BY KATHERINE MOREHOUSE
Mark Betts sat at his computer at home, his hands poised over the keyboard. He and his family had been stressing over the decision for months, and Betts had finally decided he was ready to quit his government job and work full-time on his food stand. He hit send, and it was done.
“I was scared, as we wouldn’t have a secure and reliable income, but I knew we would move forward with Country Fried and be successful,” Betts says.
Country Fried’s story started four years ago when Betts walked into a staff party with a batch of his mom’s recipe of fried wontons. Betts’ co-workers gobbled up the wontons, and they ordered 70 dozen of the fried treats before he left the party.
“They told me I had a good thing going, and I was going to go far,” he says.
Soon after, the Northside Market in Fredericton, N.B., opened its doors and Betts, with help from his wife Katie, bought a tent and two deep fryers and set up shop. On the menu with his pork wontons were recipes for Havarti cheese wontons, Mars bars wontons, and cheesecake wontons.
Betts took a risk when he opened Country Fried, and says he was nervous, but not scared, as he waited for his first customer.
“What’s there to be scared of? All I had to lose was a couple of deep fryers and a few days of my pride if it didn’t work out,” he says.
From the moment he opened his wontons became so popular that he soon had to hire another employee.
“Day two, I had to hire a worker to take the cash because I couldn’t do both cook and cash at the peak times of the day,” he says.
Betts held onto his full-time government job as he operated the market stand on weekends, while he also balanced out time with his wife and three kids.
Betts was a needs assessor with the Department of Social Development, where he guided people to who they needed to see, and helped them receive assistance. Last June, almost four years after he opened Country Fried, came the day when Betts quit the government job – the day he hit send on that email so he could focus on the new business and his family.
“I started thinking about quitting my government job when I was confident in myself that I could feed my family,” said Betts. “I left a pension and a guaranteed paycheque every two weeks, but I knew I had it in me to be successful.”
Betts also says that he doesn’t need a lot of money to be happy, and that spending more time with his family was important to him.
“It was frustrating at times. I missed a lot of times with my kids while juggling the [jobs] and I chose to go in the direction where I could be a good dad,” he says, “where I could choose when I worked so I didn’t miss a hockey practice or a dance recital.”
Betts says he still misses the odd children’s event, but not as many as before. He recommends that if you’re starting a business and have kids, include them in your business. He says his seven-year-old son understands business more than he does.
“When he takes the cash on a Saturday morning, he had no problem comfortably saying ‘How she goin’ man, what can I get for you?’ He knows that he’ll be rewarded for working hard and doing a good job, and he watches the tip can real close too.”
Country Fried has done so well that Betts bought his own food truck over the summer that operates in Miramichi.
This fall, he and Katie opened the Trailside Pub at Wilson’s Sporting Camps in McNamee in Upper Miramichi.
“Next up is a restaurant that I’ve always wanted to do. And I’m starting one Nov. 4 in McNamee and I’m proud of the staff I’ve come up with, and we’re going to create an atmosphere like no other,” he says.
Betts would like to buy another truck, so he can have one placed somewhere permanently, and another that he could drive to events.
“But for now we’ll just wait and see. We have tons of ‘million dollar ideas,’ we just don’t have a million dollars.”