Tragedy of Wendy's 'pink people': they gave it their all and it cost them everything

""What they've [said] that Therese refused or rejected their offers for help was a load of crap," she said. "She was all for Wendy's, absolutely all for Wendy's, everything the right way. "And then she saw that they were killing them and that's why she tried to make things better."
August 20, 2010

Tragedy of Wendy's 'pink people': they gave it their all and it cost them everything
Georgina Robinson


Shattered dreams … Danny and Therese Evans.

On Monday morning, Danny Evans will bury his wife, Therese.

Laid to rest alongside her will be the tattered dreams the couple shared of a better life as small business owners in the Hunter Valley.

Therese Evans, 48, died last weekend of a suspected heart attack, 10 days after she and her husband were locked out of the Wendy's ice-cream store they ran for seven years in Singleton.

They were not allowed to finish the day's trade; two Wendy's officials walked in and told Danny they were there "to change the locks".

It was the final humiliation in a four-year battle to stay afloat.

Mrs Evans's family believe the stress may have killed her.

So where did it all go wrong for the Evanses, a hard-working if somewhat naive family of four who moved from Sydney to get ahead and "enjoy life among the wineries" in the Hunter?

"If only she just kept Singleton, they would have had the perfect life," Mrs Evans's sister, Marie Camilleri, said.

It would have been simpler.

Mr and Mrs Evans ran the small kiosk to great effect for three years, picking up numerous Wendy's franchisees awards and endearing themselves to the community to the extent they were known as "the pink people".

Then, three years into their tree-change, at the urging of Wendy's HQ and with dreams of growing their business, Mrs Evans - who handled all the family's financial decisions - decided to buy a second store.

But the Cessnock outlet did not do well.

After falling behind in their franchise fees, with no prospective buyers in sight and no conceivable way of trading their way out of trouble, the couple went against Wendy's advice and walked away from the store - a move seen by the company as a breach of the franchise agreement.

But the family's solicitor, Ian Gray, says his clients – by this stage saddled with $500,000 debt – had no choice.

"They opted to close the outlet rather than continue to make a loss week in and week out," Mr Gray said.

"They have their own responsibilities as directors of a company under the Corporations Act."

That was in June.

Less than two months later, Wendy's brought the guillotine down on the couple's only hope of salvation - their flagship store in Singleton.

The company cited a debt of $7000 in franchise fees the couple owed.

"They've screwed her and ruined [the family's] lives," Ms Camilleri said.

"For [Wendy's] to take everything from them is just incredible."

Wendy's chief executive Rob McKay said in a statement this week he was "deeply saddened" by the death of the former franchisee.

"Wendy's decision to withdraw the franchise agreement with the Evans two weeks ago was an action of last resort," Mr McKay said.

"It followed more than 12 months of discussions over the performance of their two stores and numerous offers of assistance, which were repeatedly refused."

Ms Camilleri said the franchise agreement made it virtually impossible for the couple either to climb out of debt or to walk away from a struggling store that was hurting their business's overall performance.

""What they've [said] that Therese refused or rejected their offers for help was a load of crap," she said.

"She was all for Wendy's, absolutely all for Wendy's, everything the right way.

"And then she saw that they were killing them and that's why she tried to make things better."

Wendy's said negotiations between the company and its franchisees were confidential.

But Ms Camilleri feels her sister's family has nothing to lose.

She says Mr and Mrs Evans believed the stipulation that franchisees buy all their products – from chocolate sprinkles to window cleaner – from the Wendy's-nominated supplier was a key problem.

"Wendy's pricing was ridiculous and they were just on the take, take, take," Ms Camilleri said.

A group of concerned Wendy's franchisees is separately raising questions about whether Wendy's inflates the prices of supplied goods.

The group, some of whom knew the Evanses but are not acting on their behalf, have lodged a legal notice of complaint with Wendy's regarding terms of the franchise agreement.

Their solicitor, Tim Castle, said the group was not in a position to detail the specific grievances the notice of complaint raised.

But Trevor Banks, a member of the group who owns a Wendy's outlet in Mount Druitt, said he felt for Mr Evans.

"The business model of Wendy's just doesn't work," Mr Banks said.

"I've been at the head of the queue making complaints and trying to get some action in the last 14 months," he said.

In the Hunter Valley, life must go on.

Mr Evans has two sons to take care of. He has $1200 left and no job. His sister-in-law is paying for the funeral.

He blames himself for not sharing the administrative and financial burdens of the past seven years with his wife but stops short of blaming Wendy's.

"I don't want to make a comment on that other than I'm not happy," he said.

"I signed contracts and we understand that but when you're signing and you're all hyped up, you're not thinking of that end of it at the time - if something should happen, if the business doesn't work, or whatever."

Ms Camilleri said she hoped her brother-in-law was up for a fight. She wants to take back the Singleton store, which had an aborted reopening on the morning her sister collapsed. Mr Evans said it was too soon to say.

"How do you challenge somebody when you don't have any money and they can throw resources at it?" he said.

Ms Camilleri wants to make sure no one else has to endure the stress her sister did.

"[My sister] just didn't deserve this," she said.

"She went up there for a better life. They worked seven days a week for the last seven years.

"She was so proud to have achieved so much."

The Lions Club of Singleton has set up a fund to help Mr Evans. Deposits can be made electronically or over the counter to the following account:

BSB No. 012-819
A/C No. 440041084


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