The Lebanese Burger Mafia (2023) Movie Script

Where's my "Action"?
I want an "Action."
And, action!
This one's green.
What's going on with this?
the Burger Baron superfans.
I invited them here
to help me understand
their obsession
with the curious,
little fast-food chain
in the heartland
of Alberta, Canada.
Is this what you always order?
It's all my favorite things
from Burger Baron.
The Mushroom Burger
with what I assume
is Campbell's mushroom soup.
I really love the onion rings.
Love the sauce.
Nice, fat, crispy fries.
We just need to be quiet
for a minute.
Quiet on set.
Lock it down.
I'm eating over here.
Could you describe Burger Baron
to someone
who's never heard of it
or been there before?
The broken down,
I can't say that, but it's true.
You roll into town and you look
for the dirtiest place
that has a beacon
of hope shining on it
with a weird little man.
Go eat that burger.
The man on your shirt?
That's right, the dirty
little man on my shirt.
What I've noticed
about Burger Barons
is that sometimes,
they look a bit tatty.
They need a coat of paint.
But they can still put out
that darn good Mushroom Burger.
It's like a classic
diner burger,
but all of them are gonna be
a little bit different
because of the way
they've all drifted apart
from each other.
The best part about
Burger Baron is the people.
They've always been very polite,
friendly, enthusiastic,
and willing to go the extra bit.
That looks pretty good.
Can I have a bite of that?
-Absolutely. Sure.
Sorry, guys.
We can do this.
We're bubbled up.
This is my dad.
that's my father-in-law.
This is my dad.
That's my mom.
And this is the grand opening
of the Burger Baron
in High Prairie.
Our Burger Baron.
The restaurant changed
our lives forever.
It moved us up
from the working class
to the middle class,
and made it possible
for my parents to live out
the immigrant dream in Canada.
That's me in the middle.
As you can tell,
I really loved the food.
It wasn't until I got older
that I realized
my parents weren't
the only Barons on the Prairies.
There were dozens of them
spread around
small town Alberta.
And other than that one
Mushroom Burger everyone loved,
they didn't seem to have
anything in common.
Except for one thing.
All of them, every single one,
was owned by Lebanese
immigrants like my parents.
The minute you say
you have a Burger Baron,
the first thing anybody
will ask, "Are you Lebanese?"
Nobody really knows
who the owner is.
The Lebanese people came,
took it, and made it
the company that it is.
Is it cultural appropriation?
I don't know.
It doesn't say Burger Sheikh,
It's one
of the most recognizable
and beloved brands
in the Prairie Province
of Alberta,
with over 25 completely
independent locations
spreading from north to south,
and one in BC.
"The Burger Baron restaurants
"that were and are landmarks
across the prairies."
Alberta is known
for ranching, rednecks,
jacked-up pickup trucks,
but then there's all
these Burger Baron stores
that are run
by Lebanese families.
There was people, I'm sure,
that thought maybe
we were doing something illegal.
It's almost like
the burger mafia.
Their penchants
for big houses and nice cars
might make the barons
look like mafioso,
but if there's one thing
this mob isn't,
it's organized.
There is no actual system.
Everybody's kind of doing
their own thing
with Burger Baron.
Which might explain
how it became more of a meme
than franchise.
So what's going on here?
How did a loose network
of Arab immigrants
become a cabal
of burger impresarios?
It's a territorial business.
My Burger Baron's better
than his Burger Baron.
My dad is Burger Baron.
Your dad is Burger Baron?
-No, my dad is Burger Baron.
-No, my dad.
My dad was Burger Baron
before your dad
was Burger Baron.
It was once
an international brand
with more than 100 locations
in its history
spread across 11 provinces
in the States.
And there was even one
in Lebanon.
But the Burger Baron's heyday
is no more.
Even before the pandemic turned
the restaurant business
upside down,
Burger Barons were closing
at a steady clip.
They need somebody
to take over the business
who is enthusiastic about it.
This Burger Baron
will not be passed down to me.
I can guarantee you that.
Or my brother.
I am sure they will die off.
Twenty years from now,
maybe we'll have one left.
With the rise
of big-box chains
and foodie culture,
and a second generation
chasing their own dreams,
is there really a future
for the Burger Baron?
Kelly Saab interview,
take one.
So you're gonna be looking at...
Looking at me.
There we go, man.
Kelly Saab interview,
take two.
I'm the owner
of the Burger Baron
in Rocky Mountain House.
I got this business around 2015.
We went through a rough road
due to the economy,
- recession, neglection.
- Thank you.
And it wasn't in great shape
so I had to work it out
all the way from scratch.
I graduated in Beirut
in hospitality management,
and I worked
in different places down there,
but this business needs
sort of a stability
in the country.
When the war started,
we were just in the middle
of the peak time
of the night at the nightclub.
After years of calm,
Israel assaulted
the Lebanese capital
with air missiles in retaliation
for a guerrilla attack
that killed
eight Jewish soldiers.
Everything was just gone
in seconds.
One of my cousins
knows some people
that live in Edmonton,
and they have a couple
of successful restaurants
and they were hiring people
from overseas.
They got my number
and then they contacted me,
and we did
all the paperwork needed,
and I got approved.
Little did Kelly know
he'd been invited
to learn the trade secrets
of the Lebanese burger mafia.
It was basically destiny
that one day
he would have
his own Burger Baron.
Why do you think
it's Lebanese dominated?
It was owned by maybe two,
three brothers
and some cousins
or friends opening their own
in different towns.
And that's how
it's turned to be all Lebanese.
Kelly's not wrong.
It did start with two
or three brothers,
and some cousins,
or some friends.
And they were immigrants,
just not Lebanese.
They were Americans.
named the McDonnells.
That's McDonnell.
My name
is Terry McDonnell.
I'm the son of Jack McDonnell
who started the Burger Baron
in Canada.
I've heard different stories
about "They've started it."
It infuriates me.
It's just not true.
It's not even close to it.
It's just an out-and-out lie,
and I don't like it.
That's not the case.
My dad started that. Period.
He had a lot
of different businesses
over the years.
When I was very little,
the family went up to Alaska,
and he was building homes
for the government.
He had a lumber yard
in Great Falls.
He was always on a new idea.
There was a place
in Great Falls, Montana,
called the Burger Master.
It was my dad's inspiration.
And he went
and talked to them about it.
He said, "I want to do
something in Canada.
"Would you guys show me
how to do this?"
He spent a couple
of weeks with them
and just learning the ropes,
and then decided
to move from there to Calgary.
The fast food era
goes back a long way.
It was when the car
became important.
Not just one car
in the family, either,
but two cars, more cars.
That's what drove
the fast food era.
It was easy.
It was relatively inexpensive
to get burgers for everybody,
and everybody could find
what they wanted.
I mean, find me a child
that doesn't like French fries.
We all love French fries.
And burgers.
By 1957,
a new McDonald's was opening
every two weeks in America,
more than tripling
from just the previous year.
On track to have
100 golden arches up
by the end of the decade,
Jack saw an opportunity
to build the McDonald's
of the north.
There weren't a lot
of fast foods up there, then.
When he first built
the Burger Baron in Calgary,
the first one,
he went to a sign company
and said, "I've got this place,
"the Burger Baron,
and I'm gonna need signs."
And the guy said,
"Well, do want me
to design one for you?"
And Dad said,
"Yeah, by all means."
So he then drew up the Baron,
the little fat guy, colorful,
smiley-faced Baron,
and stuck with it.
Jack was so confident
that he had the next McDonald's
that he simultaneously
built a second location
200 kilometers away
in Lethbridge
and brought his brother Mandy
up from Montana to run it.
They opened them
on the same day.
They had a five
or six-speaker system.
May I take your order?
And then, past that,
was another six
or seven capacity
in the lineup for cars.
It would have been two
or three-blocks-long, at least,
until they closed at midnight.
It was neat to know
that this was happening
to our family,
this, uh, big success.
Jack invited
more relatives up
to run his burger joints.
And when he ran out
of family members
to go into business with him,
he took his next big step.
The financial statements
were so strong,
it was just easy
to sell franchises.
In the '50s and '60s,
it really was.
Everybody knew the Burger Baron.
It was a phenomenon
with its own championship
baseball team,
race team,
beauty pageant contestant
and quite possibly...
...the world's biggest burger
on order.
The sauce,
that was one of the secrets.
He didn't give it out
to anybody,
not even the franchisees.
They would supply
each of the restaurants
with the Baron sauce,
and so the recipe
wasn't on the can.
With McDonald's
still a decade away
from opening in Canada,
Burger Baron might have been
the fastest-growing
restaurant chain in the country.
In just over three years,
it grew to have 30 locations
in six provinces and two states.
But not everyone wanted
a Burger Baron
in their backyard.
We'd hang around there
and see if we could meet ladies,
or there'd likely to be a fight
or something
you could watch or get in, so...
We had an opportunity
to meet The Who
when they were on a tour.
And we wound up taking
Keith Moon
and the road manager of The Who
out to the Burger Baron.
We were kind of
long-haired hippies
and these two carloads
of what we called "Grease-balls"
came in,
and for some reason,
Keith Moon wanted
to go pick a fight
with these two
full of these local guys.
"This is not a good idea."
Maybe in England,
but if we try that,
we're gonna get stomped out.
Whether it was litter
or toxic masculinity,
people were quick to forget
about all that riff-raff
once they had a taste
of Jack McDonnell's
secret Mushroom Burger
and sauce.
The company introduced it
on Valentine's Day, 1961,
and it was love at first sight.
The first time I wrote
about Burger Baron,
I had been given an assignment
to go out and gather up
three or five burgers,
bring them back to the Journal,
and we would test them
for quality.
So off I went
in my little Ford Pinto.
I would have had
maybe a McDonald's burger,
likely an A&W,
and I needed one more.
So, whatever burger joint
I drive past, that's it.
It happened to be
a Burger Baron.
And I sailed in
and ordered the Mushroom Burger,
and the Mushroom Burger
won, hands down.
I have to say, it was the sauce.
That mushroom sauce
is important.
It's iconic.
First time I tasted
that mushroom sauce,
I was eight years old again,
back in my mom's kitchen,
and I can see her opening
that can of mushroom soup.
I'm mad for these
Mushroom Burgers.
My father made mistakes,
and some were big ones.
Number one, moving way too fast.
Number two, training staff.
He didn't train
the new franchisees well enough,
and the franchisees
didn't train their staff
well enough.
And that was a big problem.
There is a company
that we call a franchisor.
So they're the ones
who have the secret processes
or the trademark
or what have you.
And they sell the rights
to use those to a franchisee.
And the franchisee
then gets to use
the secret processes.
Maybe it's the secret
Mushroom Burger recipe,
they get to use the logo.
And in exchange for that,
they have to pay
either a regular fee
or usually part of their profits
to the franchisor.
And they also have to maintain
certain standards.
The restaurants
weren't run properly.
The franchisees
would add menu items.
Then you get a lot of menu items
and then the speed goes down.
Quality isn't the same.
Jack had lost focus
on the two things
that made it
an immediate success.
Good food and fast service.
He invested all his energy
into the brand,
co-signing on expansions
in major cities
with franchisees who couldn't
afford it on their own.
All because he wanted
to beat the other big chains
to the punch.
Betting on making Burger Baron
a household name,
Jack put his last chips
on two Montreal locations.
And when they went down,
Jack was on the hook
with creditors.
The Burger Baron companies
had gone through
a bankruptcy process
and voluntary liquidation
under the Companies Act.
I don't remember
any legal matters.
When they divorced,
Mom and my sister and I
moved to Lethbridge.
So, I assume that's when
it was all starting.
Maybe he was embarrassed
or ashamed.
You know, everything
was falling down.
With the franchise,
it had intellectual properties
such as the little Baron.
And the name, of course.
Those are
intellectual properties
that you protect.
And without protecting it,
people are gonna try and use it.
You have to sue to enforce
intellectual property.
But if the company
that has the right to sue
for trademark infringement,
no longer exists,
and that IP
hasn't been transferred
to some other entity,
then you're in a situation
where everybody can use that IP,
and there's nobody
who is going to be enforcing
their right to exclusive use
of that logo or that name.
In fact, at that point,
Dad gave all of them
the recipe to the sauce,
and he didn't charge 'em
any franchise fees anymore.
Without that recipe,
they'd all've been
in a lot of trouble.
By finally sharing
his secret processes
with the other Barons,
he'd given them legal permission
to keep the brand alive.
But in the mid '60s,
as McDonald's,
Burger King and Wendy's
prepared aggressive
expansions into Canada,
the writing was on the wall.
The chain couldn't survive
without someone who cared
about it as much as Jack.
It needed a white knight
in shining armor,
but it got
a brown knight instead.
Six thousand
feet above sea level,
in the land of Lebanon,
stand the world-famous
cedar trees,
the emblem of the country
and one of its
most precious relics.
The Middle East's Paris
was starting to unravel
as the country struggled
with influxes of refugees
and rebel factions.
Rudy and his younger brother Sal
wanted out
before things worsened.
But most of all,
they just wanted to go
to the Western Promised Land.
I thought the West
is the exact
perfection of humanity.
This is how strong Hollywood is.
The brothers'
only connection to North America
was an uncle in Saskatchewan
who'd migrated
decades earlier in the 1920s,
following thousands
of other Lebanese
in the North American prairies,
living as homesteaders,
fur traders
and, most of all, peddlers.
They had small carts
drawn by horses.
They were selling
different kinds
of grains, cloth
and trinkets of all kinds.
That Levantine ethic
emphasizes independence.
It's an ethic that emphasizes
capitalistic enterprise.
They went into business
for themselves.
For the Lebanese
prairie peddlers,
the destination
was always the same.
They worked until
they saved enough to open
a permanent business,
and start bringing
family members
out west, from Lebanon,
a process of chain migration
that created
some of North America's
oldest Arab communities today.
One of the things
I found really interesting
about Lebanese people
who've been in the province
over 100 years,
have been integral
to a number
of different communities here.
And it shows
some of the challenges
that not only they,
but other immigrant
communities have faced
in terms of providing
for themselves
financially, right?
I mean, you look at the history
of restaurants on the prairies,
and you see immigrant groups
who have been excluded
from more mainstream routes
to financial success.
Starting with
Chinese restaurants,
Lebanese restaurants.
How many small towns
have little Greek restaurants?
When I came to Saskatchewan,
and I said to myself,
"What the devil am I doing here?
"There's nothing
like what I saw in the movies."
And it was like you would...
A heavy heart,
like you wouldn't believe.
He worked with my uncle
for a while
and I only stayed there
for about three months.
When I came to Calgary,
I felt better,
but not that much better.
It was the first job in Winnipeg
just as a worker
in a restaurant.
It used to be famous
with the spaghetti
and meatballs.
Two Greek brothers.
That was in Calgary.
I had two partners,
and I was a third partner.
And when I was in Calgary,
there was a manager of Safeway,
and he told me there was
a Burger Baron for sale
in Edmonton.
So I came right away...
- Really?
- I didn't hesitate, yeah.
When you were in Calgary,
you must have loved
Burger Baron.
I'd never tried it before.
You never tried it
before you bought it?
I heard about it.
It's a busy place.
All I cared about...
He says he was taking
about $100,000 a year.
You didn't need to taste
the product
because the product
was obviously...
No, the business was good,
The money was the product.
This is the first Burger Baron
I bought in 1964.
In these days,
I was making $1,000 a day.
When I would put
the Mushroom Burger for sale,
it's a line-up
to 75th Street,
from 60th to 75th.
And they got the police
directing traffic.
You know?
Did you have to pay
the police for that?
You just paid them with burgers.
-Just free hamburgers.
-Yeah. Free hamburgers.
Rudy initially didn't know
he'd bought into
an orphan franchise
of a company in collapse,
but he couldn't
have been happier
with the realization.
It meant he was free to expand
and do as he wished.
Change the logo,
make up new burgers
pandering to local pride,
or possibly concoct a story
about inventing the chain
two years before Jack McDonnell.
This is...
Is not a Burger Baron.
This shouldn't say
Burger Baron?
I thought my father
was the inventor
of Burger Baron
until I was 15 or 16.
I realized, well, maybe
there's another side
of the story.
My name is Jamal Kemaldean.
I am the son of Rudy Kemaldean,
AKA The Godfather.
He always wore a three-piece
suit to the restaurant.
And that had a lot to do
with him growing up
from humble beginnings.
He grew up watching
the big movie stars.
Cary Grant
and Dean Martin, the singer.
They always had nice suits,
cigar, wine.
And that explains
why he likes suits,
cigars and wine so much
these days.
And then he always had
the big cars,
the big Cadillacs
with the Continental Kits,
gold-plated trimming
all over the place,
and they called my father
The Godfather growing up.
And like a true Godfather,
Rudy worked hard
to recruit the right people
to help run his empire.
That's Fauzi.
The tall, skinny one.
I came here in '69
to go to university.
He had to go to Lebanon
for a few months.
He asked me just to do
very little things
like deposit the money,
pay the suppliers and the girls.
So I thought to myself,
"I'll work and save some money
"and get back in university."
That didn't happen
because you get a bug
with this kind of business,
you know. You love it.
The Kemaldean empire
got help from Alberta's
newly discovered oil reserves,
and a wave of Canadians
racing west
to cash in
on a middle-class dream.
But another global event
would soon spread that empire
beyond anyone's imagination.
My name's Nazem Kamaleddine.
I came from Lebanon
back in 1976.
It was a civil war.
We had applied
to come to Canada
just before that broke out,
and then it didn't get approved
until after the war started.
It was my family and my cousin
Khaled Kamaleddine's family.
Their uncles, Rudy
and Sal had pitched in
to get all
their immediate relatives
to safety in Canada,
six families in all.
But the danger was highest
for young males
like Nazem and Khaled.
Militants representing
the minority Druze faith
were recruiting teenagers
to help fortify Mount Lebanon
against other
religious factions,
turning them against friends
and neighbors.
Lebanon is divided
by religious groups.
The Maronites, the Sunni Muslims
the Shia Muslims, the Druze.
And the political system tries
to appeal to different groups.
They established
an unwritten constitution,
that the President
of the country
will always be a Maronite,
that the Prime Minister
of the country
will always be
a Sunni Muslim, and so on.
So, whenever you have a system
that is based on religion,
some groups may feel aggrieved.
My best of friends,
they were Christian.
My best friends,
they were Muslim.
We lived together in that area,
you know.
And suddenly, each one
had to disappear.
We lose friends from school,
maybe three or four of them.
I was close friends with you
in school.
They just died
in the war, you know.
Your only way out is the water.
So we had to leave
on a boat to Cyprus.
It was in the evening,
and the boat was supposed
to be 100 people, max.
But there was over 250
on that boat.
I remember sitting on the deck
and water was coming in
from the sea.
We got stopped
by the Israeli boats.
Palestinians were in there,
and they were
just ripping up papers
and throwing them in the sea.
After we got
to Cyprus, I said,
"Why are there no bombs here?"
I was young.
I thought to myself
the war was all over the world.
I missed my friends,
I missed my family.
I tried to leave, to go back
to my friends and that,
but somebody, they catch me
and my family
and they got me back.
So they took my passport,
everybody's passport,
and they kept it with them
so you can't go nowhere.
More than a dozen
close relatives
awaited them in Cyprus,
along with their uncle Sal,
who was helping prepare
the family's exodus.
But they quickly learned
the sectarian conflict
had followed them
across the sea.
Our visa was in
a Canadian embassy,
and the lady was Lebanese,
the one who takes people
in and out.
Christians? Right away, go.
Druze, Muslims?
You're not refugee,
you have to bribe.
And we said, "We have no money,
how we can go?"
My uncle went to the embassy
and talked to the council.
If it wasn't for him,
we wouldn't be here.
My father and uncle
brought a lot of people
from overseas,
mostly family, maybe 25 people.
They all stayed at our house
and I really remember
enjoying all the action
and all the parties
he'd have there,
sometimes over 100 people.
With every drink of water,
with every bite of food
you'd eat,
it was always on my mind
how to get back.
My heart was there,
and my mind was there,
but my body wasn't.
I didn't go to school here.
We had to work
and support the family,
support the house.
And, of course, Mom and Dad
couldn't speak the language,
so we are the main supporters,
me and my brothers.
I've been with Burger Baron
since I was 13 years old.
And I worked with Uncle Sam,
and my brother
used to work with Uncle Rudy.
And then we finished
from one place,
we'd go to close another place.
Everybody was helping everybody.
Every one of them have
a Burger Baron, you know?
If not him, it will be his son.
Or not his son, his daughter.
The Burger Baron gave
lots of opportunities for us.
Rudy's apprenticeship
wasn't just for close relatives.
He gave away
the company's trade secrets
to anyone who asked,
and encouraged them
to do for their families
what the Burger Baron did
for his own.
It wasn't
just the Burger Baron
that immigrants co-opted.
Based on the Kemaldean success,
a suite of Arab-owned diners
had cropped up
under some crafty names
like Wemby's, Dairy King,
B&W Dairy King, and the Big M.
Though, that one
didn't last long
after the bigger M sued.
All, of course, had their way
with the Mushroom
and Baron Burger recipes.
With Burger Baron,
there was a great deal
of prosperity
that occurred in the community
as a result of selling fast food
for people who need it,
and people were needing it
at that time.
My first restaurant,
I opened in Lebanon,
before I came to Canada.
It was in 1981.
It was Lebanese food.
I ran that place
for only one year
because Israel came
to Lebanon in 1982.
There was a war
where my restaurant is,
and lots of damage.
All the bullets and the bombs.
Everything gone.
There was a bomb
in our building,
and we were down
in the basement,
and the bomb comes
in the building and collapsed
on us with our kids.
They were four years
and seven years.
Indirectly, you are
in the fight.
The situation puts you in a spot
that you have no choice.
You play the survivor game.
And that survivor game, sadly,
it's religious in the country.
And the political point of view,
they manipulate it that way,
and they made us as an enemy
against each other.
Against the people
I grew up with.
When you leave the house,
when you say bye
to your mom and dad,
it almost feels
this is the last time
you are saying bye to them.
It is tough. I cannot.
Fuck, you brought me back
a long time.
We were hanging out,
playing cards.
All of a sudden,
one big bomb
came into the window.
Killed two or three people
in the same basement.
When it hit the wall,
the wall, it crashes
and threw out some stones.
It came to my side.
It went underneath my skin.
If it was only
two feet this way,
it could have gone through me.
When we came here,
our target was to go to school.
I was gonna go for dentistry.
I had in mind
to become an engineer.
I couldn't get the marks
to go to university.
Every Lebanese guy we knew
was in the restaurant business,
or we'd go visit them
in their house,
and they'd go to the business,
and then everybody has
a Burger Baron.
And we thought, "Okay."
Twenty years
after the company
was bankrupted and orphaned,
the Burger Baron
had made a comeback.
All thanks to this one man.
Rudy never demanded royalties
or kickbacks.
All he asked for in return
was quality control.
That might have been
too much to ask.
I got a uniform to my staff,
a very nice uniform,
complete outfit
and cost me, at that time,
almost $3,000
just for the uniforms.
They put it on
as long as I'm around.
If I leave the place,
they take the uniform off.
Once they see me
driving in the entrance,
they run and put
their uniform on.
The Canadians,
they kept it on, always.
If I'm in there, or not.
So, that's the difference.
Do you think
it would have been easier
for you to get them
to follow the rules
if they weren't Lebanese?
Of course.
Canadians or anybody,
strangers, they do better.
Rudy was generous
in his approach
to any relative, any friend,
any person that he liked.
And they came
and asked for the name.
He said, "Go ahead."
He has a big heart,
and I envy him
how he can put up with all that,
you know, with a smile,
with a helping hand, always.
You know,
when he gave everything
to all those guys,
he was happy to see them
doing very well.
As the carnage
in Lebanon raged on and on,
Burger Barons became a terminal
for other Lebanese people
displaced by war.
The owners taught them
the recipes they got from Rudy,
and showed them first-hand
what it takes to run
a successful family restaurant.
That's the secret recipe
that was eventually passed down
to my family decades later.
You know, I talked to your dad
about, um, you know,
about him finding out
that we were
a Burger Baron family.
And whether that changed
his perception of me.
Yeah, I guess,
to be honest, it did.
Like I said, I've always
felt favorable
towards Burger Baron.
And when I found out
that you and your family
had been involved with that,
certainly I felt that, "Hey,
"we have a bit of a kinship
and something in common."
It definitely dispelled
and allayed
a lot of the trepidation
I would have.
- And it did.
- Yeah.
For sure.
Because that's Albertan.
It makes you Canadian.
-No longer a foreigner.
A part of the fabric,
the DNA of this great province
of Alberta.
Hi, Baba. Did you get
your vaccine yesterday?
-Oh, yeah.
Did you ever sell Lebanese food
in the restaurant?
We tried one time
to make falafel.
And it didn't really sell.
Did you actually like the food?
At Burger Baron?
Uh, I think so. Yeah. Yeah.
You don't sound
very convincing.
No, I do. I did like it.
Do you remember
when I went to the restaurant
on my own as a little kid?
You were
about three-and-a-half.
And I didn't even know
you were gone
because you were supposed
to be playing
with your siblings.
And you just walked out
of the house
when I was cleaning
or cooking or something.
And then I get a phone call,
"Omar's here."
I just freaked out.
-Why did I go there?
-To get ice cream.
Beautifully done.
I have a question.
I worked in the restaurant.
I think when I was 10,
I was probably maybe taking
some drive-in orders.
And you put me in the dish pit.
You never let me cook.
How come? How come my brother,
my older brother,
got to be a cook?
I hated the dishes.
You were never meant to be
a Burger Baron.
Did you
originally want him
to take over the restaurant?
Was that your big plan?
To go through
what we went through.
So when you think
about that,
what do you think
the Burger Baron
has meant to our community?
It's free.
It's free knowledge.
Someone taught it to me.
I taught it to you.
The Lebanese generosity.
- Yeah.
- To share.
-You're right.
-To share.
That's how it is.
They don't cooperate
very well...
...but they are generous.
You all right?
- Are you pooping?
- No.
- At the dinner table?
- No way.
No way. No way.
There's no pooping
at the dinner table.
Burger Baron
is the perfect business model
for Lebanese who,
let's just say are famous
for their independence.
You can notice something,
if you go
to other Burger Barons,
each one is different.
Some of them... It's different.
They don't follow the rules.
Everybody wants
to be the CEO of the company.
I love this job.
-You do?
What's your favorite part of it?
I've been
to Burger Barons
where they weren't good.
I've been to Burger Barons
that were fantastic.
It almost piques their curiosity
"Let's go try Burger Baron,
see what it's like."
There is no actual system.
Let's say I wanted
to add something
to the menu
or take something off,
there's no head office
to say anything.
is a native reserve.
I support them
so they will feel at home
when they walk in.
We serve a bannock burger
and we sell bannock taco, too.
Oh, my God, why aren't
all burgers bannock burgers?
I've introduced a lot
of vegan options in this place.
Dairy-free cheese,
vegan pepperoni, vegan sausage.
I just haven't had the chance
to fully take on the reins.
She's the boss.
I like my freedom.
And I know, with my mentality,
I can't take orders
from somebody else.
is not gonna let you
-open up a laundromat inside.
The root is Canadian,
but the trees and the fruit
are Lebanese.
Of course,
it would be a stereotype
to say all Burger Barons
are Lebanese.
Some are Palestinian.
Whether Christian,
Muslim or Druze,
the syndicate is open
to everyone.
But there's an unwritten rule:
Never give
the mushroom sauce recipe
to an outsider.
Can you tell us
what's in the mushroom sauce?
What the ingredients are.
I don't like to talk
about that.
The base is the Campbell's
Cream of Mushroom.
That's right. And then,
you have to add things
to it, right?
-What do you add?
-You add the...
There's things we add to it.
-You're not gonna tell me.
-I can't. Ask your dad.
What's in the Mushroom
Burger sauce?
But just because
they don't share the recipes
with outsiders
doesn't mean there haven't been
any information breaches.
most of the burgers
are the Burger Barons burgers.
We get the same sauces
and even the same burgers.
What, the Burger Baron,
a long time ago
used to buy from my company.
What's in the mushroom sauce?
Nothing. See,
when you do the mushrooms,
I do it on the grill.
I'll show you
how I do the Mushroom Burger.
All right.
So let's see. It looks the same.
Something tastes off.
I think he's punking me.
Thirty-three years old,
or 34, I don't know,
when they first opened
the Burger Baron
in High Prairie.
I never thought
I'd see one of these again.
Did my dad know
that you just took
our menu?
Actually, your mom
brought it for us,
and then she was a big helper
-for us, too.
Oh. You know,
my favorite thing to eat
is the Putine.
Best Putine in all of Alberta.
It's a pretty nice hat.
Now, Ottawa may think
it has cornered the market
on shawarma,
and Halifax might think
it can claim the donair.
Alberta, though,
can certainly claim
the Lebanese-inflected
Burger Baron Mushroom Burger.
I would hear
about the Kemaldeans
and their restaurants
by other people saying,
"Oh, I drove through Milk River.
"The Kemaldeans have put
another one up,"
or something like this.
They had a huge menu.
The sauce wasn't the same.
The Baron, it wasn't the same.
It looked like somebody
looked at it
and tried to draw it again,
thinking, well, the name
is all they need
to be a success.
They had no...
Well, I guess
they had a right to it
because it was, at that time,
on the open market.
It was frustrating,
I guess, I should say,
that they just...
The way they do business.
I just wasn't impressed
with them.
of Terry's frustration
stemmed from unresolved feelings
about his dad
giving up too easily
on the company
after things went south.
In fact, Jack McDonnell
had continued with the company,
but as an independent.
After dissolving
the corporation in 1961,
he moved to Regina
to buy one of the original shops
he used to collect
royalties from.
He ran it with his second wife
as a mom-and-pop,
until retiring to California
in 1979.
He died a few years later.
I had had a steakhouse
in Lethbridge in the late '80s.
After four years,
I closed the restaurant,
stumbled around,
didn't know what to do,
and I thought, "Shoot,
there's no Burger Baron
"anymore in Calgary,
"maybe I'll go out
and start one up there."
I thought it could be lucrative
because of Calgary's history
with the Burger Barons.
Right off the bat,
as soon as I put the sign up,
it was good.
I got a lot
of people saying, then,
"Where have you been?"
A guy came in
driving a Rolls Royce,
came in and ordered a hamburger.
And as I'm writing it down,
he said,
"I invented that."
And he said, "Also,
I started this franchise."
And then I asked him,
"Do you know Jack McDonnell?"
And he then was very quiet,
got his hamburger,
and left.
I didn't know his name.
I know exactly who it was.
I first investigated
the true origins
of the Burger Baron
a decade ago,
and as luck would have it,
I found the originator
right away.
Or so I thought.
Sal had weaved together
a loose tale
about co-founding the company
with Jack McDonnell
and his brother Dick in 1957,
barely a year
after immigrating to Canada
as a teenager.
He told me
he was a silent partner
who'd come up with the recipes
in lieu of any
financial investment.
And his biggest contribution,
the Mushroom Burger sauce,
which he claimed was made
with secret Lebanese spices,
claims he now denies ever making
as well as ever
having told Terry
that he invented the franchise.
We did not say
we invented the Burger Baron
or we started Burger Baron.
We said we have Burger Barons.
So you never claimed
that you started
-the Burger Baron.
-No. No.
But you had in the past.
He told me that he was
the Burger Baron.
And I've also heard
from someone else
that he has said
the same thing to them.
Maybe they misunderstood
what I said.
Well, I don't think
that I said...
- I did that.
- Well...
-You told me...
-Yes. had started
the Burger Baron.
I don't know you want me to say.
So if you want to report that,
go ahead, report it.
You could report
anything you like.
In fairness to Sal,
he probably
wasn't the only brother
pretending to be the inventor.
There was a photo of you
at the Leduc location
where it was you
in your kitchen uniform.
And it said, you know,
"Rudy Kemaldean,
Burger Baron, 1955,"
which was years
before Burger Baron launched.
Jamal? Jamal.
- Your son?
- My son. Yeah.
I thought it would look better
to the customers, perhaps,
to be honest.
And wanted to make
the Burger Baron name
that much more interesting,
I guess.
Did you use to tell people
that you were
the Burger Baron inventor?
No, no. I never
even thought of it.
He claimed,
certainly to my face,
that he is the originator
of the Burger Baron.
He's the man.
He's the guy that came up
with all the stuff
like the logo and the food
and stuff like that.
Rudy was
a very convincing individual,
and he was standing
in his Burger Baron
surrounded by his children
telling me his story.
So I had no reason to doubt him.
Yeah, I mean, the story
sounds a little better, right?
The Mushroom Burger
tasted a little better
when you ate it maybe,
if you knew that story.
That was where
our mafia comes in.
That's about as criminal
as we got.
So many people came to Rudy
thinking he was
the Burger Baron,
and they could open
a Burger Baron,
and Rudy said, "Go ahead."
Whatever the case.
I used to drive
to various Burger Barons.
You ask for a Baronet,
heaven knows what you'll get.
We can't even agree
on our last name's spelling,
let alone, you know,
getting everything consistent
like sauces
and everything else,
You know, of course
we had our challenges there.
For Terry
and the Kemaldeans,
the inconsistencies
have tainted the brand name.
But for the Burger Barons'
stalwart customers,
the chaos might be
the best part about it.
The reason
it's so special is the lore,
the urban legend
that comes along with it.
It's a chain restaurant
that went wrong,
and the food is...
There's no quality control
between them.
The burgers are spongy.
But I love them.
What I love
about the Burger Baron
is it's so mysterious.
It's funny to imagine
all these burger chains,
sprawling out from one origin
and then disputing
who the original guy was.
- Yeah.
- "And the Burger Baron,
"who is that guy?"
Any other burger restaurant
that you can go to,
any franchise or something,
that magic isn't there,
that personality.
When I think of other
fast food joints,
it's all about
reproduction, right?
Everything has to taste
the same every single time.
You have your favorite
Burger Baron.
You don't have
your favorite McDonald's.
You don't have your favorite
Taco Bell or something, right?
The Burger Baron
in Redwater makes pizza.
Do other Burger Barons
have pizza?
Yeah, my parents'
restaurant was big on pizza.
Maybe sold as many pizzas
as burgers.
-Wait, your parents had a...
-Yes, I'm the son of a Baron.
-Holy shit. You're royalty.
-It's not everyday...
Sometimes when you walk into
a more modern or updated one,
it's kind of a letdown in a way.
What these superfans
don't realize
is just how hard
the Barons tried
to become the very thing
they despise.
Back in the '80s,
I invited a whole bunch
of Burger Baron owners
into Edmonton,
and we will have
our own suppliers
mixing our stuff,
and then I'll have
like a warehouse.
Everything comes strictly
for the Burger Baron.
We tried to get everybody
together to agree
so everybody
will be all the same
for all of them,
wherever you go.
His uncles Rudy
and Fauzi had twice attempted
to unify the chain,
but it never lasted.
By 1984, the Burger Baron brand
had been overtaken
and proliferated
by a handful of Lebanese
immigrant families.
Thanks to them,
the empire had never been bigger
and never more disorganized.
The civil war brought us
some of "the unwelcome,"
you might say,
in the business field.
They don't have
the first clue about PR
or being nice to people
or giving them
what they pay for.
So Nazem stepped up
and tried to rein in
the Burger Baron
for the family once again.
Rudy gave me the okay
to see if I can fix things
the way I wanted.
If he could do it better,
that's good for everybody.
You know, for me, for him.
He had no right
to even tell him that.
He could tell him
he could do anything.
He can tell him
to go to the moon.
But there is the problem.
"No, mine is better."
I said, "We put
10 different sauces
"and let a food judge pick."
But nobody would want to agree.
You know how the Lebanese way.
You can't put it
through their heads
that younger guys have,
sometimes, better ideas.
Nazem is grandulizing
himself too much.
I think
they were afraid of things
that will not go their way.
After I decided not to do it,
a few got together,
and they wanted
to do it themselves.
That's when I refused
and I wouldn't go with them.
Jamil organized
a Summit of the Barons in 1989.
And perhaps
because he wasn't part
of the Kemaldean family,
he successfully convinced
a dozen or two Barons
to meet in Edmonton
to hear out his vision,
including my dad
and Uncle Abdul-Aziz.
By the end of the 1980s,
small-town diners
like my parents'
had to contend
with name-brand competition
that had the advertising
and buying power
to price out the moms-and-pops.
The new franchises
couldn't register.
So it was just
like an association.
They could not try to unite
the name
and get everybody together.
There was so many people,
you know.
Some of them,
they brought their wives,
and it's just like a gathering.
Everybody was excited
about what, in the end,
it was gonna be.
They started talking
about getting
all the buildings the same
and as soon
as they started talking
about building the same,
nobody wanted to be involved.
Almost everybody
wanted to leave.
They said, "Okay, well,
don't worry about the building,
"we're gonna try
to join together
"at least when we buy
the groceries
"and the meat from the company."
And then
after that, he said,
"If I want
to keep going like that,
"I need to have wages."
He's gonna be in charge,
and he's gonna have
his own office and secretary.
And everybody started thinking,
"Hey, this guy is gonna fool us.
No. No."
You have your own place,
and now somebody
almost control your business
and tell you what to do,
and that's the worst.
I'm the owner.
And whatever happens,
it's my decision.
Jamil did manage
to at least get
that rebate he promised.
But without any assistance
from his fellow Barons,
he let it expire after two years
and then retired for good.
It was a good idea, you know,
if we went for it, even.
I think it'll work,
just like you have at A&W.
I would have loved
to see the Burger Baron
in a lot better way
than it is now.
But this wasn't the end
of the Burger Barons'
franchising efforts.
As the old guard
was losing steam,
a new generation
was making moves.
We knew that there is
an association or some group
trying to do the same thing.
It didn't work.
So I thought
maybe I'll try my way
and I called it Burger Baron:
The New Generation.
I wanted to change
the image of the company.
So I came up with this idea,
with the Burger Baron logo,
the New Generation.
I thought this was
gonna make a new wave.
At the time, there were 60
Burger Barons.
So I wanted to unify this
and put it in one agreement,
and one price for everybody.
Everybody loves it.
My cousins, my brothers.
A lot of people showed interest.
They showed me the support.
That's why I spent some money
doing the jingle.
Burger Baron
We're the hot spot
right here in town...
They love the jingle,
they want to use it.
They want to be part of it.
But when they see
there is an agreement...
...we'll take it back
to the good old days...
What I do here
is different than what he does.
"No, I'm not signing this."
Even within our family.
My lawyer advised me
it's too difficult
to franchise Burger Baron.
If you want to claim it,
you have to take each
and every person to court.
I ended up creating Best Bite.
So I kept the logo
and changed the name
from Burger Baron:
The New Generation.
How's that going?
So far, this is
the first location.
No one has ever paid
-to use the Best Bite?
-Not yet.
What about
your family members?
They like the logo,
they took the logo, they use it.
Maybe it's temporary or not,
but that's what I'm using
right now.
Every Lebanese guy is like that.
Maybe that's our brain
like that. I don't know.
I think it's a cultural thing
that we have
such a strong independence
that a franchise system
doesn't really work well
with us.
This fierce independence
has a dark side
apparent in Lebanon itself.
It's this chronic disunity
that pit party against party,
religion against religion,
and citizen against citizen.
Though the civil war ended
more than 30 years ago,
the tyranny of incompetence
spread through every part
of Lebanon
from hyperinflation
to basic services
like garbage collection,
electricity and health care.
It is, by all measures,
a failed state.
I am always excited
to be here.
It's a beautiful country,
beautiful villages,
beautiful mountains.
But with Corona for two years,
we stayed home.
And the situation
and politicians
in Lebanon is bad.
We will see what is going
to happen if all is settled
and we'll be glad to be here.
Otherwise, I'll be in Canada,
I'll stay there.
Boy, there's a lot
of clothes in this.
We do like to go
on holidays and rest
because I spend lots of time
with the Burger Barons,
working 18 hours a day,
every day, every week,
and you don't go anywhere.
Just a big prison.
About 15 years ago,
we started coming to Lebanon
four or five months here,
and four or five,
the rest, in Canada.
There used to be
a Burger Baron in Aley.
We used to go there.
And it's very good food
and we used to enjoy it.
All of a sudden,
when we came back this year,
it closed down.
It looks like something else,
like a butcher shop inside.
They still got the same,
the Burger Baron sign, in there.
officially retired in 2015.
But he gave up on being
the Godfather long ago,
with some hard-earned lessons
about loyalty and trust.
Most of the time,
they lose their business
because they never
look after it.
They go have a good time
and I get stuck
looking after it,
everyone I helped.
They put the blame on me
if they didn't make money.
So that's why, now,
even at that time,
they went on their own
and I was on my own.
Not involved with any
of my cousins
or brothers or anything.
My father, he's a very
generous, giving man
but that also opens doors
to, you know,
sometimes being
taken advantage of.
And unfortunately,
I saw quite a bit
of that as well.
We were having a hard time
back in the '80s.
He had lost a motel
he used to own.
He was spread too thin.
So without getting
into too much detail,
let's just say
if the Kemaldean family
worked as close together
as I wish they would have,
they'd probably
be billionaires right now.
Some relatives and others,
they never call me.
They come and visit
once in a while
if they need something,
in most cases.
I learned not to help anybody
if I am not too sure of them.
Do you think that the success
of the Burger Baron
was a curse over your family
and your relationship
with your brothers?
Well it turns out,
it might be. It might be.
Because I was successful,
and everybody thinks
if they open Burger Baron,
they'll probably be like Rudy,
they'll be successful.
But, I mean, you have to work
like Rudy.
Not go picnic and leave staff
running the place.
You have to work
and work and work.
Anything you want to do,
you'll have to do it right
or don't do it,
simple as that.
I had enough of the whole deal,
and, to me, I should learn.
And I did learn,
so I'm okay after that.
Rudy's decision
to pull back his influence
created an opportunity
for a new Godfather,
and one showed up
in the most unlikely form.
In 1996, two trademark
applications were submitted
for the Burger Baron name
and logo
from Regina, Saskatchewan,
and the applicant was none other
than Jack McDonnell's
widow Rikie.
She'd been operating
a popular Burger Baron
after his death,
and was preparing
to appoint her son James
to the throne.
When Dad died,
Rikie moved back to Regina,
then she built a new one
on the lot.
While there are many
fast food choices available,
McDonnell hopes his gamble
will pay off
and cook up even more business
for his locally-owned
and-operated Burger Baron.
I'm a capitalist
and I just wanted
to grow the business,
and hopefully
move forward after this
maybe to Saskatoon
and other markets after this.
- There you go.
- Thank you.
Ready to expand
to a second location,
Rikie's sons
had advised their mom
to protect the family legacy
once and for all.
Their trademark was challenged
almost immediately
by another company,
Kemaldean Food Enterprises.
But it wasn't Rudy
in charge now.
It was his younger brother, Sal.
Rikie McDonnell applied
one week earlier than I did.
- Just by coincidence?
- It's a coincidence. Yes.
The both of you decided...
-It is...
-...that it was time
to finally rein in
the Burger Baron
-after 34 years?
That is the funniest part
about it.
I said, "Rikie, you applied
one week earlier than I do.
"I could be spending
a couple of $100,000
"for lawyers' fees,
"and you could be spending
"a couple $100,000
for lawyers' fees
"and we will not get anywhere."
Rather than fight it
in court,
they decided to split
the territory.
Rikie would get Eastern Canada
and the US,
and the Kemaldeans
would get Alberta and BC.
Rikie talked to me
about it, and I said,
"I don't think you should.
"I think you should leave
that one alone."
The name is across the country,
you can't go back
to them and say,
"You owe me a whole bunch
of franchise fees,
"a percentage of your gross
in the last 20 years."
You know, that's not gonna work.
The evidentiary question
of who started Burger Baron,
who had the original IP,
is so lost in time
that it would be very difficult
for somebody to succeed
on either a passing-off claim
or a trademark
enforcement claim.
The corporation
had the rights
to the trade name,
and the corporation went under,
and nobody had it.
It was up for anybody
who wants it.
Anyway, they went ahead with it.
I don't think anything
came of it.
nothing came of it for Rikie
out in Saskatchewan.
She was the lone Baroness
running two
successful restaurants
with her son, James.
But Alberta
was a different story.
When we got the franchise,
that's when I got stern
with everybody.
Nobody cared about it,
as long as they're making money
and putting it in their pocket,
they don't care about what
the Burger Baron looks like.
He said, "Excuse me,
who allowed you
"to open Burger Baron?"
I said, "Well,
I allowed myself."
He phoned and he told me
he's the original owner.
I never said that I invented
the Burger Baron, or did that.
He said, "You know, the name,
"it's gonna cost you $450
a month."
So I said,
"You're not getting nothing."
See, that's the problem
with the Lebanese mentality
this way.
They cannot accept
one person in charge.
They cannot.
It's against their genes.
Whether he allowed me or not,
I'm not gonna keep it, anyway.
Until I see something legal.
I don't care who it is.
You should've seen me with my...
I fired my kids one time.
If I do it with my family,
do you think I wouldn't
do it to some nincompoop?
I didn't do anything.
So things went with the wind.
I became the bad guy
of the Burger Baron.
And Rudy is the Godfather
of the Burger Baron.
Although Sal Kemaldean
had bought into the rights
to oversee Burger Baron
in western Canada,
that didn't give him ownership
over the brand's IP.
When the company's
president James learned
his partner had been
misrepresenting himself
as the founder
and using his slogans
without permission,
he threatened Sal
with a cease-and-desist.
Soon after they resolved
their issues,
Sal resigned
and passed his company shares
down to his next of kin,
a Baroness.
My name is Tamara
Kemaleddine Anghel
and my relationship
to the Burger Baron
is I am now a 50% shareholder
of Burger Baron Canada.
Burger Baron's
been part of my life
for as far back
as I can remember.
I ran my own location
for 21 years
here in Lethbridge, as well.
So, it's just in our blood.
I think the biggest obstacle
is trying to band
everyone together
to realize that things
could be stronger
as opposed to having them feel
that you're taking away
from them.
And I think it's just a lot
of old-school mentality,
Lebanese mentality.
"I'm the best,
and why do you think
"you can do something better
than I can do?"
Whereas I'm not trying
to tell them
that I can do something better
than you can do,
but you've got ideas,
and I've got ideas,
and he's got ideas,
and she's got ideas,
and we put them all together,
and we can be something real
and something strong,
as opposed to just being a meme.
How realistic
do you think it is
for the Burger Barons
to come together and agree,
not just to elect one Baron,
but one Baroness?
How likely,
at its present situation?
Not great.
But I believe in the future,
and the younger generation
have the ability
to see outside that box
and that could become a reality.
I just don't think that women
in the Lebanese culture,
are given enough opportunity
to be able to do that.
It's always the men
in the control
and the women
are the silent ones.
Even though they do have a pull
and they do have a say,
it's the men that are the face
of any business that's been run.
In those eight years,
have you managed
to successfully franchise
a new Burger Baron?
-Not yet.
Do you think that owning
the copyright
then encouraged more knock-offs?
The knock-offs have been around
for a while as well.
They're not running
as a Burger Baron.
Some of them
have been Burger Barons
and change their names,
but I don't think
that there's any new,
recent abundance
of knock-offs, no.
The brand identity
is completely different.
The color schemes
are completely different.
And it's Burger Barons,
with an S.
It's not a Burger Baron.
I have faith that the brand
can first grow within Alberta,
and then other places,
I have all the qualifications
to do that, humbly speaking.
I worked in Switzerland,
I worked in Germany,
in Dubai and London
as a marketing director.
My childhood
was actually in Toronto.
My parents came down
to visit family friends
in Alberta a long time ago.
Every time I wanted
to come and have a burger,
I'll tell my parents,
"Let's go to Uncle Nazzi."
Little did I know,
I'm gonna come back to the place
that I held close to my heart.
I want to ensure
that the brand lives
in the hearts of the people
like it lived in my heart
as a child.
The newer menu is by far
much more sophisticated.
We've changed
the Mushroom Burger recipe.
So the secret recipes
for the rest of the burgers
isn't made available.
Unless they franchise with me,
then only will it be available.
I've actually trademarked
the logo and the identity,
and the menu, and the name.
I've been going back
and forth with my lawyer
on different aspects of it,
and what can hold ground
and what can't.
So it's really up in the air.
What about
the Burger Baron
parody account on Twitter?
Yeah, I've...
-You're not familiar?
- Okay.
- I know about them.
On Twitter,
there is a Burger Baron account,
and it's run by somebody,
eh, we don't know who.
He will tweet a lot of opinions,
profane and profound.
I love it. I think it's great.
It does give us a bad name.
And that's not who we are
and that's not what we promote.
I think it's pretty funny.
It's kind of raunchy,
it's not PG.
Not a lot of people know
that it's not
an official account.
You know,
we're a family-run business
and we support all franchises,
but obviously it hurts us.
It's not right to bash
another restaurant.
I know that's a fake account.
I'm aware. I'm aware of that.
Yes. I don't know who that is.
Is that you?
It makes us look like a bad guy,
that we're, oh, all about us
and only us,
and that's not true.
I find his humor funny.
Is that you?
No, Whallah, it's not me.
It's not me, I swear.
I tried my best
to get the mystery person
to come forward, clear my name,
or at least explain
their obsession with the Baron.
I offered them
the full anonymity
of a government whistle-blower.
But even revealing themselves
to a handful of people
was apparently too risky.
However, I did manage
to get a few questions through.
I can pass that to you,
and then you read the answers.
What inspired you
to create
the Burger Baron parody account?
"It was clear that the Baron
needed a voice
"and someone for the loyal
customers to rally around.
"All the corporate accounts
are boring as shit
"and ran by some..."
"...asshole with a popped collar
"and cotton candy vape pen..."
"...who has never set foot
in Alberta.
"People want..."
" get a dose
of the local culture
- "that makes it what it is."
- Aww.
It feels like he's trying
to hold on to a childhood.
"When did you start
picking fights
"with other fast food chains
on Twitter?"
"Look, the Baron has always
been fair to Harvey's,
"but the rest can..."
"...fuck right off.
"The social media manager
"posing as a redhead
or the clown
"trying to bite back
every now and then,
"but they're restrained by..."
"...the corporate
"...and a properly
trademarked brand."
"So what is
your actual opinion
"of Burger Baron food?"
"There isn't a Burger
Baron joint in Alberta
"with more history
and a devoted loyal following
"than the Baron."
"And for good reason.
"Not many people
can name their favorite..."
"But all Baron junkies can name
"the exact Burger Baron order
"they would get
and from what location."
"And if you're lucky enough
to have one
"that sells fried chicken..."
Which we do over here.
"Not sure why
you would ever leave.
"My death row meal
would easily be the fritters,
"fries and double mush..."
"...with the biggest bucket
of gravy they got."
No, the gravy is great.
We make our own gravy.
"Long live Jewel
of the Gravy District."
Obviously, he...
He holds Burger Baron
in his heart,
but I just think
he goes about it
quite disrespectful
to Burger Baron.
There is a certain
subset of people
for whom the parody account
is actually good advertising.
They kind of love the fact
that the Burger Baron
has been a bit of a shitshow.
I have no idea what
the appeal to that would be.
Because it's been
a photocopy
of a photocopy of a print
of a photocopy of a photo
that somebody took
on their Polaroid,
there's all these variations.
And I don't know
if that's part of the charm.
I've talked people,
tried to explain it,
because if someone sees me
with a tattoo of it,
they're like,
"What the hell is that?"
I'm like, "Yeah, no,
it's a burger and it's good,
"but it's spongy,
so it's kind of weird.
"And then also they put
"Campbell's mushroom
soup concentrate
"on top of the burger,
which is awesome."
And people are like,
"That sounds terrible."
And I'm like,
"No, it's really good."
Burger Baron represents
every amazing small town
in Alberta
and what it's like to live
in a small town in Alberta.
That's part of the amazing story
that I think is awesome,
that it's this amazing
immigration story
where people come here...
Could you imagine
living in Alberta in the '70s?
We're not the most progressive
place in the world.
I can't imagine how hard
that would have been
to be slightly different
than everybody else
and trying to fit in.
Well, you lived it.
I wouldn't
exactly say that I lived it.
By the time I was born,
my family was well-established.
But my parents lived it.
It's just something
they don't like to talk about.
Did you guys ever face
any racism or discrimination?
Not a slap like you mean.
You translate it to English,
it's not a...
You've never slapped
a guy, okay.
But have you wanted
to slap a guy?
You don't think people ever
got upset or jealous
that immigrants coming
into this small town
and really, you know, ascending?
I got the sense
from my parents
and the other
first generation Barons
that they were holding back
the truth a little bit,
either because they had
a business to protect
and they didn't want
to rock the boat,
or they just didn't want
to appear ungrateful.
When was the last time
you ate at Burger Baron?
I don't know. It's been a while,
but when my parents
came over last weekend,
I asked them to bring me
a Mushroom Burger.
Small towns
can be fertile ground
to start a successful business
and secure
your children's future.
But it can come
at another cost for them.
Thank you.
Nobody knows this better
than Nizar Watfa,
a Burger Baronet
who turned those hardships
into a persona.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Sheik Akbar Shabaz.
ever since I was a kid,
for as long as I can remember,
I had to deal with it
to some extent.
When I first moved to Lamont,
there was a quite a bit
of racism.
People would make fun
of my name.
And once they got to know me,
they kind of stopped,
but there was always
still one or two kids
that would say something
that was kind of
off-color or racist.
-To them, it was normal.
And they would laugh,
kind of thing.
But whether it hurt me or not,
I wouldn't let people see it.
When you bring it up
with the Burger Baron owners,
it's a completely
different answer
based on the generation you ask.
I think that a lot
of it had to do with...
Maybe they didn't know
that you can say something.
My dad was always worried
about us
because we're the only minority
in a small farm town, right?
So just to keep us safe,
it was easier just to keep us
in the restaurant.
My parents have
that old-school mentality
where it's like,
the family helps the family,
and it doesn't matter
what is going on.
But when you're a teenager
and whatever, like,
work is the last thing
you want to do.
When people ask me,
"What was your first job?"
I tell them it was slavery.
Because it felt like, you know,
they were just always
cracking the whip on me,
trying to get me to work
more, work harder,
but they're trying
to keep me out of trouble
and just make sure
that I have a good work ethic.
-Are you the oldest son?
-You are?
Do you think
that played a part in it?
Because my older brother and me,
we had very different
-with the Burger Baron.
Where like, yeah,
I was working in it
at a young age,
but I think it was more
about just teaching me
about the value of work.
But with my brother,
he was clearly being groomed.
My dad would always say,
"When I'm not around,
you're the man of the house,
"you have to take care of things
"and make sure everybody
and everything's okay.
"This is your job."
So, my brother took over
the restaurant in 2008.
He wanted
to take the opportunity
to do his own thing with it,
change the name,
and it surprised me.
There was not a moment
in my life
where I thought
about running the restaurant,
not even...
Not even a hypothetical.
I appreciate the fact
that it did so much
for my family
and me, personally.
I went to college
without any student loans.
I came out debt-free.
Why? Because of Burger Baron.
There were some cool perks
to it as well.
Nothing will win over
friends more
than being able to order
a pizza to their house
when you've got the munchies,
and have it there
in half an hour, free.
Just saying.
At the same time,
the Burger Baron
can be like a prison sometimes.
And I don't judge
my parents for it
because I know that they had
the right priorities.
But now that I have kids,
I can't imagine
how that would weigh
on my conscience,
to miss out on the things
that they're passionate about.
I don't think we actually
have ever really sat down
and talked
about what we wanted
to do with our lives.
We're coming up to it.
Here it is. I haven't
seen that sign in a while.
Was it hard for you
to dishonor your family's legacy
-by calling it "Boondocks"?
-The Boondocks Grill?
No. I didn't really want
a whole lot to do
with that name.
Nothing against
the Burger Barons.
I love Burger Baron food.
I love walking
into a Burger Baron,
but it needed to be my own.
There's that nostalgic feeling
when you're driving
through a small town,
a Prairie town,
and you see a Burger Baron.
You can walk in there,
and it's like walking through
a time machine.
I just didn't want that.
I wanted the town
to have something
that was a little more modern.
We wanted to have a place
where people can meet for work,
they can come on a date,
maybe something closer
to the city than a small town.
When did you realize
that you were being groomed
to take over
the family restaurant?
I had no desire to work
anywhere else
when I was younger.
I didn't want to work
for someone that I didn't know,
I'd rather work for my dad.
I just assumed it was because
you were the eldest son.
That probably had something
to do with it, too.
When it comes to the oldest son,
I don't know
if they expect more.
They definitely expect more.
Okay, they expected more.
I don't know if I wanted
any other choices.
But at some time,
you just accept
that if I want to provide
for the family
like Mom and Dad did,
then this was really
my one shot.
So when Dad tells me
in 2008 that the current owners
don't want to renew their lease,
and there's a possibility
of him selling,
that scares me,
knowing that my last chance
of having this as my own
could possibly be gone.
Did it bother you that I had
a lot more freedom
of choice, maybe,
with what I was going to do
with my life?
-A little bit, I guess.
A little bit.
And I didn't understand
why you had these options,
but with me,
maybe I was already,
like you said, groomed for it.
"He's already learned
these skills,
"might as well
take advantage of it."
A funny thing happened
after my family's restaurant
was renamed.
Another immigrant
moved to High Prairie,
bought up a rundown restaurant,
renovated it
and renamed it what else?
Burger Baron.
I know they're doing well,
and good for them.
I love to hear that story
of someone coming
from back home,
bringing their family here,
raising them
in the small community
where there isn't much
of an Arab community,
and doing their own thing
and being successful.
How could you not love
that story?
It was one of the last
Burger Barons to open
made possible
only because the man
who started it,
and has since sold it,
was a relative
of the Kemaldeans.
Let's try this milkshake.
That's a perfect milkshake.
Thank you.
You're welcome.
The family's
exclusive rights
have only prevented
new Burger Barons from opening.
More importantly,
it's done nothing
to stop them from closing.
More than a third
of existing Burger Barons
have closed in the last decade.
Including Rudy's
last spot in Edmonton.
Including Sal
and his daughter Tamara's
three locations
in southern Alberta.
Including the last two
owned by the McDonnell family
in Regina.
As big box restaurants,
upscale casual dining
and foodie culture
on the humble hamburger,
it made a last ditch effort
to keep up with the trends.
Yep, definitely.
I'm a little bit nervous
about it.
I do believe my father
would be 100% on board with it.
But the pivot to healthy
choices was not enough
to keep the doors open.
Starting a restaurant
in the '70s, '80s, '90s
just seemed
to be so much simpler.
Definitely easier.
It was much easier.
I was thinking I'll give them
empire of restaurants,
so they'll do very well.
And my grandsons,
I hope that do
the same thing I did.
Even if 50% what I did.
Now it's completely different.
It's harder, that's for sure.
Everything's so over-saturated.
There's so many franchises now,
you can't even keep count
of them anymore.
And not to mention
costs going up.
It's just getting harder
and harder.
It's not
just oversaturation,
but the hyper-industrialization
of the food industry.
Even if the Barons
could get their shit together,
they could never compete
with all the new chains
able to scale up
and spread globally
at record speed.
My kids were born,
and I was supposed
to take a year off,
but I didn't have the heart
to leave the kids.
Come on. Come on.
You can always make more money,
you can't make more time.
And time always mattered to me
more than money.
I never did go back
to the restaurant.
They got sick and tired
of selling hamburgers
and they wanted to spend time
with their families.
So I was...
I'm not gonna argue with them
if they want to work
something else.
For a few years now,
I've owned a finance company.
My brother and sister
ended up selling
and going into the corporate
world, as well, now.
There's good and bad
to that, you know?
It's good that, okay,
well, we can expand
to something different
and maybe better.
It's sad because it's kind of
like an end of an era.
It's sad.
Everything's gonna have
an end to it.
This Burger Baron was like
a constant in your life?
Yeah, absolutely.
-Yeah. It was like...
Pretty often. I don't know,
at least once a month.
-I was legitimately sad.
Yeah. It was like a piece
of my childhood gone.
Did you feel like, "If only
I went there more often..."
-If only I, you know..."
I didn't feel
like I went there too little.
I think I went there
the maximum amount
I should have.
My niece
texts me and she says,
"Hey, you know
they're shutting down
"the Burger Baron
on the end of Whyte Avenue?"
And I was like, "No. Oh, no."
"We're gonna stop in
and we're gonna have a burger."
I'm talking to the owner.
He's in tears.
I see people coming in
and out, and they're crying.
And I'm like, "What the hell?
"This is a burger joint,
and everybody's crying?"
There's something going on here
that I'm not getting.
"Why is everybody so upset?"
And they're like,
"Well, that you care enough."
And I'm choking up.
As my kids and I are leaving,
I look and I see the sign
in my rear-view mirror
as we're pulling out,
and I stop and I'm like,
"I need to be a part of this.
"This is too good."
So, first thing, I get it home,
I pressure-wash it
in my backyard.
All I can smell is hamburgers.
The grease is just lifting off
with the hot water.
And I'm like,
"I've made the right decision."
Can you tell us
how much you paid for it?
Twenty Mushroom Burgers' worth.
Honestly, I think
Burger Baron is closing
because it's not fashionable.
People see the Burger Baron,
but they don't see
the Burger Baron.
They forget to appreciate
what it really is.
And it's that burger.
It's that logo.
It's that smell.
And even more, it's that family
that came from the other side
of the world.
Changing consumer values
no doubt has a lot to do
with the closures,
but there's a bigger problem
they're facing.
The next of kin,
the Baronets and Baronetesses.
I wouldn't be buying stock
in Burger Baron.
How many kids
want to work in Burger Baron,
take it over, run it
and face all the competition
that they have
in the drive-throughs
and the this and the that?
How many of those sons
of Burger Baron families
want to run a Burger Baron?
How many of them
can even talk their own kids
into working there
during the summer?
I played a lot of soccer
growing up,
and I honestly
don't remember one game
my parents
ever watched me play, right?
Because they're always
in the restaurant, they can't.
They're not gonna leave
the restaurant
at 5:00 or 6:00 during rush hour
to go watch a hour soccer game.
Even though the soccer field
is just down the road, still.
You're just trapped.
You're here all the time.
You can't get away.
-It's a sacrifice you're making.
Like your family, your life,
everything, right?
For the restaurant.
It's drilled in your head
that you need to feel guilty
if you try to do anything else.
But with this new generation,
they don't have that.
There's hope for them.
They have
their own dreams,
and they're not the dreams
of their parents.
And you only have to be
a parent and a grandparent
for about five minutes
to learn the truth of that.
My dream is not your dream.
I was in my second year
of political science,
and then he had
his heart attack.
And, you know,
especially with us,
it's like, I'm the only boy
in the family
and that's kind of
a huge responsibility
in Lebanese culture, especially.
So, I don't know,
I kind of seen it
as a duty of mine
to just step in.
My dad just had a heart attack.
So with that happening,
I know my dad
would sell the restaurant
yesterday if he could.
But the problem is my mom
still wants to go hard,
go at it.
She would sell it
if the right offer came,
but she doesn't want
to give it away.
Alexa, four minute
and 30 seconds time.
People who run those things
are not about give them up.
But they will have to
either give them up
or find somebody else
to take them over.
And there's the problem.
I remember Mom waking me up
and she's like,
"You need to go to work,
your dad doesn't feel well.
"Something is wrong.
We're taking him
to the hospital."
So I came in, I see my dad,
he didn't look great.
It wasn't long after
where Mom called us and said,
"Hey, it's pretty serious.
"He'd had a heart attack.
"They're flying him
out to Edmonton."
And I remember going
to the hospital,
and he was on the gurney there,
and just looking in his eyes,
and thinking this might be
the last time I see him.
And it happened
at the restaurant.
So, it wasn't easy to see.
You know, it...
Talked to him
after they did the procedure
and they put some stents in him.
He said he felt like a new man.
He'd come and he'd still want
to work just as hard.
He'd come in at 6:00,
7:00 in the morning
to start organizing or cleaning
or doing whatever
he wanted to do.
Yeah. Are you trying
to do things differently
from the way our parents did?
How are you protecting yourself
against that?
I don't know
if I'm protecting myself.
Five years ago,
we started closing on Sundays
to have some sort of normalcy
with the family.
So they don't kind of grow up
just knowing
the restaurant life.
Would you want your kids
to take over the restaurant?
You have big dreams
for your kids,
but there's nothing wrong
with the restaurant life.
I know it's hard.
I know it's demanding.
I know you're here all the time.
And it becomes...
The restaurant becomes
like a second wife
or a family kind of thing,
a second family.
No, a second wife.
One of my four wives.
I know it's demanding,
but it's not so bad.
It really isn't.
I've been able to provide
for the family
in a community that I love,
that I grew up in.
It's what I know.
I guess it's what I love.
Because of a popular
little burger shack
that went rogue,
we were able to secure
a future for ourselves
and our children,
reunite with our families
and get loved ones out
of a war zone.
I wondered if Jack McDonnell
ever had an idea
of what his true legacy
really was.
He wouldn't
have realized that.
I'm learning
a lot right now, today.
I didn't know there's near
as many in the family
as you've suggested.
Like, I think that's great
that a group of people,
or individually,
they do well
because of the Burger Baron.
There may not be
as many Burger Barons
as there used to be,
but were it not
for the immigrants,
refugees, and foreign workers,
there may not be
any left at all.
Wait, wait, wait, wait.
Don't you want to know
how the Mushroom Burger
sauce is made?
So, we've got Campbell's
Cream of Mushroom Soup.
Oh, man, I remember
that can opener.
It's the same one
from when we were kids.
We're gonna take
our Tabasco sauce,
we're gonna add 10 splashes.
Worcestershire sauce,
we're gonna add four to it.
Soy sauce, a little bit more.
And then we're just
gonna mix it up.
So, really, it's just
these four ingredients?
This is it.
There's not much to it.
No cumin, no sumac,
no Lebanese spices?
Not a single
Lebanese spice.
It's not a pretty sauce,
but it tastes fantastic
on that burger.
Burger Baron
We're the hot spot
right here in town
People know our value
for miles around
At Burger Baron
you'll be amazed
We'll take you back
to the good old days
Great big burgers
And delicious fries
We offer so much
You won't believe your eyes
You're gonna love
What we do for you
We're serving value
At Burger Baron