DIEPPE – The McDonald’s restaurant on 330 Dieppe Boulevard was bustling on Monday morning. Owner Georges Nammour was upstairs in his office. But 40 years ago, he started where many of his young workers are today – on the kitchen floor, making burgers.
In 1976, 17-year-old Nammour came to Quebec City alone on a student visa. He came because a civil war was raging in his home country of Lebanon.
“It was dangerous. Bombs were flying all over our city over our heads,” he said. “When you’re 17 and you’re in that type of environment, it’s very likely that people would enroll you and you’d have to get involved in the problem, which we didn’t want – neither my parents nor myself.”
To make ends meet, Nammour worked as a gas station attendant and night-shift cashier at convenience stores. He started working at McDonald’s at 19, making burgers for customers. He stayed there throughout university and was later offered the assistant manager position.
Having studied translation in university, Nammour realized that although he likes speaking various languages, the idea of working in an office translating documents wasn’t appealing. However, he was enjoying his McDonald’s job more and more. He continued to climb the corporate ladder, becoming a regional director, and then a district manager out of Montreal.
“Money is one thing, but it doesn’t drive everything,” he said. “So if you do something you don’t like, even if it pays off a lot, you won’t be happy and you won’t be able to perform.”
It was in his late 20s that he decided he wanted to one day own McDonald’s restaurants. He bought his first one in Montreal in 2010.
“At the beginning, in my mind, it was a part-time job. I didn’t think I would end up owning restaurants,” he said. “It took me a long time because I worked from the age of 19 until I was 50 in order to get my first store. And this is one thing people need to realize is things don’t happen overnight.”
Nammour said he was lucky that he met helpful people in his journey, including a McDonald’s operator that became his mentor. He said he’s also fortunate that his wife and two children always supported him.
In 2012, he sold his Montreal store and moved his family to Moncton to run four McDonald’s stores. His daughter stayed in Montreal with her husband. A year later, he opened the fifth restaurant.
Nammour owns three McDonald’s in Dieppe, including the ones at the Walmart in Champlain Place and Paul Street. He also owns the locations at the Walmart on Plaza Boulevard and on Morton Avenue in Moncton. Up to 20 per cent of his approximately 230 staff members today were born abroad. They include refugees, immigrants and mostly, international students.
“Being in the fast food business we need a lot of part-timers in order to fulfil the shifts. That’s why we prioritized the students,” he said.
He recently became a designated Atlantic Immigration Pilot employer, allowing him to offer a way for international students in Canada to stay.
“Immigration through the students should be the number one priority. Somebody that has spent three, four, five years in Canada studying, that has a degree that’s valid in Canada right away, it’s gold,” he said. “Then we should prioritize people that are already in Canada in different stages, and last, go out to get people in.”
Nammour is now a vice-president of the Multicultural Association of the Greater Moncton Area (MAGMA) board. Nammour, who speaks French, English, Arabic and Spanish, had initially offered to help interpret for Syrian refugees and various organizations involved in their resettlement. He said it’s natural for him to want to give back.
With the Syrians, it’s similar to what I went through – civil war, leave a country,” he said. “I didn’t come as a refugee, but it’s the same shock [of a new place and culture]. I felt I needed to give back because yes, I did work hard. But I was also lucky.”
Nammour said he realized that even as someone who is fluent in both of Canada’s official languages, immigration is still a difficult process. In his experience, although coming to Canada without his family was lonely, it was easier for him to make big decisions as a single person. This was not the case for many Syrian refugees who came with large families.
He said he wants people to know that immigrants are not threatening and they don’t cost the Canadian government more than locally-born residents.
“To me, it’s natural to promote immigration. To make sure there’s a bridge between the new Canadians and the older generation of Canadians. By showing them that an immigrant is not that different, it opens doors of communications,” he said.
Whether we like it or not, there is no way that Canada, and especially New Brunswick, could survive without immigration.”
With his business, Nammour is seeing possible growth in Moncton. Nothing is set in stone, but he has ideas for a possible new location as the population grows.
“You have a lot of fast-food [restaurants] and a lot of competition, so if there is any growth, it has to be a smart growth, not just taking volume from one location to another one,” he said.
Nammour is also preparing to gradually pass the business down to his son, who currently works with him in Greater Moncton.
To younger entrepreneurs and workers, he said it’s important to have a dream and to believe in it. Even though luck, timing and many other factors can affect success, he said consistency, hard work and faith are still key.
“Unless you realize that [your plan] doesn’t make any sense, stick to it and wait for it to happen,” he said.