that, with each different concept, the window dressing changes
a little bit. But you don’t get to focus on the brand like you do
with a singular brand. Maybe you don’t get some of the same
economies of scale, [which are the] results of singular focus. But
for us, it’s more of a labor of love. We love the restaurant business, and whether I’m doing a great cheeseburger or a soufflé or
anything in between, it’s a lot of fun.
Your restaurants run like well-oiled machines.
To what do you attribute this success?
If there’s a secret at all, it’s our company values and culture.
One of our guiding principles is that our associates come first.
We don’t really have a direct relationship with the guest; we
have a direct relationship with our associates. So I look at the
guest relationship as a triangle. We take care of our people;
our people take care of our guests; our guests take care of our
company. So I think that’s unique. Most restaurant companies would probably say that the customer comes first. It’s not
that we don’t care about great guest service—it’s paramount
to any successful restaurant. But we achieve great guest service through taking care of our people and putting our people
first. It’s all based on the “golden rule.” We’re not open on the
major holidays because I don’t think our people want to work
on those holidays. I don’t want to work on those holidays, so
I don’t ask anyone else to work. People love working for our
company, so they feel a duty to take care of the company. Also,
making a profit is not our No. 1 goal. Our No. 1 goal is to
maintain our culture and our values. I think the key to long-term success is to be a values-driven organization. Not that
we don’t care about profit, but it’s job No. 1A, not job No. 1.
How are the menus chosen for your concepts?
We travel the country and look at what’s going on. We try to
keep fresh and study the trade magazines. Our corporate chefs
have been with the company for a lot of years and know what’s
needed to keep the menus fresh and invigorated.
“For every one vegetarian dish we sell, we
sell 10 gluten-free dishes. If you’re not doing
gluten-free right now, you’re really behind
What was your first experience with
I guess I’m a natural-born marketer. I’ve always believed in the
shotgun approach. I equate our marketing programs to being
up in the crow’s nest with a .50-caliber machine gun, shooting
at everything, as opposed to having a laserlike focus. My goal is
to have something in the press every week, whether it’s a special
promotion or a radio drop. We’re very aggressive marketers, but
we spend only about 1% of our revenue on marketing, because,
ultimately, the best form of restaurant marketing is execution
at the table and word-of-mouth. We’re very aggressive on the
local-store marketing level and in ad campaigns and marketing
campaigns, and we always make sure to have something to talk
about in our restaurants.
What do you think is the most important aspect of
marketing in the restaurant business today?
Staying top-of-mind more than anything and giving your staff
and your guests something to talk about.
do you handle marketing differently in today’s
No, I just think we’re a little more sophisticated and have become better marketers over the years in deciding what works
and what doesn’t work, which is hard to do.
What have been some of your more
We’ve done periodic discounting to generate trial of a restaurant, and then hopefully we’re able to maintain some of that
business after the discount program. We do half-price wine
nights on Mondays and Sunday spaghetti suppers. We like to
reward our guests for being there.