One Can Never Overdose on Too Much RFDC Coverage
Antonio Swad, founder of Wingstop and Pizza Patron at the Restaurant Finance & Development Conference.
When writing our coverage of our Restaurant Finance & Development Conference for our January issue, we decided to take the New York Times approach with a slight modification. Ours is all the news that fits in print.
Which meant we left out some interesting comments from speakers. So here’s a few moments that didn’t fit in the magazine:
As part of the session on Entrepreneurship and Restaurants, Antonio Swad, CEO of Pizza Patrón, said that in his early days of founding Wingstop, the way he gaged how his business was doing on a weekly basis was if he had more than a quarter tank of gas in car. Later, during a slow Dallas Cowboy football game, he came to the conclusion that he should get out of the chicken business. The game wasn’t going anywhere and he was no longer interested in making small talk with his then-wife, he said, so he started doing math in his head—equating the number of seats in the stadium to the number of chickens needed to supply the chain with enough wings and drummies. Once he figured out that he was mathematically “killing more chickens than could watch a major football game in two hours,” and still not keeping up with the demand, he decided it was time to go into a more humane business—pizza.
His fellow panel member, Don Newcomb, founder of McAlister’s Deli and Newk’s, started his restaurant career as a dentist. “If I didn’t have spit on my hands every day, I didn’t have a business,” he said to laughter. He continued to practice dentistry for 30 years, but fond memories of being a soda jerk as a kid convinced him to use his funds to open the first McAlister’s in Oxford, Mississippi. “There’s two ways to learn (the restaurant business),” he said. One way is to apply reason and gather all the facts, the other is through your own experiences. “I needed to be in the trenches and bloodied by (my) own decisions,” he said about his choice.
Economist Arthur Laffer in the opening session got applause with his statement: “It’s the policies that matter, not the party. If you tax rich people to pay for the poor people, you’ll have fewer rich people. Our dream in America has always been to make the poor rich, not to make the rich poor.”
A panel that included two celebrity chefs— Eric Ripert, owner of NYC’s celebrated Le Bernardin, and Rohini Dey, a Ph.D. with a master’s from the Delhi School of Economics, owner of Vermilon Restaurant Group (India food with a Latin twist) and one of Chicago magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful Chicagoans—talked about trends they're seeing in the restaurant industry. Here’s the short list: People want to eat food that’s good for the planet and good for the body; the days of enormous dishes are over, portions will start being smaller; restaurants have a responsibility to eliminate obesity; back-of-the-house workers will start sharing in the financial rewards of servers; and social media (something they all admitted to hating) can make or break you, so manage it wisely.
Sam Goldfinger, CFO of The One Group, and Joe Essa, president of Wolfgang Puck Worldwide, were also on the panel moderated by Gary Levy a partner in CohnReznick.