By Karen Mead-Elford, staff writer
OWOSSO HARDEE’S and Red Burrito owner Tom Taylor with general manager Lorri Matousek. (Independent Photo/Karen Mead-Elford)
In 1985, inspired by a Wall Street Journal article about Hardee’s expanding in Michigan and having in-laws residing in Ovid, Tom and Mary Jo Taylor bought the Owosso Burger Chef to transform into their own Hardee’s franchise. Tom Taylor had been a district court probation officer in Livingston County and his wife had been a juvenile probation officer. In a life-altering move, Tom entered into the restaurant business and continues as owner of the Owosso Hardee’s and Red Burrito to this day. Many people will recall, he also owned Hardee’s in Durand, but he sold that restaurant to Wendy’s approximately 12 years ago.
The general manager at the Owosso Hardee’s location is Owosso native, Lorri Matousek, who began working for Taylor as a 16-year-old in 1985. After working together for years, Taylor and Matousek make a strong team. When discussing his staff, Taylor stated, “Our staff is life family. We want them to work and have fun.” The majority of the staff at Hardee’s is within the 16-25 year-old category. They are encouraged to be courteous and professional. “We are all about community, great food, and great service,” said Taylor.
They actually are about community support. Both Taylor and Matousek expressed their enthusiasm and continuing interest in supporting their hometown base. “We want to have that coffee shop feeling; friends meeting with friends,” stated Matousek. A number of coffee clubs meet both daily and weekly at the restaurant, which actually falls under the ‘fast and casual dining’ category, and not fast-food. This detail may seem like a small distinction, but it is not. Every Friday morning, a group of 20-30 area Marines of various ages meet from about 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. Lorri, in particular, has worked hard to make the group welcome. The Marines enjoy good coffee, breakfast, and meaningful camaraderie.
As well as the coffee shop approach, Taylor and Matousek are involved in the community in other ways. The Owosso Hardee’s and Red Burrito was recently at Taste of Shiawassee and the Home Garden Business Expo serving food. They also contribute annually to the Community Thanksgiving Dinner, schools, bands, athletics, and area Scout groups. Both Taylor and Matousek have completed the Navigator Class through Project HoPE to help raise awareness for the community.
Times have not always been easy in the restaurant business. A corporate struggle in the 1990s led to the Hardee’s corporation announcing it was selling fifty restaurants in the Detroit Area. There are currently only 11 Hardee’s restaurants open in Michigan and only one that is both a Hardee’s and Red Burrito franchise: Owosso. The combination has proven to be popular. Hardee’s extensive menu includes a large variety of burgers made from 100 percent Black Angus beef. They even offer an All-Natural Burger made of grass-fed, free-range beef with no added hormones, steroids or antibiotics. The recently updated Red Burrito menu now includes a chicken and rice bowl with Mexican rice, refried beans, grilled chicken, shredded cheese, hot sauce, fresh salsa, and sour cream.
What does Owosso Hardee’s and Red Burrito do differently? Surprisingly, a large number of the menu items are created on-site from scratch including the biscuits, buns, chips, salsa, and hand-breaded chicken. It is worth noting that at 5 a.m. every single morning, someone is dutifully baking fresh biscuits. For those iced tea aficionados, the tea is fresh brewed.
“Our corporate target market is the hungry, young guy,” Taylor said. It may easily be argued that the local target market for Owosso Hardee’s and Red Burrito is unlimited. Everyone is, of course, welcome.