Growing up in the Six Nations territory of Ontario, Canada, Jason Hill was a quintessential upstart. He dreamt big dreams, imagined opportunities, and always set high standards for himself. He saw the future as a vast ocean of possibility, and he could hardly wait to chart his course through it.
His dreams, drive and ideas would ultimately take him to exciting destinations, from entrepreneurship in the retail, energy and construction sectors to his most famous creation, Burger Barn in Ohsweken, Ontario.
Word of Burger Barn has reached far beyond Six Nations and Ontario. After Burger Barn was featured on The Food Network’s “You Gotta Eat Here,” tourists began adding the stop to their itineraries.
Jason opened the restaurant’s doors in 2011 and doubled the seating capacity in 2015. When the pandemic struck, he unveiled a small fleet of Burger Barn food trucks and expanded his take-out options.
Jason Hill began his career as an industrial painter. After starting a family, he realized that achieving satisfaction and security required more. Within the next several years he created a string of successful businesses, including convenience and specialty stores, a wholesale confectionery supply outlet, a fueling station and Ace1 Construction.
Jason’s appetites aren’t limited to the burger business. Among his other passions are the Belgian draft horses and Clydesdales he raises, which have been showcased at a variety of equestrian events. He is also a race car enthusiast, who began his participation in the sport by sponsoring a driver in 2015. In short order he put together a team of Burger Barn racers who compete throughout Ontario.
When did you first know that someday you would own a popular burger restaurant?
Jason Hill: It started with the entrepreneurial spirit I’ve always felt, even in my youngest years. At that time I wasn’t thinking about selling burgers, just enjoying them like any other kid! But there’s probably a connection there, because to be really successful in business you have to be doing something that you love. You identify your strengths, your interests and what you’re really passionate about, and you just resolve to pursue that every day.
My first job was as an industrial painter. I could still be doing that — the pay was good — but my heart wouldn’t be in it. At some point I’d fall into a punch-clock mentality, daydreaming about when the workday would end. As an entrepreneur, you never do that. In fact, you don’t want the workday to end, because there’s so much you’re trying to cram into it — and in the end it’s so rewarding.
Founding Burger Barn was based on more than just a love of great food. It was also about creating a place in my hometown where people could gather to have fun. A place that would create community and wonderful family memories. The fact that we have so many regular customers is testament to that. There are familiar faces you’ll see every morning for breakfast, and families that come here again and again to enjoy their life together and build strong relationship bonds. Great food, yes — but also great experiences.
What else would you say is special about Burger Barn?
Jason Hill: I love the idea of fusion in cuisine, matching different cultural foods and tastes to create something new and spectacular. Although we are famous for our burgers of course, this is something we do a lot at Burger Barn. My take on this trend is Southern-style comfort food with a farm-fresh twist, with generous measures of First Nation cuisine influence added to the mix.
Why not stop at one business?
Jason Hill: That’s an interesting question. I suppose if I had done that, if I had been satisfied with my very first business, I would be the friendly shopkeeper that everyone in the community knows. I would be doing small retail, with my confectionary store. And you know what, someday that kind of settled routine may appeal to me. But at this point, I feel that success in one business just magnifies the excitement I feel in starting another. You can really get hooked on entrepreneurship, because there’s a special thrill and sense of adventure every time you imagine a concept, take a risk, and then make it real. There’s really nothing like it. Entrepreneurship puts you in control of your own destiny and tests your skills, persistence and character.
What tips for success in business can you share?
Jason Hill: A successful business requires two very different skill sets; or, if that’s not possible, you probably need two competent individuals at the top handling these distinct functions. On one hand, you need to understand important details. After all, business is about profit; and you can easily lose track of your revenue stream and margins if you’re not paying attention to each line of a spreadsheet.
You’ve also got to be a big-picture person. You can’t spend all day dreaming yourself to success, of course. But you have to step back and take a broad view of where you are and where you want to be, in six months, a year, five years. When you think like that, you discover opportunities — opportunities that would otherwise pass you by.
Parallel to this talent for over-the-horizon thinking, you also need to take time to reevaluate your decisions and your company’s position. “Reevaluate” is an important word for any entrepreneur. Step back, take a look at where you are, where you’re going; think about where you may find new opportunities, and ways you can improve both your business and yourself. Be honest and reflective. You will always notice things you can improve and do differently, but you’ll also derive immense satisfaction when you look back and see a trail of success — and you realize that your hard work had a great purpose in your life, the life of your family, and ultimately in the lives of your customers.