most days begin at 5:30am in the gym and it often doesn’t end until 9pm when he finally arrives at home.

Upholding the highest standards begins with traceability, which is tantamount for Lettieri, who believes it is essential that consumers know where their food is coming from, including the conditions of the farms where the cattle is raised.

“Once we move outside the Greater Toronto Area we need to be strategic in determining what locations would be best for our stores,” notes Lettieri. “We’re going to continue pushing an increase in same-store sales. Over the next two to three years we want to be up by about 20%. Between the two concepts of pizza and Hero, I would say we’d be looking to expand by about seven stores per year.”

“The key word is commitment,” emphasizes Lettieri. “It’s commitment to the staff, the stakeholders, the franchisees, the brand, the food and the integrity of what we’re doing.”