The contestants on Giving You the Business, a new Food Network program, are competing for a slice of the American dream—which comes in regular or supersize. Each episode pits four employees at a fast-food chain against each other in a series of challenges. The prize? A franchise of their own.
Formally, the show breaks no new ground. Hidden cameras “capture the mayhem” when these employees are confronted with a barrage of entitled whiners and lunatics (played by actors, naturally). Some faux customers demand help fishing lost cell phones out of garbage cans, while others figure that the best place to do some yoga is on top of the deli counter. Actors also portray hapless co-workers who require ungodly amounts of training. The company chief executive officer watches the footage in another room—a benevolent Dr. Evil, minus the cat.
What is genuinely surprising about Giving You the Business, though, is that all the aspirants are legitimately kindhearted and worthy. They have the up-by-the-bootstraps stories familiar to reality TV, but their individual stories are fresh, as is their desire to see other people on the show succeed.
Instead of drama queens who troll the casting offices, we witness contestants such as Stacey, who grew up in South Central Los Angeles with 24 siblings and has been steadily climbing the ranks at the pizzeria where she works. Nenos, meanwhile, is a sweet-faced grandpa with a bushy mustache who left Iraq for a better life. When he ends up winning a La Prep fran-chise, a Canadian sandwich and soup chain, at the finish of the hour-long show, his eyes well up and he doubles over in delight. “I don’t want to cry—I’m happy,” he tells the camera.
But should he be? The Food Network says the franchises are worth as much as to $500,000, but that assumes they remain viable, success-ful businesses. “If the venture turns out to be a money loser, it’s not really a good prize,” says Ambrosio Cantada, founder of Franchisechatter.com, who used to own a profitable UPS outlet in San Francisco.
Failure in franchiseland is common. Among people given loans by the Small Business Administration, big-name franchisees such as Quiznos, Cold Stone Creamery, and Nathan’s Famous all had closure rates greater than 40 percent over the past decade. And while many employees think that, given the chance, they’d do a better job than the boss, the reality is that most successful owners have management backgrounds before they open a store. “The vast majority are executives at other companies who decide they want to start a business of their own, and they want to align with an established brand,” Cantada says.
Still, you can’t help but root for the contestants. Consider Eva, a stern-but-sweet (of course) single mom who pays for a homeless man’s pizza and soda with her own money. “I’ve been there with my kids,” she says. “And when I have people like that, if I have the money I help them.” Maybe that’s Giving You the Business’s shortcoming: These contestants are just too nice to make for great reality TV.