Path to 1,000 stores: Franchisees Kattya Barbaran & Rafi Vargas

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Two immigrants fulfill dream of owning their own business

Rafi Vargas and Kattya Barbaran sit in a Marco's Pizza delivery vehicle
Franchisees Rafi Vargas and Kattya Barbaran

Business partners Kattya Barbaran and Rafi Vargas met several years ago while both working for Burger King. Years later, the two reunited at Marco’s Pizza. Kattya served as a General Manager at a corporate-managed location in St. Cloud, FL, and Rafi works for the Marco’s operations team. Both had a common desire – to go into business for themselves.

This dynamic duo is slated to open Marco’s 1,000th location before the end of October. This will be the first Marco’s location for both, fulfilling their dream of owning their own business.

Rafi grew up in the Dominican Republic. He was quiet and shy, even bullied as a kid. For those who know Rafi now, this is a little hard to believe. His father, a small business owner, was very demanding and instilled a solid work ethic in Rafi.

“I love my dad. He made us (my siblings and I) who we are today, hardworking and family-oriented,” said Rafi.

Rafi moved to the U.S. when he was 16 years old. After graduating from community college, he had several jobs in the restaurant industry until he landed at Burger King, where he served as a district manager before moving on to Taco Bell. He was recruited away by some former Burger King colleagues to join Marco’s Pizza.

“It is the best decision I ever made. I had the opportunity to help build and change the brand,” said Rafi. 

When Kattya was an 8-year-old child living in impoverished Peru, she remembers her dad deciding to go to college and later becoming a congressman. In a country with little opportunity, she admires him very much for what he achieved.

“I am who I am today because of that example,” she said.

Kattya decided she wanted to carve out her own path. She moved to the U.S. from Peru at 20 and started with Burger King, where she worked her way up to General Manager by age 21. She had a great career and made many friends along the way, including Rafi. Fast-forward to a few years ago, while she was working for Chipotle, she noticed a social media post from Rafi at Marco’s and decided to reach out.

She was asked to be a General Manager at the Marco’s corporate-managed store in St. Cloud, FL, where she made tremendous strides in training and transforming that location to be one of the top performers in the system.

Rafi had been looking to open his own restaurant since starting at Marco’s. He had gone down that path with another colleague, but it just did not come to fruition. That is when he thought about his friend Kattya. She was a tremendous operator, a great manager and teacher of people. When the two started down the path to ownership, everything clicked.

Kattya was the perfect match. She is an amazing operator. I thought, ‘Wow! This is the right partner.’ Everything happens for a reason. God is great! This was a much better deal for me,” said Rafi.

While Kattya is very excited to open her own franchise, she is really going to miss her team and the progress made at the St. Cloud location.

“This has been an amazing two years with the Marco’s brand. I’ve been able to be myself, grow the business and develop people. I love developing people. It was a way for me to give back, just like someone once gave to me. It is priceless for me. I live the Marco’s culture every single minute here. I guarantee to everyone that works for me that they are going to be happy doing what they are doing. Happiness does not cost a cent. I cannot wait to have my own restaurant, and even have it as a training restaurant to develop General Managers. I love to help people reach their goals.”

 And, most importantly, she is looking to set a great example for her two young boys.

“This is not about money. This is for our kids and their future. ‘Look, mommy did college and has a business.’ Nothing is impossible,” said Kattya.

As for Rafi, he is getting married at the end of October after the 1,000th store opens.

“I live to enjoy life to fullest. Fun is in my DNA. I look forward to getting married and having my own family,” said Rafi, who would like to have 5 kids. “The more I have the better,” he said. “My goal is to build strong relationships within the community and make a positive impact through great service. Most importantly, I want to be an employer of choice, giving back the time so many people invested in me and my career. I want to be a great role model and create a fun environment where young people can thrive.”

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