Sonic operator embraces complexity

Nicholas Upton

What do you look for when adding a brand?

Unit volumes are always the first thing for us. Then you also look at a brand that offers unit volumes that at least match or exceed the volumes among the competitors in the same sector. A great operations manual is important so you don’t have to make every mistake and learn from past experiences from other operators. And the other piece is something you know that works, or has worked in multiple markets.

How important was it that Newk’s owners had already built McAlister’s?

I get to partner with them the second time around They can look back and say, ‘I could have done this different, and that different,’ and they actually do it on the second time around. That was a huge attraction to me.

And you prefer more complex concepts?

You can get into some of the smaller, simpler chains, but those things tend to be a thing where a person buys themselves a job. But what you can do with a larger restaurant, you can have very high-quality management personnel and create career paths for them.

What’s your real estate focus?

There always seems to be some issues with every location that you look at. So if you start to lower your sites on the front end, then you get other surprises, and what you thought was a B location all the sudden is a C location. So if you focus on the As, you might get a few Bs, but you never get any Cs.

What do you look for when hiring?

You look for people who have had success in similar situations and you look for people that have a lot of drive. The other thing is just undying quality standards. They don’t accept mediocrity. Whenever you walk in, you go into a restaurant and things are very clean, employees look great, everyone has a big smile on their face. And the financial performance usually follows that.

What was the best day of your business career?

I think one of the best days was with the Sonics when we sold our operations in Richmond a little over a year ago.

We gave our chief operating lady, who had joined us about eight years earlier, basically 15 percent of the business. When we sold it, she got 15 percent of the proceeds. So it materially altered her life and she did just a fabulous job for us so it was really nice to be able to reward her.

What’s your best business advice for other operators?

Try not to do everything on your own and listen to people. In our dealings with Newk’s, these guys know a lot more about this thing at this juncture and probably always will. So we’re going to listen to what they tell us to do. And they’re going to really help us with our business, and that’s one of the things you really look for when you are going to be a franchisee: who is going to help you succeed.

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