Honey Baked Ham Franchise In El Paso Gears Up For Christmas Rush

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Tamales not the only holiday tradition

Bernd and Irma Curran are trying to give tamales a run for the money with their newest venture.

Two years ago, they bought the HoneyBaked Ham Co., franchise in El Paso, which has been in operation on the West Side for five years.

The Christmas season food tradition in these parts is tamales and menudo, noted Bernd Curran. But the store has a long list of customers who have a Christmas tradition of giving or serving hams, he said. Some of those customers serve tamales too, because ham and tamales go well together, he said.

"We'll have big lines Sunday, Monday and Tuesday (Christmas Eve)," Bernd said. "Christmas Eve is our biggest day. We'll sell over 1,000 hams easy, and about 200 turkeys (breasts)," plus numerous side dishes.

Companies also buy hams, Curran said. An El Paso company, which he didn't want to name, each year buys about 600 hams to give to employees as Christmas presents, he said.

About half the store's annual sales come during Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter, Curran said. But Thanksgiving to Christmas is prime time, he said.

A cafe inside the store, which sells ham and turkey sandwiches and salads, and catering help boost sales during slower times of the year, he said.

Ham prices range from around $33 for a 4-pound mini-ham up to $95 for a 12-pound half ham, Curran said. Half hams, which come in various sizes, are the best sellers, he said. Only a handful of huge, whole hams are sold because those can cost $170 or more, he said.

The El Paso store, tucked into a West Side shopping center at 6600 N. Mesa, is one of 421 HoneyBaked Ham stores in the nation, including 187 franchised stores. The company also has about 300 pop-up stores at malls, grocery stores and other locations during this Christmas season, said Melissa McFarlin, director of franchise development. El Paso has no pop-up stores.

The 56-year-old, Atlanta-based company adds several stores each year, McFarlin said. It expects to add 13 to 15 franchised locations next year, she said.

The Currans are now looking at the possibility of adding an East Side location next year.

"El Paso is a good market with many possibilities for expansion with either a second location or additional seasonal locations," McFarlin said.

Bernd Curran, 54, spent about 20 years as a manager in the manufacturing industry in Mexico. Irma Curran, 44, worked years ago as an office manager in her hometown of Juarez. Bernd Curran also operates the El Paso franchise for ServiceMaster, which does cleanups for flooding and fires.

The Currans bought the HoneyBaked Ham franchise when the original owners decided to sell and move back to San Antonio, Curran said. He didn't divulge what they paid for the franchise. Buying a franchise directly from HoneyBaked Ham costs $279,000 to $409,000, depending on a number of factors, McFarlin said.

HoneyBaked Ham Co., still owned by the founder's family, does not divulge annual sales. But the bulk of its sales come during the Christmas holiday season, McFarlin said.

The Currans received training to deal with the holiday rush, but last year, their first in the ham business, was still "mind boggling," Bernd Curran said.

"We're more prepared this year for the rush," Irma Curran said. "There was more stress last year."

The hams arrive at the store already cooked. The store's staff uses blow torches to add the company's signature glaze of spices and other ingredients.

The store has two glazing stations in its cramped kitchen during the Christmas season, and two people are now spending most of their days glazing hams. The store's staff increases from five to 10 and more during the Christmas season. It uses a 25-foot long, refrigerated truck to hold extra inventory during this busy time.

The store will temporarily close its cafe Sunday, and stock the dining area with hams and other products to sell to a steady stream of customers until Christmas Eve night.

"This time is exciting. It's physically and mentally tiring. The adrenalin is pumping, and we're handling issues every day," Bernd Curran said. "But at the end of the day we feel good about what we did."

Vic Kolenc may be reached at 915-546-6421

HoneyBaked Ham Co., and Cafe: 6600 N. Mesa

Sells: Glazed hams and turkey breasts, and has a cafe, which serves sandwiches and salads.

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