HUNGRY Jack’s founder, Jack Cowin, asked fellow senior executives how the fast-food giant could let a “29-year-old single woman” run one of its franchises, a court has been told.
Early in 2009, in the lead-up to Hungry Jack’s opening a restaurant in Wangaratta, Mr Cowin wrote in an email: “What on Earth are we doing giving a franchise to a 29-year-old single woman?”, the County Court in Melbourne heard yesterday.
Mr Cowin’s correspondence was among a series of emails read to court on the opening day of the civil case between Hungry Jack’s and Toni Collins, who, the court heard, ran the Wangaratta franchise for seven months before she was evicted by the hamburger chain.
Hungry Jack’s is suing Ms Collins for $721,000 over her failed franchise, the court heard.
She has lodged a counter-claim seeking more than $350,000.
Dan Christie, representing Ms Collins, said senior Hungry Jack’s executives had failed to provide the franchisee with the training and support they had promised before she took over the new Wangaratta store in March 2009.
Mr Christie accused the fast-food chain of “unconscionable and unfair conduct” in its dealings with Ms Collins and said it had made a series of misrepresentations to her prior to her signing on to become a franchisee.
He said in one email exchange, the company’s then chief executive, Tim Tighe, wrote to colleagues “the deal with Toni is far more attractive for us”.
“She couldn’t do it and they knew it,” Mr Christie said.
Mr Christie said Hungry Jack’s had failed to inform Ms Collins she was not the company’s preferred candidate to run the Wangaratta franchise.
The court heard the company’s first option was a man who ran another franchise in country Victoria, and he had been offered a better deal by Hungry Jack’s, but had declined.
Mr Christie said in another email, the hamburger chain’s then national franchise director, Warren Honkey, referred to Ms Collins as the company’s “reserve candidate”, and referred to her as “Toni ‘Legs’ Collins”.
The court heard Mr Cowin – a board member of Fairfax Media, which owns The Border Mail — said Ms Collins was an unacceptable candidate to run a franchise.
Mr Christie said Ms Collins was told she would be trained on how to run a franchise, but by the time the store opened, she had undergone less than three weeks’ training when the company’s policies dictated she had required a minimum six months.
The court heard Ms Collins was also strung along by Hungry Jack’s executives for months before she was finally made a franchisee.
Mr Christie said in January 2009, Ms Collins was summonsed from a holiday in Queensland to a meeting in Sydney, where she was told by executives she had to decide “then and there” whether to take up the offer.
The court heard Ms Collins was not permitted to consult her lawyer, accountant or any family members at the time.
Mr Christie said Hungry Jack’s had set Ms Collins up for failure and her business was “doomed from the outset”. She was evicted by Hungry Jack’s in October 2009 and the company took control of the store, the court heard.
Counsel for Hungry Jack’s is yet to open its case.