Hawthorne said GYG, a Mexican taqueria chain, could change the perception of fast food.
“At some point, fast food became bad food and we were nervous about calling ourselves fast food. But we are quite adamant that we can be what fast food should be,” he said.
“I think people are concerned about what the more traditional fast food retailers are serving, whether it is fat, sugar, preservatives and over-processed food. GYG has no microwaves in the kitchen and prides itself its use of fresh produce.
Hawthorne, whose 27 years at McDonald’s began on his 15th birthday, flipping burgers in the NSW coastal centre of Coffs Harbour, said he didn’t need much convincing after that to take the helm at GYG.
He’s been in the job now for 12 months, alongside other ex-McDonald’s executives who joined the Mexican upstart some years before him.
On the board are Guy Russo, boss of Kmart and Target, and former McDonald’s Australia CEO; McDonald’s Australia’s first employee and former CEO, Peter Richie; and a former McDonald’s Australia deputy MD, Steve Jermyn.
Hawthorne said the board had only recently come to terms with identifying GYG as a fast food retailer.
One of the vendor’s major challenges is having to charge than some of its competitors.
“I don’t think we will ever be the same price as a McDonald’s or a KFC, but I think customers will allow us to charge a little bit more,” Hawthorne said.
GYG opened its first store in 2006 in the inner-Sydney suburb of Newtown. It now has 70 Australian stores, plus outlets in Singapore and Japan.
The company plans to open 12 drive-through taquerias within the next 12 months after a successful trial of the concept in Nerang, on the Gold Coast, which generated about 50 per cent of store revenue.