While sports writing has always been author Danny Gallagher’s forte, the award-winning writer decided to switch gears for his latest project, Genius. After seven baseball-centric books and slews of newspaper, magazine and website articles, not to mention TV commercial and movie writing, Gallagher — a noted Montreal Expos historian — set his sights on one of the most humble and reclusive business moguls of our generation, Rick Mauran, who helped create such famous brands as Swiss Chalet, Harvey’s, Mackenzie Financial, Elizabeth Arden, and other successful companies.
“I’m a general news junkie, and people know me as a baseball book writer, but this is something up my alley, too. I have always been curious about business stories and how different companies like Swiss Chalet got started,” Gallagher said during a phone interview from his home in Oshawa, Ontario. “Rick Mauran is largely unknown in Canada because he’s never talked to the media before he talked to me. I was probably the first reporter he ever talked to. Other people tried to get a hold of him, so I thought, I’m going to be a bit aggressive and I called him at his home in Florida. One day, he picked up the phone and was willing to talk to me. I told him I was working on this book and I had a few questions, and that’s where it started.”
Several more conversations ensued, along with a meeting in Ft. Lauderdale. “He’s a shy reclusive guy who doesn’t say much. Even his friends I talked to said he hardly ever says a word. One friend said he almost needed a pair of pliers to get information out of him. And still, he’s very well-respected,” Gallagher said.
Mauran co-founded Swiss Chalet in 1954, opening the flagship restaurant location in Toronto after working at his father’s restaurant, Chalet Bar-B-Q, in Montreal, where he grew up. He was intrigued by the Swiss method of roasting chicken on a spit over an open flame. It was a rousing success despite his formal lack of business know-how, and five years later, he co-founded the popular Harvey’s fast food chain. Many other successful business ventures ensued. He helped form Mackenzie Financial and, along with several partners, helped keep the Ontario-based pet care chain Pet-Valu from going out of business. Both Swiss Chalet and Harvey’s were sold to Cara Operations in 1977, and today, there are more than 200 Swiss Chalet restaurants across the country, and Harvey’s has become the second largest Canadian-established chain as well. Both celebrate milestone anniversaries this year, which was perfect timing for the release of Genius. “Rick is a great success story whose brands are still prominent in the Canadian landscape,” Gallagher said.
Today, Mauran is in his 80s and splits his time amongst his five worldwide properties. While the business mogul was willing to open up more with Gallagher than anyone else in the past, he still retained some anonymity. “One thing he wouldn’t let me do it take his photograph,” Gallagher said.
Genius is being sold in Montreal at Chapters/Indigo locations as well as online. You can meet Gallagher and get a copy of his book at his upcoming book signings on Saturday, June 29 at Chapters in Pointe-Claire from 1-4 pm, and on Sunday, June 30 at the downtown Indigo store on McGill College from 11 am -3 pm.