Zambrero’s CEO on the franchise’s growth rate and the social cause that is its ‘beating heart’


Over a five-year period, homegrown Mexican fast-food franchise Zambrero has increased its national footprint by around 750%. The company’s CEO of more than three years, Karim Messih, spoke to Dynamic Business about the 12-year-old brand, including the humanitarian cause that has contributed to its rapid growth as well as its expansion into overseas markets.

Beating heart

“Zambrero was founded in 2005 by Dr Sam Prince, then a 21-year-old studying medicine in Canberra. It combined his love of healthy Mexican food with a desire to establish a successful business that also helped people in need.

 “Zambrero’s Plate 4 Plate initiative, which is the beating heart of the business, spun out of the work Sam was doing in the developing world through his E-magine Foundation. It was a not-for-profit organisation that provided IT facilities to underprivileged primary schools, with the aim being to bridge the digital divide crippling the ability of children to progress to secondary and tertiary education. Through this work, Sam noticed that education wasn’t the only barrier to these kids reaching their full potential, malnutrition was too.

“This inspired our Plate 4 Plate initiative, which sees our restaurants donate a highly nutritious meal to someone in the developing world for every burrito or bowl purchased. Similarly, for every retail product purchased a meal is donated to someone in an underprivileged Australian community via Australia’s largest food relief agency Foodbank. We have donated over 14 million meals + counting since 2005. Sam vision is to donate 1 billion meals by 2025.”

Competitive advantage

“The quick service restaurant (QSR) sector is increasingly competitive, with a number of new brands entering the market. In this context, we believe having a social cause marketing program provides a competitive advantage across a number of different levels:

  • it provides a purpose for the company and its employees;
  • it creates a brand position for potential new franchisees; and
  • it enables a point of difference in our marketing strategy as it helps engage customers in supporting a wider cause and making them feel that they are “giving back” and part of a larger movement to help end world hunger.”
Growth indicators 

“We’ve gone from 20 restaurants in 2012 to being Australia’s largest Mexican franchise with 150 restaurants nationwide. Queensland has been our strongest growth market, locally, accounting for around one in three Zambrero restaurants Australia-wide. Over the past two and a half years, we’ve launched 32 restaurants across Queensland, bringing the state total to 50. Success across North and South Queensland is due to the efforts of former rugby professionals, Shaun McCarthy and Shane Muspratt (now Zambrero Development Agents) who believed in the brand and chose to pursue their post sporting careers with the company.  It also down to the efforts of all the local mums and dads using the Zambrero platform to venture into business while supporting their local areas, communities and sporting clubs.”

Going global

“Outside of Australia, we have 15 restaurants across New Zealand, Thailand and Ireland, with growth in these overseas markets set to continue. For instance, we recently opened our second and third Ireland-based restaurants, and we expect to open a further four by September. Zambrero’s expansion is often led by contacts in International Markets that express an interest in taking the brand abroad. The rapid growth and success of our Australian business, backed by our strong humanitarian values, has generated interest from prospective partners globally. This has been the case for our expansion so far and Zambrero will continue to be led by the market and those who express interest abroad.”

Secrets to success

“The key factors that have fueled the continued growth of Zambrero, both in Australia and overseas, is our dedication to innovative, healthy Mexican cuisine as well as our passion for customer service is behind Zambrero’s continued growth as well as our Plate 4 Plate initiative.

“The strength of our product offering is our fresh ingredients, which appeals to consumers in the emerging global markets for healthy quick service restaurant options. Similarly, there is an emerging global trend of consumers seeking to be global citizens and, where possible, using their purchasing power for a greater good. The simplicity of Zambrero’s Plate 4 Plate initiative is attractive to customers looking to do something for the greater good simply by feeding themselves.”