After I finished up my time with Chipotle back in 2012, I took an extended sabbatical. During that time off I took a look at what might be next for me. I have a good friend who is a fantastic Culver’s franchisee up in Kansas City and he encouraged me to take a look at that concept, so I did. Part of the approval process is you have to complete a discovery week in Wisconsin where you interview with a lot of different leadership, and you work in the restaurant for 6 days. You work every station and to say that you get your hands dirty is an understatement. I opened. I closed. I did maintenance. Filtered fryers. Worked the grill. Battered fish. It was an incredible experience.
To be honest, I had not done that kind of work in many years; not since my time at McDonald’s where I worked all of the stations and got hands on with the operation, and when I signed up, I honestly wondered if I could do it. The week went very well, and I was approved as a franchisee for Culver’s, and even had an LOI on a piece of dirt in Cedar Park, TX. In the end, my wife and I decided not to pursue the opportunity due to the commitment to train away from the family for 4 months. But I made it through the process, and I proved to myself that I could still hang in a high volume QSR kitchen. It is different than fast casual, and arguably easier than fast casual in many ways. In fast casual, there is hand chopping of veggies, grilling, and a scratch kitchen. Much coordination has to happen to get the food to the line at the appropriate time to serve the guest. But in QSR there are timers and buzzers, and a whole other set of skills needed to execute a great experience.
After almost 30 years in the business at the time, I had nothing to prove to anyone. But I knew if I could complete the Culver’s Discovery Week at a high level, I would prove something to myself. I would prove I hadn’t lost a step. That I could still hang in a busy kitchen and do it well. That I could have a positive impact on a veteran team in a short amount of time. That was a big goal I had going into the week and I accomplished it.
Fast forward almost 5 years from the Culver’s experience and after 3 years as a President/COO of a brand, and CEO of another, followed by a year of consulting restaurant owners and leadership teams, I am ready to get back in the game. Once again, I have nothing to prove to anyone. Except me. Part of the challenge of leadership is proving you can lead at a high level, inspire greatness, develop amazing teams, and create an economic model that can fuel growth and scalability.
In the restaurant business, you have to cultivate a mindset of always getting better. It’s a journey, not a destination. You never arrive, and that’s the good news…there is always an opportunity to change the world in the context of the brand you lead in. The only way to stay relevant in this business is to be a lifelong learner. I am grateful to have learned from some of the best in the business, and I look forward to continuing to pay that forward in this next phase of my journey.