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Upward mobility at Black Bear Diner


Karan Gogri

How do you grow your people?

We always hire from within. For me one thing that really helps create a good flow—and it’s why we wanted to do this development deal—a restaurant is one of those true meritocracies. If you’re willing to work and willing to learn, there’s upward mobility there and you can make as much or more than someone with an advanced degree and we really try to instill that. We want to make sure that everyone has that mentality that they can see that upward mobility.

How does that inform your hiring decisions?

I look for enthusiasm, and a little bit of aggressive streak, I want them to have that ownership mentality. We try to get them stuff like custom Black Bear apparel, the newest phones, anything we can do to make them feel like they’re a part of this family. So far it’s been great.

One thing I keep reiterating to my mangers is hire slow and fire fast. We want to take our time hiring new people, but the instant someone is dragging down morale or being a drag on operations, we’ll find some way to cover that shift.

Why go after a new concept when the family is so involved with a legacy QSR brand?

We’d been in Jack in the Box for more than 30 years. I joke that I was in the brand for 29 years and nine months because my mom was working there while she was pregnant. The downside is the room to grow is limited, especially in California. Stores don’t come to market very soon and if they do it’s a high dollar investment.

So how did you land on Black Bear Diner?

I wanted to make my own mark on the world. I was home from school studying for the bar exam. And a Black Bear Diner opened up nearby. My parents said to go check it out—they knew I was a big Denny’s fan. The restaurant seemed busy and it seemed like it was generating income and we had heard rumblings about this disruptor in the space. It might sound like PR, but it really was falling in love with the food.

Wait, the bar exam? So why not practice law?

My goal was always to get back to the restaurant industry. I got the law degree just to help with the restaurant business.

What is your guiding real estate philosophy?   

One thing I like about Black Bear is that they don’t control the lease or dictate where we can go, so we’re in control. Our first location was a Denny’s and our second was a Chili’s. I assume $3 million in sales and keep it as close to 6 percent occupancy costs, accounting for the wiggle room if we can get a bigger space for banquet room and push that AUV a little higher.

What were your company's early growing pains?

The worst was dissolving from our previous partner; it was unfortunate mostly because it was a friend. But friendship comes second to the business. I’ll grab a beer with you anytime but it can’t hurt the business. The second was getting our second location open. We had some hiccups with the city and a bad contractor. It was eye-opening to see what happens if everything isn’t tightened up. Now that we’re in development mode, we have to vet our architects and contractors and make sure that we cross all our t’s and dot our i’s.

What was the best time for the business?  

The most exciting thing has been this development deal. Black Bear is not as big a brand, but the Bay Area was getting saturated because of the money here. After signing these, we’re not tripping over other franchisees. We moved from threading the needle between franchisees to focusing on growth.

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