This Snake Bites! – The Myth of Hybrid Vigor

This Snake Bites!

The Myth of Hybrid Vigor

I go to Florida on occasion. I like it and who wouldn’t – warm water, beautiful beaches and friendly people. It’s really great. So of course I’m interested in the local exotic wild life.

A while back I was watching a nature show on big snakes that have invaded Florida and how they are rapidly hybridizing and taking over. The reason is that in nature, two closely related species can combine and produce a snake that is bigger, stronger and capable of crushing its competition.  It’s called Hybrid Vigor. The idea is fascinating and it occurred to me that it also applies to many areas of business and we’ve seen various restaurant businesses add similar brands and operations and successfully grow. However, where catering and retail business units are concerned in a multi-unit restaurant operation, the idea of Hybrid Vigor is a complete myth – but few Executive teams realize it.

When you think about it, Hybrid Vigor sounds logical – you simply combine two closely related entities (such as retail and catering), run them largely the same way, and get something bigger and stronger – right?

WRONG! Just because it occurs in nature, doesn’t make it natural in the multi-unit restaurant world and not only can this mindset fool you into making some big blunders with your catering operations, it can weaken your existing business to the point where your competition crushes YOU!

Within the catering arena, I agree that you absolutely want to leverage existing assets and this has long been a solid business principle. Catering allows you to add profitable sales while keeping capital expenditures minimal and maximizing additional human resource bandwidth at the store level.  In fact, catering is a hidden revenue channel for many multi-unit restaurant owners and I know from hands on experience it can add up to 20% in system sales and 40% to overall gross margin.

These economics make it so attractive that many multi-unit restaurant brands jump into catering without a clear understanding of the shift in mindset required to operate a catering business unit well. It’s like thinking you own an awesome show dog, but later finding out you have a python that you can’t control effectively.

This happens because the retail business LOOKS so similar to the catering business, but in reality it is a completely different animal. The customers’ demands are different, the execution is different, the sales are different and the store level economics are different. In short, it’s a completely different business and must be approached that way. While catering can be layered onto existing assets it is not really combined or absorbed into the retail space because it must retain its own focus to serve the specific demands of the catering customer.

For years I’d extolled the virtue of a dedicated executive catering position in every organization and this is the first (and most important) step to successfully operating a catering business unit. It is not an effective strategy to just tack catering onto existing job descriptions such as marketing or operations and expect things to go well. We all have priorities and when time and resources are tight it is human nature to focus on your main tasks – and catering gets shorted.

For those forward thinking executives who understand the differences in catering and retail at the core level, they are poised to maximize the opportunities that lie ahead. But this is not a case of hybridization, it is a case of two related business units sharing assets but maintaining their autonomy in order to serve different markets.  Two large business units each pulling maximum efficiency from shared assets while attracting more and more customers to your business are much stronger than any type of hybrid will ever be.

Passing The Torch – Our Next Generation of Leaders

This post is about a great person. A leader in our community who works hard for his “wins”. He deserves all the success that comes his way. He deserves it because he has worked his way to the top of his game by simply showing up to play every single day. Ladies and gentlemen, I write to you today about Jeff Drake, President of Go Roma Real Easy Italian.

However, before I tell you more about Jeff, allow me to share with you my reasons why I feel his story is so important for our next generation of leaders, specifically in our multi-unit restaurant community.

This past week, I got very lucky. I got into a car accident. Not only did I avoid major damage to my rental car and personal injury by some act of good fortune, there was also little damage to the other car as well. Thankfully, nobody got hurt and it served as a reminder to me, that life can be short. Be careful out there. Things can change quickly.

Of course, I could list a thousand reasons of why I was so lucky this past week. But that wouldn’t be interesting to anyone.

What I do think is interesting is the wisdom that was imparted to me on a phone call with one of our great leaders of the last century, Jon Luther Sr. (It was the first time we spoke). Like I said, it was a lucky week.

I tried to read everything I could get my hands on about this man’s outstanding career that has spanned decades in our multi-unit restaurant community. I wanted to call him “Sir”; but he just wouldn’t let me.

“Jon is just fine”, he told me. And so, that’s what I did. I called him Jon.

I have to share with you that my conversation with Jon was one of the most inspiring of my entire career! After all, he is one of the greatest turn-around experts that our industry has seen in the last 50 years. He has influenced and shaped organizations such as Popeye’s Chicken and Biscuits, Dunkin Donuts, Baskin Robins, and Delaware North. He has served in leadership positions at Marriott and Aramark and he is the current Chairman of Arby’s.

I asked for the call with Jon, because I learned about his passion for leadership. I felt compelled to share some ideas with him and because he is so generous and kind, he agreed to take my call. Like I said, it was a lucky week.

By the end of our call, Jon and I agreed (as I am sure so many of you do), that something unique and special happened in our foodservice community beginning in the middle of the last century. A generation of young leaders flourished and planted the seeds for what has become a $650 Billion industry in North America. Lucky for all of us, Jon Luther Sr. was one of those young leaders. He and his colleagues helped us to collectively become the largest employer in the private sector in North America.

So, this got me thinking. What about tomorrow’s leaders? Who are they? How will we know when we see them? Is there a way to not only spot their natural ability, but can we also groom them and nurture them in some formal method. Clearly, as a community we have enough experience to know what our leaders need to look like.

Of course, we all know that today’s great leaders such as Howard Schultz (Starbucks), Ron Shaich (Panera), Hala Moddelmog (Arby’s), Jim Vinz (Le Duff America), Dave Wolfgram (Forklift Brands), Don Fox (Firehouse Subs), Jeff O’Neill (Einstein Bros.) and Cheryl Bachelder (Popeye’s) were teenagers during the days of Ray Kroc, Ed Rensi, Jon Luther Sr., Dave Thomas, Rich Melman, and Norman Brinker.

Certainly, there are hundreds more names that I could list here. But this list is not the story. I mention these leaders to simply illustrate a point.

Jon and I discussed this idea. There are so many to talk about, to write about. Each has a story to tell and each is more amazing than the next. That’s the story! It’s the details that matter! It’s not about share price or money. It’s about amazing people doing amazing things.

Just like those before them, today’s leaders are ALL amazing. As life progresses quickly, they are becoming the next generation of mentors for those that are 10 and 20 years behind them.

“Who is coming up behind today’s leaders?” I asked Jon. “What are we doing as a community to capture their stories?” I asked.

There is a project here. An important, community based project. It’s academic. Not promotional. It’s authentic AND critical. If we don’t do it, the details will get lost. And these details are far too precious to us as a community. Because, we need to study and learn.

In the next 10 years or so, today’s leaders, will step aside for tomorrow’s leaders. That’s the way life is. I believe our community needs a thoughtful and solid succession plan. We need a qualified institution to train, nurture and develop tomorrow’s leaders for our industry. It’s important for the planet. Otherwise, we will end up with mediocre brands with little to no higher purpose.

Jon and I agreed on this idea.

And so, as Jon and I continued our discussion, we thought about the idea of “passing the torch” to future generations. We need to plan.

Just in my own network, I look at people like Al Bhakta of The Chalak Group. Watch this guy. He’s building a $1 Billion Dollar Business. Is he even forty yet? Check him out on this list of who’s who.

Think about people like Kevin Reddy (Noodles and Company), John Pepper (Boloco), John Clay (Bread and Company), and Kat Cole (Cinnabon).

Oh, there are many others as well, but the list is too long to cover in this blog post. My point is that something big needs to happen here. All of these leaders need a place to hang their hats and take part in a succession plan. It’s a community issue.

I decided to focus the balance of this essay on one very special person. Because to my good fortune, I have had the pleasurable experience of working closely with him for the last six years.

This brings me back to where I began this essay. “Passing the torch” to a great man like Jeff Drake.

“Why Jeff?” you ask. Well read on and you will see. But first, watch this video interview with Jeff. He was so busy, so engaged in his people and his work that we had to do the interview via Satellite. Great leaders like Jeff are very, very busy.

You see, just like all great leaders, Jeff Drake is a lifelong learner. More than that, he is kind, generous, smart, and he lives every single day with purpose.

Jeff began his career in our industry after graduating from college in Des Moines, Iowa. Early in his career, he worked closely with the likes of Rick Bayless at Prime Steakhouse and he learned a lot.

On his path, he met Daniel Leader, a passionate artisan bread baker and Jeff developed a passion for bread. He loved the authenticity of hand made bread. The way it tasted. The way it smelled. He was enthralled by the science and the art of artisan bread making, at a time when the artisan bread business was just a grassroots cottage based business.

To Jeff’s good fortune, he met another amazing man by the name of Dave Wolfgram. Dave was with working on a little known concept at the time, with only 4 stores. Corner Bakery was being developed under the umbrella of Lettuce Entertain You and the leadership of Rich Melman.

Well, Jeff listened and learned. And then, as they were chipping away each day, the Corner Bakery brand was transitioned to Brinker, under the leadership of another iconic man by the name of Norman Brinker.

With this transition, came a fantastic opportunity for Jeff. He was asked to head up catering! Yes, catering! It was a ground up thing. He worked on the systems, developed some IT infrastructure and built the business with Dave Wolfgram. Well, what an opportunity for such a young man to be able to work under the leadership of these great people.

During his time at Corner Bakery, Jeff led the charge for what was the 2nd and 3rd prototype for the concept. “We bring the food to you.” Jeff told me.

That was his passion, his vision. He knew he had a great product and he was fortunate to have this fantastic group of mentors that believed in him. Well, it took an incredible amount of commitment and hard work, but by the time Jeff was done with his time at Corner Bakery, there were now 40 units in Dallas, Atlanta, Chicago and southern California.

By this time, all 40 of the Corner Bakery Units were now converted to the 3rd prototype that Jeff and Dave had envisioned. They were just hard working people, trying to get it right.

Well, like any great leader with natural ability, Jeff continued his lifelong learning. He moved to Washington DC to look after the Eastern Seaboard. And that became his last stop at Corner Bakery. It was time to move on.

In his next venture, Dave Wolfgram and Jeff Drake partnered on a fast casual concept called Go Roma Real Easy Italian. At the time, GESD Capital was looking for a new CEO for Boudin Bakery and Dave was being groomed for the job.

And so, GESD Capital acquired Go Roma and the management team as part of the new arrangement, and Jeff once again was deeply ingrained into the artisan bread business. Jeff became COO at Boudin and held that post from 2005 to 2007 and helped to prototype the new Boudin SF, which would become the new footprint for the brand.

Time passed and Jeff wanted to take his young family back east. He was offered the helm as President of Go Roma.

Of course, Jeff was not only enthusiastic, he had energy, experience and had learned from the best in the business. He was ready to be the head of his own ship! Well, as any great leader knows, things never go as planned, and what happened next was not only difficult, but most people I know would simply shrivel up and pack it in. The recession came. And with it, came tough days.

So, “What did you do?” I asked Jeff last week.

“We circled the wagons,” he told me.

This is an answer that any great leader would give. Go back to the basics. Focus on the vision. Take care of your people. Roll up your sleeves. Make difficult decisions.

And so, he focused on his real estate, reduced his G&A expenses and rallied his team to become leaner. He re-invented his organization. There was no easy path, but Jeff knew that from watching his mentors.

“What was the worst part of that experience?” I asked.

“We lost some great people” he shared with me sadly. “But we did what was necessary to weather the storm.”

Of course you did Jeff. Because that’s what great leaders do. They are accountable, just as you are. That’s what makes you so great! You are following in the footsteps of your mentors, your elders. I am proud of you for sticking to your guns.

“What was the key element that got you through the recession”, I continued on.

“I just focused on my communication to my key stakeholders” he retorted.

You see, all great leaders, like Jeff, do this naturally. They lead by example. They communicate well and they tell the truth, even when it hurts.

Jeff shared with me that one of the things that he is most proud of in his career, is that he did not lose ANY of his key people during the downturn. He kept their hopes high, reassured them that he was not going to bail on them and he led his ship. He included them in the results, incentivized them to work hard and provided them with ownership of their responsibilities as he empowered them to continue on.

He gave his team all the credit when I spoke to him. Because that’s what great leaders do. They don’t take the credit. Not ever.

Great leaders can only become great if they surround themselves with great followers. Great people. You see, Jeff learned from the greatest leaders that our industry has ever seen. These are Jeff’s mentors.

Jeff told me that he has been blessed to spend time with Richard Melman, Norman Brinker, Doug Brooks, Jim Vinz and Dave Wolfgram. I stopped him there because his list just kept going. “Blessed”, there’s that word again. Great leaders feel that way.

He sees his leadership responsibility today as focused on helping his team to prioritize.

“What you measure, is what you improve”, he told me.

He also told me that it’s his responsibility to set his team up for success. He focuses on promoting from within. He helps his people step up. He is an opportunity provider. He cares about his people, his customers and his brand. He has a positive attitude and is a student of life.

Jeff Drake is a solid person. He understands how his customers interact with social media. He understands technology. He treats his vendors with respect. He gets a lot out of his relationships by taking care of everyone. He keeps people whole. He is a master at that.

Jeff is a voracious reader. He believes that the restaurant business is a “business of evolution”. He is always looking for ways to innovate. He studies other industries as models and tries to bring new ideas into his business.

His commitment to self-improvement is awesome. He reads magazines like Lucky Peach, The New Yorker, Fast Company.

“To be an effective leader, I need to get better every day. I need to interact with people that are really good at what they do”. He shared with me.

There’s that natural leadership quality again.

“I look for genius and brilliance in my people every single day” he continued.

Of course you do Jeff. Jon Luther Sr. would agree with you.

If I were a betting man, I’d put my money on Jeff Drake any day to be on the list of the next generation of leaders that will change the food industry. Why? Because he is focused on his higher purpose of making the world a better place just by doing what he loves.

Jeff, thanks for all you do for our industry. You deserve all you have! Thank you for being a great and generous leader. For those of you reading this, keep an eye on Jeff Drake. He’ll be running a $1 Billion business one day. I am certain of it!

The Leadership of Ray Kroc and his drive to Catering Sales!

I decided to write this blog in advance of the upcoming Restaurant Leadership Conference in Scottsdale from March 25-28, 2012.

In preparation for the conference, I have been reading everything that I can about Ray Kroc these days. As I dig deeper and deeper into his story, I become more fascinated with his meticulous attention to detail. Like all entrepreneurs, he struggled to make his venture work. He went through the growing pains, set the culture and set a clear direction for his people. He fought hard.

As an entrepreneur and working on my 9th business, I can identify with his relentless desire to succeed. He was a fantastic businessman and very passionate about getting it right.

I found this really cool video, made by a few creative high school students, Zac Smith, Michael Warren, Jason Kiracofe and Daniel Alweis. I have embedded the video here for all of you to peruse. Good job on the school project boys. I think it tells a lot about who he was and what he was about.

I wonder if Ray were here today, what he might tell us about the current state of our multi-unit restaurant industry? I wonder if he would be happy with the outcome of what McDonald’s stands for today. Would he be proud? I wonder what he would say about McDonald’s building a catering revenue channel for his brand? I had a dream this week that Ray read my book. He loved it. Thanks Ray. I appreciate the support.

From what I have read, and as I have come to know him through other people’s words, his own book, Grinding it Out, and the number of videos and articles that are available on his leadership and management style, I would venture to say that Ray would have mixed emotions today based on where his brand stands. Sure, he might be proud of the stock price. Or would he? I think he would be horrified at all the negative tweets and comments. Knowing Ray, he would do something amazing to set it all on the right track. Just as great leaders like Howard Schultz or Ron Shaich have done with both Starbucks and Panera. Oh, and if Ray saw the traction that Panera is getting on their catering operations, he would want a piece of that market for sure. Because that’s what he was about. Being in front.

In the beginning, for Ray, and for all our leaders, it was all about looking after his customers. He wanted growth, but not at the expense of diluting his brand and experience. Of course, in the 1950’s and 1960’s, the world was a different place. I am certain that had Ray known that his McDonald’s would eventually become the fast food giant that it became, he only would have wanted it to do so if it was in the best interest of his customers.

He had a vision for the business, for the systems, for the experience and for his internal culture. He could not see the negative impact ahead on the dietary issues of fast food on our children and our communities. I have no doubt, that had he seen that, he might have managed it differently. I am certain, that if he were with us today, he would be working very hard to fix it.

Today, as McDonald’s continues to be the largest hamburger chain in the world, it still amazes me that even though the culture of Ray Kroc may just be a ghost in the wall, the organization continues to try to adopt to the ever changing needs our consumers. In my opinion, McDonald’s has done a superb job at trying to keep up with the trends, trying to morph their menus towards the more current fast casual type model.

Of course, to move a system this large to a new model, is not only difficult, but it requires a tremendous amount of investment and gumption. McDonald’s may not be the healthiest choice in the market place yet, but I predict that in the next 10 years, they will move into the top position of the fast casual market. They will do it, because they have the real estate, the brand and their consumers are going to only shop there if they continue to adapt to the ever changing dietary needs. Especially in North America.

So, this brings me to my next question? Will McDonald’s offer catering services that are scaleable across the brand? What will the program look like? I believe that they already have, but they have not hired the right leadership to take them the rest of the way. I found this little nugget in the United Kingdom that really convinced me.

Is McDonald’s Fast Casual?

Well, it all starts with the Deli doesn’t it? Well, at least that’s how it started for me!

Then as I dug further, I found this:

So, you tell me! What kind of leadership will it take for our multi-unit restaurant community to finally decide to take catering as a serious business? Especially in the QSR segment. If you have a powerful brand, and you tell your customers that you offer alternative services, they will buy from you. We already know that. So, the next question I have is “can they execute?”.

I believe that if any of our community leaders decide to pursue catering as a serious business, then they would in fact see a lift in their sales that our industry has not seen since the day’s of franchising and drive-thru. But, it doesn’t matter what I believe. Or does it? Because like Ray Kroc, I too am an entrepreneur. And so, I will live or die by my conviction and my leadership. And so, as I put this article to rest, I call out to all of you in a restaurant leadership position to really take a hard look at the facts. Catering is here to stay. If we don’t do it, the grocery segment will (as they already are).

Ray would want us to compete and compete hard.

I believe that catering offers our multi-unit restaurant community a true opportunity to grow. So much so, that I put it on Video, wrote a book and am betting my entire future on this transformative idea. This video is 3 years old. So, it’s now 15 years.

Tell me. What do you think? I hope you can share your thoughts with me. This is a great debate!

Building To Grow – Invent Genius Turnkey Systems

MonkeyMedia Software is my 9th Business Venture. I come from a long line of entrepreneurs; some more successful than others. Always working on the design of my companies. Always trying to be remarkable, somehow, some way, even on the days when I might be feeling like a fake. Feeling like a fake you ask? Of course! You think us entrepreneurs always know where we are headed? No way. Always trying to service my customers. Always trying to find a way to differentiate, to compete.

I spend so much of my time just dreaming. Dreaming! For those of you that know me well, I often get so far ahead of myself. These days, I dream a lot of how our multi-unit restaurant community will embrace catering in the next decade. I am certain of it. I am seeing it more and more, day by day. Especially here in North America where markets are competitive, and consumers are screaming loudly at all of our operators to provide more services.

I read a lot. I write a lot. I scour the internet for good material to help me grow my businesses. It’s ironic that I ended up in the consulting, education and software business. Or Is it?

After all, as an entrepreneur I am always trying to grow my businesses. You can only do that if you work on your systems. Your belief systems, your sales systems, your service systems, your business systems…. It’s all just a set of subsystems, leading into one giant turnkey system. At least, that’s the way out for most of us. We need to build it to grow it, or we just get stuck in it.

So many of us work “in” our businesses and we just have a hell of a time working “on” our businesses. I know, you’ve heard it before, but I found this great video by Michael Gerber, Author of the E-Myth that I think really speaks volumes to this conversation.

After watching this inspiring speech, I dug further. Further into our restaurant industry leaders. Just a couple of them; ones that we all know. And boy, did they suffer in their humble beginnings. Here is a small tidbit on Ray Kroc’s early business “surprises”. I love the way he almost went broke at the beginning. Why? Because I have been there myself on more than one occasion.

And so, I continue down my path of trying to learn more about the early days of the food business. I was recently in Kentucky, and I felt that I had to visit the grave of Harlan Sanders. I’m not sure why, but I just felt compelled to pay my respects; So I went. Here’s a photo of my visit.

It was interesting to see that others have been to this gravesite. And to pay their respects, if you look closely at the photo, you will see that fans actually leave Heinz Ketchup Packages organized in a row on his tombstone. Heinz ketchup packages? I wasn’t sure what to think at first, but then I realized that when you are part of pop culture, you influence young people too.

I started thinking more about what it must have been like in the early days of these entrepreneurs. How did they get up each and every day and fight the battles they needed to fight to get through. Well, they just did. They didn’t think about it that hard. They just did what comes natural to them. What they thought was right. Were they always on track? Were they always correct? No. Certainly not. But no matter.

But what all of us entrepreneurs share is a common belief that we are adding value. That we are innovating. That we must dig in deep to our will to survive. I love this video of the history of Harlan Sanders:

This video reminds me to never give up. It just doesn’t matter what the competition is doing. It only matters that you just keep going. Pick a direction and keep going. It might not be the right direction, but that’s ok. At least you picked one.

In the end, for me, it always comes down to the leadership. It’s about being firm. It’s about being clear. It’s about finding people that are smarter than you to work with you. It’s about being fair. It’s about being kind. It’s about being generous. It has everything to do with the people you surround yourself with.

If Ray Kroc and Harlan Sanders were alive today, I would be trying my hardest to show them just how catering, and following my “turnkey system” of strategy, education and software can change their modern day business. I know what you are thinking. “Erle, if you are so sure, why don’t you just call up the current leaders of today’s brands?”.

Well, I have been and I will continue to do so. Many are listening, and many are working with me. Experiencing success with these turnkey systems.

So, as the world turns tomorrow, I am building my business to grow! What about you? Focus on what’s right in front of you and just keep going.

Paul Mangiamele – A Magician and A Leader!

I love working with Paul and his team at Bennigan’s! Not only are they enthusiastic, but they are thoughtful, generous and hard working. Each and every one of them. An amazing group of people with focus and passion.

Paul has a lot on his plate these days. Aligning his organization, servicing franchisees, doing his best to make it all come together.

I know from experience. Turning around a brand and then growing it again takes a very special kind of heart, soul and attitude. Attitude! The right kind of attitude. Thick skin. Tough chin. And a never ending drive to succeed.

I have been watching Paul and his team for the last year, systematically attacking every aspect of the Bennigan’s operation. Not only are they solving real business issues, but the innovation coming out of this group is nothing short of fantastic! New ideas, new initiatives, new everything! And the pace is furious.

You might think I am being partial because I have a vested interest in the Bennigan’s success story as their catering solutions partner. However, it is not that way. I would tell you honestly if they were failing.

So, it is with sincerity that I write this; I mean it. Paul is a Magician. And his team is growing, they are flourishing as individuals. I am watching with my own eyes as he is winning people over. One by one. Yes, the people. If I were a betting man, I’d bet on this team any day.

The reason this is happening is because the results are shining through. True results! He knows his business and it is amazing to watch him do his magic on the Bennigan’s Brand. It just comes down as a lesson to all of us. It’s all about being a good operator. It’s doing the little things every single day. So, to all of you out there…. Roll up your sleeves and find what inspires you. But remember to look after everyone on the way… they will serve you well if you do! Just ask Paul.

Paul, thank you for giving me permission to share this Video regarding your catering vision. It’s a beautiful thing and I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to work on your catering business with you. The video came out well, because of the deep belief system your team has and the generosity and trust that you have afforded my team to provide you with services; including the making of this video.

You just can’t capture this kind of culture unless it is real. Job well done! For those of you that have not tried it yet, order catering from Bennigan’s in Chicago to get a flavour of what is ahead for this brand. We’re just getting started!

Tom Feltenstein and Barry Klein – Listen and Learn

I took this photo in October at the FastCasual Executive Summit Conference last October in Chicago.

Since then, I have been looking at it once in awhile. For some reason, over the last 5 months, this photo feels significant to me, but I have been unable to put my finger on the reasons why.

A couple of our forefathers
Tom Feltenstein and Barry Klein at FastCasual, October 2011

This morning, it dawned on me. I woke with clarity as to why this particular photo is important. And so, I will try to explain.

You see, Tom and Barry are from a different generation. A generation that can be easily forgotten, if we are not careful. From my perspective, our community needs to be very careful not to forget our forefathers. Tom and Barry, (and many others), experienced a time in our industry that is critical to our history. Our entire multi-unit restaurant community, as we know it, is based on the principles that Tom and Barry’s generation worked so hard to figure out. They sweated, they laughed and they cried.

Of course, they worked under the vision of Ray Kroc and fantastic leaders such as Ed Rensi. Real people, trying to solve real life business challenges.

To me, this photo is significant. Not because they are the founders of such important icons such as Ronald McDonald along with Willard Scott and Roy Bergold. Not because of the happy meal. Not because of the advent of drive thru or breakfast. Not because of the philanthropy work of Ronald McDonald house.

It is significant because here they are, together, no less than 40 years later, after their team changed the future of the multi-unit restaurant industry. Clearly, they served great leaders in Ray Kroc and Ed Rensi. That is obvious. Great leaders, breed great teams and great people.

For me, this photo demonstrates how the key to our industry is the people. Real human beings. Both Barry and Tom have experienced wins, losses, frustration and elation. Their careers span decades of innovation, of passion, of energy and of a belief system that along the way, they were just doing the best they could to make their shareholders happy. They were accountable.

When I look at this photo, I see great human beings. I see big hearts. I see humble and gracious wise men. Generosity, creativity, and a desire to simply do the right thing. Regardless of what today’s consumer opinions are about the brand they worked so hard to build, at the time, they were part of a team of true innovators who explored unknown territory. Franchising, systems, technology, consumer awareness. They helped influence pop culture, and they did it by the skin of their teeth. By chipping away every day. By doing the simple things.

Of course, they applied business logic to their daily decisions, but I can tell you, growing McDonald’s was hard. It was uncertain. It was scary. Just ask them. They will tell you.

“Erle, why is this photo so significant?” You ask. Well, to me, this photo captures the essence of the human spirit that lives deep in our multi-unit restaurant community. Of course, we all work hard. We all try and and be great leaders and we all try to follow visions and great leadership models. For those of us that are slugging it out every day in our businesses, we are experiencing the same challenges, fears, anxiety, stress and elation when things go well, as these gentlemen did under the tenure of Ray Kroc and Ed Rensi.

We are no different. We are people who are following our beliefs, adjusting to market pressures and doing what we can to meet the market demands of our customers. We are just trying to survive.

To me, this photo is significant because here they are, perhaps 35-40 years later, still slugging it out in our industry, trying their best to make a difference. The world has changed a lot since those days at McDonalds. Just ask them. But no matter. They are still standing.

It is significant, because when I look at this photo, I see my future, and the future of so many others that are working hard in our present time to make our industry amazing. We are all becoming a part of history. So I ask you, look into this photo. What do you see?

I see generosity, creativity, loving kindness and a true desire to make a difference. I see two gentlemen who have forgotten more about our industry, than any of us currently know. I see experience. I see leadership. Important and relevant history. I see how our industry took shape off the sweat of their backs. Did they know it at the time? Probably not. They were just doing what they knew best at the time. Just like all of us today.

As business people we spend most of our time dodging bullets. Once in awhile we get to shoot a few and that is important to our long term ability to survive in our businesses for the long term. Let’s face it, business is hard. It’s just hard.

When I looked deep into this photo this morning, it dawned on me. I am simply 30 years behind them. I wonder if in the year 2042, I will still be standing to be in a photo like this at the FastCasual Executive Summit? I’ll be 76 years old, and I wonder what I will have to say at that time? Will I have contributed anything great? I wonder.

Of course, just like all of you, I am slugging it out day to day, doing my best to make a difference. Following my belief systems, which is so powerful that it allows me to never give up. I wonder what our industry will look like in the year 2042? It’s just so hard to imagine, to predict.

As I look at the significance of this photo, I see myself and many of you. What is our purpose? How are we shaping our industry? How are we making a difference? When will our ideas become dated and stale, only to be forgotten by the next generation? Certainly we believe that each of us is innovating, that we are gaining traction in our businesses. We believe there are profits to be made, otherwise we would be spending our valuable life energy doing something different.

I woke this morning looking at this photo and imagined a world where my vision was now behind me and was now part of history. I imagined a challenging path to success. I faced my own reality of wins and losses in my own business.

What I realized after a lot of consideration, is that Tom and Barry understand that our industry is all about people. People who show up each and every day. People that just never give up. People with passion, skills and a desire to compete fairly. To run honest businesses.

By the year 2042, I will be in that photo, if I am fortunate enough to be accepted as a contributor. As an individual that cared enough to make a difference. As an innovator. More importantly, I would be fortunate to have as many friends and colleagues as both Barry and Tom.

And so, I felt compelled to celebrate our forefathers by writing in my blog today. Of course, there are many others that are of equal if not greater importance in the history of our community, but when I took this photo, they were not around. And so, as I sign off today, to rest my brain so that I can slay more dragons tomorrow, I find myself inspired by these two individuals. Not only because of their contributions and effort, but because they are amazing human beings. Both of them. Always lending a hand, an ear and sound advice.

I should be so lucky to be as successful as these great leaders in our community. Please don’t forget to take care of our elders. Call them and say thank you. They deserve it. They have a lot to share with us. They have a lot to teach us. They have a lot to offer us.

I am honoured to know both of these great leaders, and while I recognize that the paradigms in our industry have shifted, there is a theme that remains consistent through time. Be generous and be kind. Be humble and be helpful. Give back. Pay it forward. That is what I see in this photo. Inspiration, generosity and a willingness to survive. To never give up. To fight hard for what you believe and to ignore the naysayers. To carry on our work, in the face of adversity.

Just look at their faces. The stories they can tell are fascinating. I encourage each of you to take time out in our community, source out experienced leadership and pay your respects. Ask your questions now so that we may listen and learn. Then adapt and adopt and commit to yourself to be great leaders in the years to come. Pass the knowledge to future generations and make sure you never forget about our forefathers before us. These are the people that influenced pop culture and changed an industry. History was made.

So I ask you, what are you doing in your business that makes you worthy of being in a photo like this at the FastCasual Executive Summit in 2042? To give you a hint, I recommend that you practice loving kindness, generosity and define what truly makes your organization great in the years to come.

Listen and Learn. A picture is worth a thousand words.

I want to say thank you to these two great leaders. Thank you for slugging it out. I would not have the opportunity to do the work that I love, if not for your sweat and tears. I remain forever grateful to both of you.

Also, thank you for keeping it loose and making it fun. The fun is what makes it all worthwhile.

Louis Basile – “We Change Lives, Create Traditions, Build Community and Feed The Soul With Passion, Every time, Every Day”

I’ve really been getting great feedback from so many of you on my posts about leadership stories in our multi-unit restaurant community.

Thank you to those of you that have given me the great feedback. I am very grateful to be able to get the opportunity to do the work I do, and it really makes me happy to hear that many of you are enjoying these little vignettes that have been popping out of my head lately.

I meet so many great leaders in our industry. For me, that is the best part. The people. Not just our leaders, but all of our community. The people that work so hard every single day to make our customers happy.

So many of you are doing such amazing things, and many of your important efforts and stories get lost in the noise of our daily twitter feeds. And so, as I feel moved by many of these great stories, I want to continue to re-purpose the hard work of the leaders in our community, to re-enforce their great work. To create more celebration, more learning, more visibility.

In keeping with this spirit, I want today’s spotlight to focus on an amazing leader that I have been fortunate enough to get to know through our industry conferences over the years. I have been learning more about the career of Louis Basile, the CEO of Wildflower Bread Company and the more research I do, the more I learn about how amazing he really is. He makes it all about people, all the time. Louis has a true ability to connect with people. He inspires. He builds belief systems. He makes the impossible actually possible. He pays attention. He gets things done. He gives ALOT to our industry.

Louis is an entrepreneur. He understands that we are in the hospitality business. He observes, he engages, he looks at you, he listens. Louis is one of the best communicators out there. He is passionate, thoughtful, kind, generous and works hard every day at being a great leader and person. He has vision. He dedicates his life energy to things that he feels are important. He wants to make a difference. It’s genuine.

I decided to write this post today, because I found this great video presentation that he did awhile back, not on any purposeful project, but just by browsing our industry trades.

I believe, like all great leaders, that Louis Basile is a lifelong learner. I love that about him! He tells you like it is, pushes your limits, but does not ask anyone to do anything that Louis himself would not do. He is a student of all things living. All things important. At the same time, he will never admit it. He’ll call bulls**t on you every single time; every single time. I’ve seen it with my own eyes, experienced it on the receiving end. He does it because he cares. He cares with all his heart.

I have had the great pleasure of experiencing Wildflower Bread Company, but even more pleasurable than that, for me, is the time that I have had with Louis in conversation, debate and consideration on many of life’s issues. He has given me great advice over the years, and knowing what I know about Louis, the advice he gave me is only one of hundreds of little advice nuggets he gives out every single day. To people. People who need it. Because he connects. He has intuition. And he does it because he cares. That’s why he shows up for so many people.

My favourite part of my job, is that I get to meet and spend time with some really great leaders like Louis.

Thanks a lot Louis! Great talk in the video above. Really made me want to celebrate you in my blog. Thank you for all you do for our industry. I hope you are ok with me getting this out there. You deserve to be celebrated!