'Three 15s': Career paths vary, but success requires risk and commitment

| by Elliot Maras
'Three 15s': Career paths vary, but success requires risk and commitment

Maira Morales of Shlotzsky's describes her long career path. Photo by Matt Tilbury.

The paths to success in today's foodservice industry take a variety of forms. One of the sessions at the Fast Casual Executive Summit at the Nashville Omni this week demonstrated there is no one path to success, but success requires the need to take risks, be committed to pursuing personal improvement and always listen to customers.

Sunny Ilyas parlayed a meal delivery service into a restaurant.

In a session where three executives from different backgrounds shared their stories in 15-minute segments, attendees got a chance to hear the different paths people take to achieve success. And while the paths differed, the speakers demonstrated a willingness to take risks to discover their own unique attributes and to commit themselves to personal growth.

Sunny Ilyas, founder and CEO of Vale Food Co., established a meal plan delivery service for healthy food in 2014. He soon realized that many of his customers — most of whom were millennials — wanted to have the option of picking up meals at a restaurant. So in 2016, he opened one.

"I listened to my customers," Ilyas said.

Ilyas noted four requirements for serving millennials: 1) have excellent food, 2) provide good service, 3) be values oriented, and 4) go the extra mile.

Millennials will patronize a business that fulfills these goals, Ilyas said. They particularly appreciate a business that does more than provide average service.

Embracing these values not only appeals to customers. Ilyas found that it also helped him attract high quality millennial employees. Millennials want to be involved in businesses with social values, such as promoting health.

"I was getting the girls and guys who were environmental science majors," he said.

Millennial employees are also receptive to the message that if they want to make more money, they have to do more than meet minimum expectations.

Ilyas said he looks for anything he can find to address a customer's negative emotion. This led him to introduce a no tipping policy. He lets his prospective employees know about this as soon as he interviews them.

He also looks for ways to be visible in local events since it's important to allow customers to see you outside of the restaurant.

Having a presence on social media is imperative with millennials, Ilyas added. He runs specials on Snapchat, which are popular with millennials.

"If you can get anywhere on their phone, you are winning," he said. 

A long and winding career path

Maira Morales took a long and winding road to become the corporate executive chef and director of the research and development department at Shlotzsky's.

A native of Puerto Rico who grew up in Venezuela, Morales eventually returned to Puerto Rico to open a restaurant, in addition to working as a TV chef, writing a book and working as executive chef at Disney World Golf Courses.

Morales attributes her success to finding a mentor who believed in her and gave her the motivation to constantly work harder.

"Always keep on learning," she said. "You can always learn more." She encouraged her listeners to take classes, attend culinary events, read trade publications and keep eating.

"Eat your way through the world," she said, "Never, ever stop traveling, learning and eating." She encouraged her listeners to use the world as an inspirational playground for culinary innovation.

Morales' favorite culinary quote came from a Disney cartoon movie, "Ratatouille," about a rat who can cook: "Anyone can cook, but only the fearless can be great."

Jason Tipp says that change in business, as in jazz, represents opportunity.

How business is like jazz music

Strategy expert Jason Tipp, former senior vice president of strategy and chief development officer at Papa Murphy's International, compared cooking to performing jazz. The semi-professional musician explained that jazz is unique in that it uses a "lead sheet" that enables musicians to improvise rather than having a music score.

"Jazz, after all, is about improvisation," he said. "Change is what they do constantly."

Where a music score puts the performance above the contributions of individual musicians, a "lead sheet" distills the important parts of the composition onto one page.

"By distilling it down, it becomes easy to understand and (make) memorable," Tipp said. Unlike other musical forms, jazz is not about a set of instructions, but about the end result.

"They (the musicians) bring themselves to the performance," he said.

In business, the desire to reduce risk results in a lot of detailed instructions that oftentimes do not take into account changing conditions, Tipp said. Detailed instructions are also hard to communicate.

One of the best selling jazz albums of all time, he noted, is called "Swiss Movement," a recording of a 1969 performance at the Montreaux Jazz Festival in Switzerland by the Les McCann trio with saxophonist Eddie Harris.

Tipp said the performance was not intended to be recorded.

"Are we (as business people) creating strategies that are too detailed and rely on too many perfect performances?" Tipp asked. "Change is an opportunity."

Registration is now open for the 2018 Fast Casual Executive Summit in Seattle.

Photos by Matt Tilbury.

Topics: Food & Beverage, Social Responsibility

Companies: Fast Casual Executive Summit, Schlotzsky's

Elliot Maras

Elliot Maras is the editor of KioskMarketplace.com and FoodTruckOperator.com.

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