Team Sizzler—Gary and Sally Myers and their son Bryce—starts early and stays late
High school sweethearts Sally and Gary Myers have built a marriage and a career with Sizzler as the conversation starter.
Photo by Aaron Marron
While the rest of her Brownie troop rested on their cookie-selling laurels, Sally Myers was hitting up the neighbors for additional monies by selling the star of Sizzler’s popular salad bar, egg bread toast, door-to-door out of her little red wagon.
Myers came by her “Texas toast” legitimately. Her father, Jack Williams, was not only one of the early Sizzler franchisees, he also was a vocal franchisee who Myers describes as the “tail that wagged the dog.”
Family time after church on Sundays was spent in one of the restaurants where her father saved the end seat at their booth as an open invitation for someone to join them, be it guest, busboy or VIP. Myers remembers long afternoons patiently sitting in the booth as her parents talked to a variety of people—those were the days before every child had an iPad to get them through dining out with their parents. When it was finally time to go home, they’d all scan the parking lot for trash before climbing in the car.
Her dad’s car trunk was filled with Sizzler swag, which he was always giving away to people or organizations.
One might think that after having Sizzler as a sibling the whole time she was growing up, Myers would want nothing to do with it once she was emancipated. But not only did Myers join her father’s company as an adult, her husband did also. And when they decided to go out on their own, they bought their own Sizzlers. (Plus they joined the new restaurant chain her father started when he retired from Sizzler, but that’s another story further down in this one.)
As a third-generation Sizzler offspring, Bryce Myers passed out rolls to his grandfather’s customers and now finds sites and real estate deals for his parents’ restaurants.
The third generation followed suit. Sally and Gary’s son, Bryce, 37, remembers being 10 years old and passing out rolls at Sizzler when he spent the weekends with his grandparents. “I never thought of it as child labor,” he says, it’s just what his family did. By the time his parents signed on for their own restaurants, he was old enough to be employed, but he never benefitted from nepotism. “I had to be the best server,” he says. “I could never look tired, had to be above reproach.”
Growing up in the small town of Temecula, California, he says, everyone knew everyone, and it was hard to escape being “Sally and Gary’s son.” While Gary is the operational force behind the company, Sally Myers is the one out in the community. “My mom’s phenomenal,” Bryce says. “She’s got more energy … I tell people I don’t want that much energy. She’s bubbly, but she’s real. “
Bryce went away to college where everyone didn’t know his parents’ names. “I wanted my own success,” he says. He worked for a company developing shopping malls, before going out on his own as a real estate consultant. His company now does the real estate for his parents’ BMW Management, which houses its 23 Sizzlers, one Richie’s Diner and joint ventures with Texas Roadhouse.
“They’re my mentors,” he says of his parents. “They’re grooming me for life, not to take over the business.” The Myers’ two daughters also were involved with the restaurants growing up, but to a lesser degree, Bryce says. But they, too were raised as Sizzler kids. “The kids’ first solid food was baked potato,” Sally Myers quips.
Now that the kids are grown and out of the house, Myers is able to devote all her time to the business. And just like Myers’ dad held court in his Sizzlers, so do Gary and Sally.
Sweeping his hand across the newly remodeled Sizzler, Bryce says, “This is their living room.” But in their case, they have 23 living rooms.
The popular salad bar has been updated with trendy ingredients that give it an
Do unto others
Sally and Gary Myers were high school sweethearts. Both of them went to work for Sally’s dad, and neither was afforded special treatment. Gary remembers saying the same thing to Bryce that his father-in-law said to him: “You will always be my son, but you may not always work for me.”
Gary came from a family that knew the value of paying your own way. While his twin brother had ketchup in his veins to become a McDonald’s franchisee, Gary had steak sauce in his. He may have worked in the family business, but he embraced the lesson that nepotism doesn’t automatically give you the keys to the BMW. “You have to have your own conscience if you want to be in this business,” he says. “It takes a lot of time and a lot of hard work. If you don’t have the mind and heart for business, we shouldn’t have to ask you to leave the company—you should know.” Entitlement doesn’t play well in the Williams-Myers family.
While Gary beefed up on operations, Myers was tapped to be the community coordinator. “My job was to fill the banquet room,” she says. And if you’ve ever wondered how a high school cheerleader parlays those particular skills into a job, Myers is the perfect example.
She became active in the community with service groups and visiting senior-living facilities, where she sang and danced her way into the seniors’ hearts. Dressed in a polka dot skirt, saddle shoes and a T-shirt that proclaimed, “Sizzler loves seniors,” she sang silly songs she had made up, with lyrics like “Sizzler loves seniors.” She admits it was a bit corny, but effective. For many of those performances she was pregnant with Bryce. “I got tons of presents when Bryce was born,” she says, laughing.
Myers learned from her father that filling banquet rooms and dining rooms relied on getting out into the community and becoming an intricate part of it. Each community has unique needs, which is what Myers sets out to discover.
To that end, when BMW Management opens a restaurant in a community outside of its home base of Temecula, Myers starts visiting the mayor and local government representatives, as well as the schools, philanthropic groups and chamber of commerce. If the area is more than a couple of hours drive, they park an RV on the property where she can stay over when she attends night meetings.
By the time the restaurant is ready to open its doors to the public, Myers has a long list of organizations and students to give monetary donations to at their grand opening. Rather than just cut a ribbon, the Myers invite representatives from all the organizations to a breakfast at Sizzler where they makes speeches, hand out checks and woo the town. They support the local teams, honor the student of the month and become the go-to place for community-minded people.
A playful graphic at Richie’s Real American Diner helps set the stage for the brand.
Myers also has parlayed her natural enthusiasm into doing cooking segments—using Sizzler food items—on local news stations to kick off different holidays. For their Sacramento store, she has signed on to sponsor the Teacher of the Year program by catering the luncheon, and thereby getting some high visibility by congratulating the winners on the nightly news.
But the only reason all their hard work is paying the bills—plus some—is because this is a new version of Sizzler. It’s not your father’s Sizzler—and it’s not Myers’ father’s Sizzler either.
Putting the sizzle back in Sizzler
Sizzler was launched in 1958 by Del and Helen Johnson, who opened Sizzler Family Steak House in Culver City, California, with just $50 in the cash register. Steaks were 99 cents.
The chain grew mostly along the West Coast, with some spillage over into Arizona, Idaho and Utah, plus one lone market in Florida. It became known for its cheap steaks and all-you-can-eat salad bar, which included a bevy of hot dishes as well as cold.
By the time the Myers became franchisees, the brand needed a makeover, both the physical restaurants and the image that it was a place where people went to overeat. When the healthy eating trend caught up with the chain in California, Myers says they started to lose business. “That’s why there are pictures of fit people on the wall,” Myers explained, pointing out the oversized portraits of active people enjoying life. Ironically, many of those fit people are the Myers kids and grandkids. “I don’t even look up anymore,” Bryce says in reference to seeing his smiling face as he rides a horse.
The pictures aren’t vanity, but a way of welcoming the community into their living room. In addition to greeting the community leaders at their restaurants, the Myers make it a point to walk around greeting people, both regulars and newcomers.
The name BMW Management was given to them by their attorney (it’s a combination of the first letter of the original partners’ names), but it fits the Myers to a “T” because Gary was in line to receive a BMW car as a bonus when he worked for his father-in-law. He quit to go out on his own before he qualified, but striving for the attributes of “the ultimate driving machine” are what also drives his company. “When you get behind the wheel of a BMW, you move fast and make quick U-turns when we make mistakes,” he says. And you always ensure that you keep people seatbelted in when they make those turns, he adds.
The couple is especially proud of the way their remodels have turned out. They know they’ve nailed the look they are going for when people walk in and don’t recognize it as a Sizzler. “Our remodels are so significant, guests enjoy that they’re still casual, but they can come in for dressier occasions,” Myers says. “With the older, mundane stores, people didn’t use us as celebratory occasions.”
Alcohol only makes up about 4 percent of sales, but it’s necessary to avoid the veto vote when a group is going out to dinner — or someone wants to celebrate with a glass of wine, Gary says.
A large wall graphic at Richie’s depicts the founders, Linda and Jack Williams.
The salad bar has a modern look with a mixing station—an employee stationed inside the U-shaped bar will add premium items to guests’ salads and then mix them for an upscale feel. Menu boards line the wall on the way to the cash registers so that people have a chance to check over the protein selections before ordering. Instead of a long single station, there are three pods so order takers can come out from behind them to greet guests and help them in the ordering process.
Employees are trained to offer the right amount of service—“not so much that you’re interrupting,” Gary says. Instead of talking about themselves, servers are instructed to ask customers about themselves. Often customers are interviewed on camera, which is then placed on the video loop in the lobby. (Who wouldn’t want to plan a second or third return visit to see yourself on the big screen?)
Turnover and hiring new people are still challenging, but not as much as they could be since BMW has made friends with high school students through their student of the month program, college scholarships and by supporting sports teams. “Our people are worth a million dollars, I wish I could pay them that,” Gary says.
Managers wear a white shirt and tie to identify themselves as managers. “When we went to colored shirts, no one knew they were managers,” Gary says. Their very best managers get mistaken as the owner, a misidentification Gary takes great pride in. All the stores are privy to each other’s numbers. “They don’t need a report card.” Rather, the report “at the end of the month telegraphs what you did during the month. If you don’t like it, turn it around,” Gary says. They employ “vulture management,” he explains: “Spotting bad before it happens and turning bad into good.”
When the stores are down during the remodels, BMW rotates servers into the schedules at one of the other nearby restaurants. The servers then become brand ambassadors for the remodel, telling customers they can come see them in a few months at the new restaurant down the road.
The Myers’ restaurants are the only ones in the chain that sell certified Angus beef, which may be why a review on the Sizzler website said the steak at the BMW restaurant was better than the ones at the other Sizzler they went to. That particular coup came about because of connections, Gary says, but also because of their attention to detail in everything they do. “Vendors become your friends,” he says, “that’s just a natural, wonderful thing that happens.”
But it’s not as if the Myers are operating in a vacuum. Gary is the president of the national franchisee association, and says he has a good relationship with corporate.
Back in business with dad
When Sally Myers’ parents, Jack and Linda Williams, retired from Sizzler, they decided to open a throwback diner. They named it Richie’s Real American Diner, after her
father’s good friend Richard Snyder, president of In-N-Out Burger who died in a plane crash.
The recipes are her mother’s, but the execution is her dad’s. The Myers aren’t franchisees of the one unit they own, but licensees, and they also spend a lot of time helping with menu development and marketing. The concept started as breakfast and burgers but wasn’t making it, Gary says. Now the menu goes on for pages.
Myers laughs remembering her mother didn’t want Gary to join the family business at first, because she didn’t want the dinner table conversation to always revolve around Sizzler. “Now, all we talk about is Richie’s and she’s the worst offender,” Myers quips.
In addition to her Sizzler duties, Myers does the marketing for Richie’s, and Gary helps out on operations. Instead of “Sizzler swag” in the back of her car, Myers has Sizzler-logo’d footballs she gets the high school teams to sign so they can be auctioned off for scholarships monies. And even with this full plate, they plan to keep growing and spending time each day in as many of the restaurants as they can.
“You retire when you no longer like what you’re doing,” Gary asserts. “We take vacations—vacations are when you clean up your emails.”