OAKHURST — As of this week, Oakhurst is no longer home of the Whopper.
Fans of Burger King’s signature sandwich now have to travel out of town to get their favorite burger after the store’s franchisee suddenly closed the doors and ceased operations Sunday evening.
At a little after 7 p.m. on Sunday, June 30, Burger King employees posted a sign on the front door stating the restaurant “would no longer be open.”
The Oakhurst Burger King franchise was owned and operated by Sunny Ghai, whose management company runs about 150 Burger Kings and Taco Bells in California.
Dexter Marr, deputy director of Madera County’s Environmental Health Division, said Wednesday that Ghai’s company formally notified his office earlier this week about the Oakhurst store.
“They sent us a closure letter Tuesday from [company headquarters in] Livermore,” Marr said. “Sunny said he was closing in Oakhurst ‘because of slow business.'”
Reached Wednesday at his office in northern California, Ghai confirmed the news but added that he does plan to open a new Burger King store soon in Madera. “We just submitted plans to the county,” he said.
Ghai’s family immigrated from India in 1994 and he opened his first Burger King in Pleasanton in 1999 after working for several years as a Burger King employee.
But in recent years, Ghai said that he has been closing more stores than opening new ones, especially in California.
The Oakhurst location off Highway 41 was operated as a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet until Ghai converted it to a Burger King in 2010.
“This state does not make it easy for small businessmen,” Ghai said. “Between higher minimum wage and health insurance costs for my employees and all of the regulations and threat of ADA lawsuits, it’s more profitable now for people like me to open marijuana businesses than burger businesses in California.”
Ghai said there are still six more years on his lease in Oakhurst, with an option to extend the lease period “considerably longer.”
“I’ve been talking to companies like Chipotle,” he said. “Maybe a restaurant chain with higher margins will have a better chance in Oakhurst.”
In the increasingly profit-sensitive fast-food arena, competition can be fierce. A recent press release from Burger King’s corporate office announced that the company planned to allow some franchisee agreements “to expire,” especially in under-performing locations around the country.