Everything matters to Wingstop operator, in The Boss
“I focus on everything to the point where it’s almost a disease.” — Charles Loflin, franchisee of 80 Wingstop units and CEO of Pizza Patron
Tell me about your upbringing.
I grew up in Brownsville, which is about as far south as you can go in Texas. Born and raised. I have one sister. I grew up in a single parent home with my mother who was in the real estate business, and that’s a pretty tough business. You sell, you live and if you don’t you’re in trouble. I started washing dishes when I was 15 and I never stopped. It was called Pelican’s Wharf, the owner decided to stop paying franchise fees and started Beacon’s Harbor. I just loved the smell of grease, I loved the smell of kitchens. I’ve just enjoyed the kitchen environment, hot, humid, but I’ve just always enjoyed the guests.
Early leadership trials?
I went to a four-star hotel called La Mansion in San Antonio. I was a room service waiter. I got to serve, I can’t even tell you how many famous people, from Pavarotti to the Van Halen guys to Susanna Hoffs. I was 18, I would walk in with eggs and toast and coffee and it would be $32, and I thought how did people afford this?
I had a gentleman I worked with, he saw something in me. He gave me the opportunity to be a manager. He wanted me to do snooping for him. He had me go to competing hotels and steal their room service menus. I did that, and after about three months he made me a room service manager, and that was my first introduction. That was pretty tough. I was trying to manage men that are my age now.
So how did you do that?
I just rose up. I always had this entrepreneurial spirit. My mom laughs, when I was in the third grade, I started selling. I figured out that kids wanted, I would take these plastic bags and put a little container of strawberry Kool-Aid and put the same amount of sugar, and I’d sell them for 50 cents a pop. Even back then I understood, I was making 100 percent profit.
Because your mom bought all the ingredients!
It’s never been about the money to me, it’s always been about pleasing people, giving them a service that I can go above and beyond. I always think, I will out-work you. I never spoke bad about you, I just always let my actions speak for myself.
You opened your first Wingstop in 1998 plus you bought Pizza Patron from the founder in 2016. How did you get here from there?
Over the years people have said a lot of different things both good and bad. I’m tenacious, I never stop. I’m not afraid to work. When I take my family into the restaurant, we go in the back and we shake their hands, the people who work there.
I think I’m a nice guy. People have seen the ugly side of me because I’m passionate about what I do. Sometimes passion can come off as anger. People know my hot buttons. You want to see my hot buttons, it’s messing around with the food.
Beth Ewen, editor-in-chief, learns if it’s lonely at the top and other lessons from franchise leaders, and presents their edited answers here in each issue. To suggest a candid C-level subject, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
We just bought another Wingstop. We bought that store on Sunday, and my team says, we don’t want to see you the first day. At first it hurt my feelings, but it’s not a good place for me to be when I see things that aren’t supposed to be. I have a way of seeing things that other people don’t see. They say, how did you notice that? I’m a restaurant guy and I’m good at it.
What’s so appealing to you about restaurants?
It’s the instant gratification. I know if I’ve done a good job I’ll see a smile on your face. Flip that and I know exactly when I’ve pissed you off.
How do you hire?
I’m looking for signs of honesty and integrity. Those are the things I’m not willing to bend on. I look at how they shake a hand. Do they look at you when they talk to you? Do they have passion? When I talk to people, people say, I feel your passion because I can get pretty excitable. I look for that in other people because I can’t be around somebody that doesn’t have a personality.
What’s one lesson you’ve learned about leadership?
I was watching something on Howard Schultz the other day, of Starbucks. I see everything. I focus on everything to the point where it’s almost a disease. Howard Schultz said it in a different way, he said everything matters. When I walk up to a store is the concrete clean, is the door handle clean, is the AC working? Are my coolers working? I like beer at 33 degrees. If I could tell a franchisee anything, it’s everything matters.