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Paying his dues

Hardee's franchisee Dave Glodowski believes in the power of groups, a good name brand and a tech-savvy partner


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Today’s franchisee has to have one eye on the business and one eye on the government - plus a third eye on the franchisor and yet another on the customers. No wonder so many franchisees pair up. After all, four eyes are better than two.

Dave Glodowski believes in paying his dues. One check goes to the Hardee’s Franchisee Association, of which he’s a past president. Another goes to the Coalition of Franchisee Associations - he’s currently the president of the multi-brand group - and still another check is written to QSR+ Solutions, a local lobbying group he belongs to along with his competitors in the market. And then there’s the check mailed annually to Minnesota’s restaurant association.

Contrary to how it may look, Glodowski’s not eyeing a career as politician, nor does he want to become a lobbyist. As a small businessman, Glodowski sees the importance of protecting the pennies his company MRG earns on every dollar. And he believes if you’re going to spend the money to belong to an association, you might as well step up to the podium and serve your time.




Dave Glodowski decided to persevere by owning  his own restaurant rather than taking orders as a waiter. The Hardee’s franchisee is a member of numerous organizations and is an early adopter of cutting-edge franchise technology.

 

He has one more year as the head of the CFA, where he also reports back to the Hardee’s Association on what issues its members should focus on nationally.

The beauty of paying his dues is that the associations not only keep him aware of issues that may impact his business, the updates allow him to intercede before they’re voted on.

He and his business partner Mike Hoff run 19 Hardee’s, all within driving distance of their Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, headquarters. “If we can’t drive to it in less than a day we won’t do it,” Glodowski says. “We want to be hands on.”

A native of Stevens Point, Wisconsin, Glodowski had a double major in college - business administration and drama. He came to the Twin Cities to strike it big in theater, but unlike most struggling actors who fund their careers by being waiters, he decided to own the restaurant.

Not long into his acting career, Glodowski discovered he didn’t like the nomad life, nor the constant rejection that went with it. He started interviewing for jobs that paid the bills - a suggestion his father had made early on. The job that enabled him to be around people his own age was working for restaurants. “I fell in love with the business,” he says. “There’s so much going on. If you truly like people, this is the business to be in” - even though his very first day on the job involved spilling Wendy’s chili down the front of his new pants.

He spent seven years with a local Wendy’s franchisee, but when the chain went into a slump in the mid-‘80s, he saw that district manager was as high as he was going to climb. He wanted more.

Throughout the next decade, he worked for a variety of food concepts, but one of the most innovative was his stint with a General Mills pilot program, Bringers, in the early ‘90s. The concept involved vans stocked with a refrigerator and microwave, roaming assigned neighborhoods until a customer called in to order a meal. A dispatcher would notify the driver, who would print out the order and then reach behind his seat to the refrigerator, pull out the lasagna or whatever was ordered and pop it in the microwave to heat as he drove to the house. If the driver ran out of, say, lasagna, a supply van would meet him in a parking lot and restock.

As one of two operations managers, Glodowski remembers being asked to figure out how to build a microwave/convection oven that would fit in the tight space of the van. He flew to Dallas to meet with a NASA engineer on the design.

The food was good and the concept popular, Glodowski says, but while money was no object during the trial period, they were never able to get food costs in line with sales; and after two years, the plug was pulled with just 24 hours notice.

 



Business partners Mike Hoff, left, and Dave Glodowski check out the monitors in their office which streams a live feed from each of their 19 restaurants.

 

The job, however, taught Glodowski a number of lessons, including: There’s always a solution. If you can’t find one, you’re just not looking at it the right way.

His next stop was working for a Hardee’s franchisee who had 80 units in six states. Glodowski ran 11 of them in Minnesota. “The timing couldn’t have been better,” he says, because in 1996, Fred Oreel decided to retire. Again, Glodowski was given notice - this time six months. But he also was given an option to buy some of the units he was managing.  “In the mid’90s, money was not an issue,” Glodowski says, so it was easier than today to take over two units - an “A” and a “B.” “For every “A” store you bought (from Fred), you had to buy a “B,” he explains.

Glodowski remembers going to the lawyer’s office to sign the papers, which took about an hour. When the attorney left the room, Glodowski says he just sat there - waiting.  “I thought, ‘Now I own a business, where’s the music, where are the balloons?’” he says, grinning. But then his thoughts quickly moved to: “Now it’s my dollars going through the till.”

Business ownership changes everything - even when you already had a sense of ownership as a district manager, Glodowski says.

The power of two

In the late ‘90s Hardee’s went into “a slide” in the Twin Cities - “We’re half the size we used to be,” he says of the chain in Minnesota - and Glodowski and Hoff, another Hardee’s franchisee, teamed up to buy nine of the corporate stores for sale. “We decided we could be more efficient if we joined forces,” Hoff says. “We knew each other; had compared notes. Our philosophies meshed well.”

Hoff says he prefers being the partner behind the scenes, while Glodowski, the former drama major, enjoys the spotlight - but in a Minnesota-nice kind of way. He’s not a glad-hander nor flashy. He’s quietly sincere, with a huge smile that lights his way.

One of the two partners’ shared philosophies is thriftiness where it counts. To that end their company MRG, Minnesota Restaurant Group, relies on technology to run its office. There’s no office staff, although Hoff’s wife does come in part-time to work on the books. “If the phone rings we answer it,” Glodowski says.

A row of monitors above the reception-area desk streams a real-time video feed of each store. Everything’s automated.

“We like to keep the money in the field,” Glodowski explains, which is why they have three district managers and no receptionist. They’ve also expanded their boundaries to include five restaurants in Iowa - still within driving distance.

Driving the restaurants is another way the duo is hands on. Although Hoff focuses on technology and marketing, he visits the restaurants to keep up on operations, too.

Being an owner means never getting to say “It’s not my job,” according to Glodowski. When a franchisee visits his or her fast-food locations, they can’t merely observe if the lines are getting long, challenging the “fast” in the category’s name.

“I can walk in and help make french fries, run orders to the dining room, clean tables, but I can’t remember if the ketchup goes on first or the mustard,” Glodowski says, grinning. He can also look at a manager’s eyes when he walks in a restaurant and tell if he or she needs help, he adds.
Each restaurant has a different personality and different challenges, Hoff contends. The marketing, which he just hired someone to help him with, is focused on what would appeal to each store’s customers.

For instance, on the day Glodowski and this reporter drove the restaurants, we stopped at a 20-year-old restaurant in a small town. To celebrate its anniversary, staff was hosting a variety of events, including an ice cream social with a live band. The previous day there had been a wildly popular promotion for 20-cent hamburgers. The crew had sold 2,800 hamburgers in three hours; a successful event the manager says she hopes isn’t repeated anytime soon.

Management had learned from a previous not-so-pretty eating contest to change the rules from all the hamburgers you can eat in five minutes to the fastest time eating one hamburger. “Speed eating one (hamburger) is more socially acceptable,” the manager says.

At the next restaurant we visited, the new hand-breaded chicken tenders were being promoted through samples. While we sat at one of the tables by the windows to try our chicken strips, Glodowski quickly scanned the restaurant to check out how fast the line inside and outside was moving and how friendly the staff was, before turning his attention to an outdoor sign that had taken a hit from an errant car in the drive-thru a few days previously. He went out to assess what needed to be done.

Sometimes when he visits the restaurants, Glodowski just talks to staff and management. On other occasions, he’ll bring paperwork so he can sit and observe while he catches up on work. The idea is to be accessible to staff and to show them the face of the owner. Not to mention showing them, he cares about them and about his business.

In one of the corner booths a laptop station had been set up where employees could complete training modules on how to prepare the new menu item. The chicken strips are just one of the improvements Hoff and Glodowski say have occurred since the chain was bought by Carl’s Jr. In 2003. “They rolled out thick burgers …and we got a second chance,” Hoff says.

Neither partner is ready to retire, but both have agreed to cut back a little, since becoming grandparents.

But don’t expect him to slow down, just because he’s already paid his dues.
As one of the members of QSR+ said about the business during a recent meeting of the group, “Nothing we do is easy.”  

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