Students Learn Business Is About More Than Just Burgers and Fries

by Harry Gill and Kristina Keymont
Class of 2015

Students and Olsen

Sean Olsen (far right) and students from Mr. Coyne’s Business Class


Students from the Alternatives Program went to the Five Guys Burgers and Fries in Braintree on November 6 to talk to franchise owner Sean E. Olson as part of a unit on franchises for Mr. Coyne’s business class . Olson, who owns and operates eight Five Guys locations, spoke about the troubles and opportunities that he went through to achieve the success he has today.

Olson was born in New York. His mother, who graduated from Le Cordon Bleu, had seven children, including him. Olson started working at restaurants at the age of thirteen, by telling the managers that he was sixteen. During his time working at restaurants, he learned more about cooking and food preparation.
After graduating high school, he went to college and earned a degree in teaching. In 1986 he graduated college and moved to California to become a teacher. He got into the catering business by bringing baked potatoes to eat for lunch every day that he made himself. Eventually other teachers became interested in buying the baked potatoes for lunch and his catering business grew from there.

Eventually he moved to Boston to make pizzas and subs, and was running his catering business out of his home. Once his business started expanding to doing around fifty weddings or events a year, he got a store front in Wellesley. When the catering business fell off, his brother called a year later telling him about this restaurant chain, Five Guys Burgers and Fries. Olson told his wife that he was going to Albany, New York, and when she asked him why he said “I’m going for a cheeseburger.”
Eventually he took his family to the Five Guys Burgers and Fries in Albany, and after that went to Virginia to talk to the owners of the Five Guys Burgers and Fries corporation. It took a while but eventually he got permission to start a franchise in the Boston area, with his first store being in Dedham.

Two days before the store opened, a man was walking by, and saw that there was a Five Guys restaurant in his area. When Olson saw the man jumping around outside the store and asked what he was doing, the man said he was from the D.C. area and was excited that Five Guys was finally coming to the Boston area. The man released the news to social media and the next day the place was packed. Olson now owns eight stores in Norfolk County, including one on Forbes Avenue in Braintree, with another coming soon in Quincy.

Mr. Coyne has been bringing his students to hear Olson speak since 2010. Asked about the goal of the trip, Mr. Coyne said, “It’s two-fold, in that students learn that someone from a modest background can become a successful restaurant owner and at the same time learn about franchises and how they work.”

Christa Shanley, a senior in Mr. Coyne’s class who attended the trip, said it was informative.

“[I learned that] anyone can start a franchise, as long as they have some money, and it
has to be in a business that you like,” said Shanley. “He taught us that partnerships are easier than sole proprietorships. I thought starting a business was impossible, but now it seems realistic for anyone.”

After speaking to the students about his success, Olson took the students on a brief tour of the facility, highlighting the lack of freezers, because nothing Five Guys serves is ever frozen. He then fed the students Five Guys’s signature burgers and french fries.

“The food was delicious,” said Shanley. “The burgers are juicier than anywhere else. And really filling.”

Despite all of his success, Olson explained his plans for the future still involve being in the classroom.

“I want to retire at fifty five. Maybe go back to school for teaching at a vocational school or something like that, or maybe just spend time with the family.”