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Taco John’s boss aims to nurture, in Multi-Unit Mindset


Tam Kennedy

So you started as a secretary, what kept your interest?  

I think what really grabbed and held my interest was the sophisticated background in running a restaurant that most people overlook. It is a business that just happens to sell food. We manage our inventory and manage money, those are all common things to run a business, but it was interesting to make and save money from an admin perspective and then grow into operations.

What’s the most important rule you’ve made for yourself as an operator?

Customers come first; our internal customer, which is our employee, then our guest. Everything we do has to be focused on making their experience with our brand the best it can possibly be. Behind the counter we focus on giving people real good reasons to stay, not just take the job but stay. And for our guest, we want to continue the heritage of our brand that just hit 50 years.

How much time do you spend developing staff?

Fifty percent of my time is spent nurturing our future leader, that’s what we do. We ask them what they want to be when they grow up no matter their age. We ask them what’s important in their life and what it is they hope to get while they’re here. We try to balance their personal goals with sometimes the mundane task of cleaning the restroom. It all ties together.

That’s a lot of time. Why go to such lengths?

I grew up never having a lot of structure; those things have shaped my perspective on helping people find a place where they can belong. I always say we’re a family. That might sound trite, but I can point to many cases where our new employees don’t want to go to school and don’t want to go home but they want to go to work. It’s a place where they have people supporting them.

How is culture spread across the company?

I’m incredibly fortunate for my general managers, most of whom have moved up from a crew position and worked their way into leadership. They understand how important it is to have Thanksgiving dinners with our team and they understand there is a bigger reason to go to work than tacos. These tacos are amazing, don’t get me wrong, but it’s how can we make the best tacos and also help the community.

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.

So what about the other half of your time?

I spend the other half working on data analytics. I’m actually technically in the taco business, but I’m in the commodities business, so I listen to crop reports and the beef market because I sell ground beef tacos. All that has an impact on how I run my business.

How does that focus affect the company strategy?

We’re data geeks, math is my favorite thing ever; it takes the emotion out of your analysis. We use that data to get ahead of maybe something that is going to impact us negatively, but also to capitalize on those growth moments. So let’s say a competitor has come in with a $1 taco, we know the best message is, ‘You can get a cheaper taco, but then you have to eat it.’

You’re quite vocal within your brand. Why be the squeaky wheel?

Oh gosh, I believe good ideas can come from anywhere. In a true partnership if we see an opportunity, we should be able to share it with our franchisor and give them full explanation of the how, when and why of considering our idea, but maybe they haven’t thought about it.


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