© Photo by Terry Roberts/The Compass
Oppy's Diner restaurants in Bay Roberts (pictured here) and Carbonear closed permanently last month.
Editor's note: the following article was first published in the Feb. 19, 2013 print edition of The Compass.
An ambitious business venture that was supposed to change the dining landscape of many regions throughout the province appears to have stalled.
Renee Marquis, owner of Marquis Limited in St. John's, announced with great fanfare in July 2012 that she would not be renewing her franchise agreement to operate 10 KFC restaurants in the province.
Instead, Marquis revealed she would establish a chain of new family restaurants called Oppy's Diner at each of the locations, which included Carbonear, Bay Roberts, Clarenville, Marystown, Gander, Grand Falls-Windsor, Lewisporte, Deer Lake, Corner Brook and Stephenville.
The decision raised more than a few eyebrows, since the Marquis family had been associated with the ubiquitous Kentucky Fried Chicken brand since the 1960s. Indeed, only weeks after the decision, a New Brunswick company called Franchise Management Inc. (FMI) swooped in and announced it would open KFC locations in the same communities vacated by Marquis.
Now, less than a year later, and after what appears to be a very significant investment of time and money, the Oppy's Diner experiment appears to have largely collapsed.
The diners in Carbonear and Bay Roberts, for example, closed permanently last month.
Gander diner open
Attempts to establish an Oppy's Diner in Corner Brook also made headlines late last year when employees showed up for work one morning to discover security chains across the entrance.
And a diner in Stephenville has also closed its doors.
Up to late last week, the only Oppy's Diner still in operation was in Gander.
In contrast, FMI is making plans to re-establish KFC at the same premises on Conception Bay Highway in Bay Roberts. In Carbonear, FMI is building a new standalone KFC restaurant on Columbus Drive, and a grand opening is only weeks away.
According to its website, FMI owns and operate more than 180 Pizza Hut, KFC, Subway and Taco Bell restaurants in Ontario, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Illinois and Indiana, employing over 3,000 people.
Meanwhile, based on opinions gathered by The Compass, customer experiences at Oppy's Diner locations in Conception Bay North were mixed, though most had negative comments.
It was rare to see any significant traffic at the diners, some observers stated, and the concept being touted by Marquis did not catch on, despite an aggressive marketing campaign.
One customer at the diner in Bay Roberts wrote the following in email to The Compass:
"We as a family were very displeased with their service, or lack thereof. We were there an hour and still hadn't been served. So, what did we do? We walked out! The serving Missus said, "Did you enjoy your meal?" I said, "My duckie, we haven't been served yet!"
Bay Roberts Mayor Phil Wood, however, had a different experience.
After hearing largely negative comments, he decided to give Oppy's Diner a try.
"I found it really good. The service was good. The food was good and the price was reasonable," Wood said.
One well-known restaurateur in Conception Bay North said recently that a food establishment that did not specialize in either Chinese food or "chicken and chips" was unlikely to succeed in the area.
Repeated attempts to reach Renee Marquis in recent weeks have been unsuccessful.
At one point, Marquis joked during an interview that FMI was actively "poaching" her employees.