The American Dream survives pandemic, thrives in Southern California

SOUTH CALIFORNIA – When Stan Singh arrived in the United States almost 30 years ago, he was penniless and could not speak a word of English. Today, he owns more than 25 fast food restaurants and a 7-Eleven store in expensive Southern California.

Despite a pandemic that has toppled others in his industry, Singh’s franchise empire continues to grow. He recently entered into a development agreement to open eight The Habit Burger Grill locations in Riverside County.

Speaking to him by phone this week, the Costa Mesa resident, 47, seems energized and very busy. He charges his wallet: five Habit Burger restaurants in southwest Riverside County; 20 Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties – his latest store opened in Irvine last month.

Singh’s goal is to expand the Habit Burger business to 25-30 locations.

“I think we will get there in the next five years,” he said.

The “we” is a constant.

When Singh arrived in this country from his home country of India in 1992 when he was just 18, his father was already working very long hours in the United States in a 7-Eleven. After Singh perfected his English through complementary high school, he also landed a job – as a cook at a KFC in Anaheim Hills. The family pooled their resources, living together in a small apartment, and Singh eventually went to college, earning a bachelor’s degree in business accounting from California State University, Fullerton.

With work experience and a new business acumen, Singh and his father put the family’s modest savings to good use in 1998 when they bought their first business: an underperforming 7-Eleven store in Canada. corner of Wilson Street and Fairview Road in Costa Mesa, which the family still owns today.

“We were really lucky – we got it for a really good price, $ 50,000,” Singh said. “We had saved every penny to buy it.”

Singh was only 24 – the youngest franchisee in 7-Eleven’s history, he said.

To make sure the store was operating in the dark, father and son were the only employees – working all those 7-Eleven shifts themselves.

Eager to do more and loyal to the KFC brand – the company that gave him his US debut – in 2002, Singh opened his first good finger-licking location in Orange County. Other KFC companies followed as the young businessman juggled fried chicken and a wife and children who were the products of an arranged marriage by his parents.

The union means a new generation of Singhs will one day take over: two school-aged sons are already eyeing their father’s growing Habit Burger portfolio.

“They are really excited about it,” Singh said.

The recent agreement with parent company Yum! Brands to open eight Habit Burgers was an opportunity that presented itself to him, Singh said. KFC is also under the umbrella of Yum, and a long experience as a successful operator has apparently paid off.

“I think that’s why they trusted me to do this,” Singh speculated.

The pandemic-induced restaurant woes have largely bypassed Singh. The only rough patch lasted just a few days when the initial statewide shutdown was ordered last year. After the drive-through restaurants were allowed to reopen in the days that followed, Singh’s KFC locations exploded, he said.

“Last year has been pretty good,” he said, noting that drive-thru is now “king” in the restaurant business.

Ironically, Yum Brands closed its $ 375 million purchase of Habit Burger on March 18, 2020 – within a day of ordering a stay-at-home from California.

Singh’s many longtime employees have stayed with him during the pandemic, easing labor shortage concerns.

“We pay our people well,” he said.

Apparently, the American dream is still alive.

“If you had told me in 1992 or 1993 that I could only have one store,” Singh said, “I would have jumped for joy.”

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