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No sneaking in for Del Taco operator, in Multi-Unit Mindset


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Paul Hitzelberger

You’ve been in the Del Taco world for a long time, why did you stick with the brand after retiring?

I’ve tried to retire twice before and it didn’t work. When I retired from Del Taco in 2001, I wanted to continue to be a part of the brand and be doing something. For me it’s a hobby, it’s fun.

Given the market you took over, it doesn’t sound all that fun. What do you enjoy about it?

When I retired, I took the worst performing area in the system and every rock we turned over was like a gold nugget. We went from the worst performing, now we’re right at the top in terms of performance for the system. When you go from the worst to the top of the system, that’s fun, that’s a lot of fun.

How did you manage that feat?

The turning point didn’t happen at any particular point, it was just focusing on executing a great guest experience and results started showing right away.

How did you reinvigorate your employees and managers?

My focus is to mentor, support, provide the opportunity in a very entrepreneurial way. Our team has full P&L responsibility all the way down to the store level EBITDA. Every store has a P&L, but we also have a weekly P&L. Most restaurants are on a four-week basis, but every week every general manger and our senior staff know exactly where they’re at so we can make the appropriate decisions. So from culture standpoint it’s a ‘we’ approach, not a ‘you and I’ approach. It’s s all about the team and supporting each other, we don’t leave anyone out on an island and watch them fail.

You still have to check in on the stores; how do you keep that part fun?

I never, ever leave a restaurant without thanking a team, never. I always go in the front door; I don’t sneak in the back. I go in the front door and we’ll banter about the business and what’s going on and I ask a lot of questions about what’s going on. I walk in with a positive attitude.

I don’t want them to be afraid of a visit with me. I want them to say, ‘Paul was in today and I shared my ideas and he had some thoughts.’ It starts with the question, ‘How do we do better ever day?’

Nicholas Upton

Staff writer Nicholas Upton asks what makes multi-unit operators tick—and presents their slightly edited answers in this column in each issue. To suggest a subject, email nupton@franchisetimes.com.

How do you approach compensation?

I want to be the employer of choice. We pay above market and expect a lot. My wife and I have done fine in life and I want our people to do really well. That’s the whole thing, I want them to be able to pay cash for cars, have great deposits for homes. I want them to have the best deal in their neighborhood and I want their neighbors to ask, ‘How’d you get that at Del Taco?’ We share big, meaning we pay out to our team 30 percent of all cash improved over the previous year. That’s a very strong incentive and it keeps it very entrepreneurial.

You’ve grown from eight stores to 34; what else do you focus on besides that entrepreneurial spirit?

We don’t fool around with locations; we go for the best. We’re looking out 50 years, so what does that look like not only now but in the future. It’s a big investment in each location. So we want to make sure that we have a dominant, easily accessed location 24/7.

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