John Scharnweber grew up in the restaurant business, starting at the bottom as a dishwasher and busboy growing up in Minneapolis. He went on to major in hotel, motel, and restaurant management at junior college, eventually breaking into good jobs managing restaurants. These days, he oversees the operation of seven top-performing franchise locations in the Dakotas.
Scharnweber's big break came after he had risen to the top job as general manager at a Ground Round restaurant in Bismarck, N.D. The partners at the restaurant were looking at opening a different kind of restaurant franchise. They selected Denny's and brought Scharnweber in on the deal. "It helps to have success in your first couple of ventures," he says.
The winning streak continued as the group added more Denny's and Ground Round locations in the region. Today, the franchise group may not be the biggest in terms of number of locations, but it's one of the very best, with top performers in two different concepts in the Dakotas. And he's done it in a market that may not look overly rich to anyone who doesn't understand like he does.
For Scharnweber, doing well means hiring great people and paying attention to all of the smallest details. And that means every day, starting from his 4 a.m. wake time. That kind of commitment means interviewing everyone who comes in the door, in the hopes of capturing that one, special individual who can help make a restaurant into a top performer. The same approach applies to managing costs. If you watch all the details like a hawk, he says, you can gain much better control over how much money drops to the bottom line.
"You make sure your back doors are locked, pay more attention to all the little things, like vendor billing," he says. "You turn the gas down lower at night. Double check how you count steaks, chicken, ribs. Do more food counts. Add security cameras, pay attention to everything. Do we really need a logo on the cocktail napkins? Do you need to put matches in the ashtrays?"
That may not seem like a lot, but it's a practical approach that adds up, and which has put him at the very top of the Ground Round performers. Also, he says, not all the best marketing ideas need to be original. If an idea like offering two pizzas for the price of one works in the pizza business, doing it with burgers can be a great way to pack a location on a slow weekday night. Customers love it.
It's no surprise that the unassuming Scharnweber turns to a down-to-earth football coach for inspiration on how to work with others. "Do things right, do your best, and always follow the Golden Rule," he says, citing the legendary Lou Holtz.
Work hard, stay focused, and never abandon your bedrock beliefs, says Scharnweber, and you just might surprise yourself with just how well you can do in this business.
Name: John Scharnweber
Title: COO, part owner
Company: Classic Restaurants
No. of units: 3 Ground Rounds, 4 Denny's
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