A fast-food chain CEO ditches his corner office for flipping burgers at one of his restaurants. It sounds like a plot for a reality TV show. It is.
Andy Wiederhorn, the chief executive officer of Fatburger, recently posed as an employee at a Mesa outlet of his international restaurant chain for the CBS show, “Undercover Boss” which will air this Friday, April 5 on CBS. In the Valley, that’s Channel 5, at 7 p.m. local time.
“I really wanted to go in and see what was going on in the restaurants that I wouldn’t otherwise get a chance to see if I walked in in a suit,” Wiederhorn said.
In order to pull off the stunt, Wiederhorn donned a wig, a pair of glasses, mustache, eyebrows, gold jewelry and a hat as his disguise. He then worked for a day in the Mesa restaurant at 1641 S. Stapley Drive, flipping burgers, manning the cash register, making milkshakes and doing the dishes.
“It was shocking,” said Steve Ziemer, manager of the Mesa Fatburger where the show was filmed, about learning that his new co-worker was really the company CEO.
“But it was also cool to know that somebody in corporate was able to see where we stand, what we do each day, and the effort that we put in,” Ziemer said
Wiederhorn bought Fatburger in 2003 and became CEO in 2006, when he ousted the management team in an attempt to turn the fledgling franchise around. When the U.S. economy took a nosedive in 2008, Wiederhorn chose to expand internationally and now has restaurants in 27 countries around the world.
But Wiederhorn said the chain has not been doing well in Arizona, which is why he chose the Mesa location for “Undercover Boss.”
“The store in Mesa in particular has been an underperforming store and Arizona has been hit so hard by the economy that we found it to be a really good choice,” Wiederhorn said.
California-based Fatburger currently has six locations in Arizona and 150 locations worldwide. The company will continue to expand, Wiederhorn said, with 300 additional stores already under development, including 10 to 15 in the Grand Canyon State.
Ziemer said he hopes the show will bring more recognition to his Mesa restaurant.
“We’ve been here for five years now and a lot of people still don’t know about Fatburger,” Ziemer said, “I think some of that publicity will bring more people.”
After his appearance at the store and on the show, Wiederhorn said he implemented changes to help facilitate better employee/management communication. For example, he started a company-wide employee recognition system and employee-idea exchange.
It’s a move that Ziemer appreciates.
“A lot of time you don’t think you’re ever noticed,” Ziemer said. “You go on and do your daily thing, but corporate is never ever really involved on a day-to-day basis.”
For Wiederhorn, the experience brought back memories of working at his family’s restaurant during his high school years.
“To actually see the guy cook the burgers on the grill is one thing,” Wiederhorn said. “To get back there and do it yourself is an entirely different job; it’s hard work.”
But he won’t be leaving his CEO job for line cook any time soon.
“I’m pretty sure that after anyone watches the show they will agree with me that I am probably a little bit more efficient in my office than I am behind the cash register,” he said.
What: Undercover Boss
Who: Fatburger CEO Andy Wiederhorn goes undercover at Mesa location
When: Airs on CBS (Ch. 5) Friday, April 5, at 7 p.m.