After a long summer in 2006 I decided I really wanted to pursue my dream of opening my own restaurant. I knew if I wanted to do so I’d need a mentor and investor. Luckily I found the perfect person in Stewart Owens, my future wife’s uncle. He was the former CEO of Bob Evans Farms and had a vast knowledge of the restaurant industry. I told him all about Dillas Quesadillas and he seemed very interested. Interested enough to tell me to get a job in the industry first! He knew that if he was going to help me start a new concept that I’d need the know-how first. I’d need to learn operations, marketing, people management, etc… He told me that if you can do fast food, you can do anything. He had been in talks with a mid-sized chicken finger concept out of Baton Rouge that was starting to get some attention in the industry. The name of this company was Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers. Stewart had a relationship with the Founder, Todd Graves, and since Stewart was looking to possibly do business with Cane’s in some capacity, it would be perfect to get me in there and start learning the business. If this worked out, we could find the time later to get Dillas off the ground.
I put in my application, did my interview in my finest suit (I could write an entire post about that day), and scored a job as a Shift Manager at their new location at Coit and Campbell in Dallas, TX. At this point I didn’t even live there but pretty soon, we packed up everything we owned and moved from Austin to the Big D to pursue my dream of opening my own restaurant. I didn’t know then what would happen along the way but boy was it an interesting ride. My first day was at Raising Cane’s first location in Texas, Cane’s #21 in Lewisville. I came in and was pleasantly surprised by the organization and people. I hadn’t done fast food before so I didn’t know what to expect, and what I did expect was far from what I experienced. The team was focused, the restaurant was clean, and they genuinely cared about the customer. This place had culture and energy. I LOVED IT! After training I went to my home restaurant in Dallas. I worked there for 4 months before getting called up to the big leagues. Apparently there were some issues with the GM at #21 and they ended up leaving the company, creating a void for me to fill. I did…and that is where the real learning began. As a 24 year old first time GM I wasn’t just wet behind the ears, I was soaked from head to toe! I had tremendous support and multiple mentors those first couple of years. I was able to slowly put a team together and learn how to properly staff, market, hire/fire, operate, hit financial goals, leverage restaurant support, hold accountability, and support an enthusiastic culture. It was fun…but it was rough. Doubles, Clopens (close then opens), people problems, facility issues, and everything in-between happened at this restaurant. Through it all I realized that it’s all about leadership and that has stuck with me ever since.
The reason I tell this story goes back to four key learnings. First, get a mentor. Finding somebody who has been there and done that is easier than it sounds and will save you lots of time and frustration. Secondly, get the experience in the field you want to start a business in before you start your business. I talk to people all the time that want to open a restaurant. I often ask, “Where did you get your experience?” They typically respond, “In banking or accounting.” I then offer the same advice Stewart gave me, get a job and see if you LOVE being in the restaurant and have what it takes to run a successful operation before starting your own. I think this holds true in every field, read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. The “special” people that are extremely successful in their field put in the work, they got the 10,000 hours of experience that it takes to be an expert in their field. Get the 10,000 hours and then we’ll talk. My 10,000 hours took 7 years, 2 kids, and a marriage to get! When you start, don’t worry so much about what you’ll earn, but what you’ll learn. Thirdly, your dream will take sacrifice. Prepare mentally for what it will take to achieve your dream. Once you have that in your mind, go about doing the things that will get you there. Need to move cities? Need to sell your house? Need to take night class? Great! THEN DO IT as long as you’re committed enough to your dream, doors will open. Lastly, be ready for opportunity. Luck favors the prepared. Get Becoming the Obvious Choice, this short book was recommended to me by a high energy mentor of mine, Christian Timberlake. In a nutshell, the book explains what it takes to be the obvious choice for promotion in any company, doing the work of the position you want for the pay you get. It’s been my experience that when I put this into practice, the promotion comes very quick. Again, follow the lead of the people who have walked your path and take the advice of your mentors. Next time we’ll talk about personal loss, staying the course, and the next phase of my career at Raising Cane’s. This lead to how I took the step up and got to the next level of confidence that ultimately prepared me to take the leap into entrepreneurship! If you have any questions or comments please e-mail me @ email@example.com!