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Franchise Players: Wayback Burgers Franchisee on the Power of Customer Service Howard Zeller lets history be his guide as a franchisee at this nostalgic burger joint.

By Kate Taylor

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Franchise Players is Entrepreneur's Q&A interview column that puts the spotlight on franchisees. If you're a franchisee with advice and tips to share, email

Every day has a little bit of Throwback Thursday flair for Howard Zeller. As a Wayback Burger franchisee, Zeller is all about taking restaurants back to a simpler time and place. Since opening his restaurant in 2011, Zeller has been determined to bring his community together through the nostalgic American burger joint. Here's what he has learned along the way.

Wayback Burger - Howard Zeller
Howard Zeller
Image credit: Howard Zeller

Name: Howard Zeller

Franchise owned (location): Wayback Burgers in East Northport, N.Y.

How long have you owned a franchise?

I bought the franchise in January of 2010, and opened in July of 2011.

Why franchising?

After spending the majority of my career in the jewelry industry, I had a desire to go back to owning my own business and creating my own success. I decided a structured entrepreneurial venture was the right option for me because there is a formula for success.

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What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?

I spent over 35 years working in the jewelry industry and I was ready for a change. I have always had a special place in my heart for a good burger and during my travels as a jeweler I found it difficult to find a good burger anywhere. After committing to making a change, it only made sense to pursue the booming fast-casual burger segment.

Why did you choose this particular franchise?

The number one reason I chose Wayback Burgers was because of the people. The strong corporate backing of the company rooted in history, principles, and its people far outweigh the concept of just selling burgers. Wayback Burgers' commitment to ongoing support, paired with its world-class Wayback University training program help franchisees establish and grow their business for long-term success. You have to remember that these are the people you will be working with day-in and day-out. They are your support system.

In addition to the great people was the great food. On my Discovery Day visit back in fall of 2009, the team took us out to a Wayback Burgers location to try the food. I was already sold on the people at that point, but one bite of a Wayback Burger sealed the deal for me. The combination of high-quality food and great people made sense.

How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?

With everything factored in, I would say $300,000 which includes the franchise fee, the permit, the architect, signs, equipment, build-out etc.

Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?

My research was a combination of online studying, visiting other burger concepts and communicating with current Wayback Burgers' franchisees. By doing this, I was able to compare price breakdowns, products, design, and learn first-hand what it required of a business owner to run a Wayback Burgers. While most people simply research online, I highly recommended going beyond the computer screen, stepping into various locations, and talking with the people who do this for a living.

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What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?

The most unexpected challenge was acquiring building permits with the city which prolonged our opening and created added expenses. It was difficult waiting on the permit for the official green light, when we knew we could have been open and operating far sooner. It took approximately nine months since signing the lease to get the permit.

What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?

Get involved and be active with the franchise. I am personally on the National Franchisee Advisory Committee, the Marketing Committee, and the Menu Committee, among others. Being able to sit in on the day-to-day conversations with the corporate office, I am able to understand and be a part of the business from the inside out. Working in the store has provided me a unique experience to share with the corporate team the things that are happening on the ground level and voice my opinion. Being involved in the franchise allows you to be part of change, growth and the overall success of the company. You can make a difference and help the franchise grow.

Customer service pays off. As a franchisee, you have to be determined to bring your community together through your concept. Consider hosting fundraisers, partnering with local schools, and offering community customer loyalty programs.

What's next for you and your business?

We are so excited to have brought this fast-casual concept to East Northport providing the community an opportunity enjoy delicious and fresh, hand-made burgers and hand-dipped milkshakes the Wayback way, amidst an atmosphere that hearkens back to a simpler place and time when customer service meant something, and everyone felt the warmth of the community. We have been lucky enough to see a sales increase of 7 percent just in the past year and we expect a record breaking year in 2014. The future holds more great success, new innovative menu options and loyalty programs to bring the community back for more, and expansion plans bring additional locations to the area in the coming years.

Related: Franchise Players: Franchising as the Perfect Side-Gig

Kate Taylor

Staff Writer. Covers franchise-related trends and topics.

Kate Taylor is a staff writer covering franchises for Related areas of interest include chain restaurants, franchisee profiles and food trends. Get in touch with tips and feedback via email at or on Twitter at @Kate_H_Taylor. 

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