Pizza-preneur: From delivery driver to development agent
Name: Robby Basati
Company: RoboFran Development
Units: 15 Mountain Mike’s Pizza; 2 branded gas stations; 1 Neighborhood supermarket; 8 development agent stores for Mountain Mike’s with 4 new ones in development and 3 in the pipeline for 2021
Family: Wife and 2 beautiful daughters, 2 and 6
Years in franchising: 15
Years in current position: 15
One of Robby Basati’s friends used to drive a delivery car for Mountain Mike’s Pizza. That’s how Basati first learned of the brand famous for its curly pepperoni with a kick. And when he first tasted the product in 2003, he was hooked. Today, he operates 15 Mountain Mike’s locations and employs more than 300 people in California’s Central Valley, Monterey Coast, and Inland Empire areas.
Basati was born in San Jose, the son of Indian immigrants who came to America in 1979. He attended San Jose State University and was still a student there when, at age 20, he purchased his first Mountain Mike’s location in Hollister, about an hour south. That was in 2007, just before the Great Recession.
It was a rough start for Basati. “We almost went under a few times but we kept at it,” he recalls. He made it through, and when the economy eventually turned positive he purchased his second location in nearby Prunedale in 2014. It was rapid growth from there on. Seaside, Salinas, the Central Valley, and the Inland Empire quickly became a part of the young entrepreneur’s growing portfolio and, he says, “We embraced each store and its community.”
Basati loves being a Mountain Mike’s franchisee. He’s currently the development agent for 8 stores, and has 4 more stores of his own in the development pipeline. But he’s not just a pizza guy, he has other diverse business interests as well. He also operates a couple of gas stations and a neighborhood market.
Like other dine-in restaurant operators, Basati’s business was severely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. He had to close dining rooms, and even when they could reopen, it was at a fraction of capacity. Fortunately, he already offered carryout and delivery service, which turned out to be lifesavers, helping him keep his doors open and his employees working. Still, he says, “We can’t wait until the day where the dine-in component of our business returns.”
At the dawn of 2021, Basati says he’d like to open another 6 Mountain Mike’s Pizza locations this year, grow his current store sales by 12%, and look for another investment opportunity outside the pizza business.
Basati, at just 35, will find many more business opportunities lie ahead.
First job: Clerk at Orchard Supply Hardware.
Formative influences/events: The Recession of 2008–2009.
Key accomplishments: Having the ability to set up platforms where people I love can succeed.
Biggest current challenge: There are three big challenges I’m currently dealing with: access to funding, rapid growth, and employee turnover.
Next big goal: Continuing to grow across the state of California while also carefully diversifying our portfolio to mitigate risk.
First turning point in your career: Signing the lease to my second Mountain Mike’s Pizza location!
Best business decision: Hiring my vice president of business development, Amber Johnson.
Work week: Because of our large growth phase in opening new stores, we continue to work at least 60 to 70 hours a week.
Exercise/workout: I try to work out at least 3 to 4 days a week for an hour.
Best advice you ever got: This quote was not necessarily advice given to me, but it does resonate! “If you work really hard, and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.” (Conan O’Brien)
What’s your passion in business? I’m passionate about working closely with my team. I want to see them grow, succeed in their lives, and I look forward to seeing what we can accomplish together.
How do you balance life and work? This can be challenging. However, my family is a huge priority for me. I strongly believe that my kids deserve my quality time, and I make sure I’m able to give them just that.
Guilty pleasure: There’s nothing better than occasionally indulging in a nice Scotch.
Favorite book: Shoe Dog by Phil Knight.
Favorite movie: “The Pursuit of Happyness.”
What do most people not know about you? I really enjoy my alone time.
Pet peeve: I really hate when people litter.
What did you want to be when you grew up? A tow truck driver.
Last vacation: San Diego, California.
Person I’d most like to have lunch with: Conan O’Brien.
Business philosophy: I am inspired by, as well as implement with my team, the leadership philosophy of Tony Hsieh, the founder of Zappos, which is about empowering employees. When someone within a leadership role focuses on happiness as a common denominator, that will then extend its effects to employees and then to customers.
Management method or style: I like to be hands-off with my employees.
One thing I’m looking to do better: I wish I were able to avoid getting distracted so easily.
How I give my team room to innovate and experiment: Giving them the ability to be open and honest is so important to me. I make sure I hear their thoughts and opinions and encourage them to say what they honestly think and feel.
How close are you to operations? Remarkably close. I am involved in all operational strategic decision-making.
What are the two most important things you rely on from your franchisor? Support and understanding. Our franchise support center is amazing. They’re always available if I ever need anything, and they’ve truly gone above and beyond to make my life easier as a franchisee, especially with how quickly I’ve built my locations.
What I need from vendors: Consistency. With multiple locations across California, I want to make sure an experience a guest has at one location can be had at every location, especially with the quality of our product.
How is social media affecting your business? It allows us to be open and transparent with our guests and what we want to convey without any issues.
How do you hire and fire? In the traditional way, interviewing one-on-one and picking our candidates following that steady stream of interviews. Terminating is tough, but we give corrective actions and retrain where needed, and if there is no result visible we must part ways.
How do you train and retain? On-the-job shadowing with an existing crew member. When you follow someone who knows how to do the job, it makes having to retrain any employees less likely down the road. We have found that providing this during the initial training phase actually matters to our employees.
How do you deal with problem employees? If we see any employee being problematic, we implement corrective actions and monitor them closely to ensure they course correct.
Fastest way into my doghouse: Dishonesty.
What are the biggest impacts of Covid-19 on your business? Mountain Mike’s is known for its inviting, family-friendly atmosphere. So as a restaurant that focuses on entertaining the whole family, a local sports team, or a group of co-workers, losing the dine-in component of our business has brought on financial strain, and our ambience has changed significantly because our dining rooms are closed. We can’t wait for the day where the dine-in component of our business returns.
How have you responded? Since the beginning of the pandemic, our franchise support center has been providing us with the tools we need to get through these unprecedented times. We continue to put the safety of guests and staff at the forefront of everything we do. To ensure that our guests feel confident about their experience, in addition to adhering to the strictest health and safety guidelines set by the state and the CDC (such as employees wearing masks and gloves), our dining rooms have been temporarily closed in counties that are currently in the “purple tier,” which restricts indoor dining. Previously, when our dining rooms were opened with limited capacity, sections of our dining rooms were blocked off to create physical distancing.
What changes do you think will be permanent? Time will tell!
Annual revenue: $15 million (Mountain Mike’s only).
2021 goals: Open 6 more Mountain Mike’s Pizza locations. Grow store sales at each of my Mountain Mike’s by at least 12%. And I’d like to venture into something new other than restaurants!
Growth meter: How do you measure your growth? I’m able to successfully see the growth of my business through my team members and my business expansion efforts.
Vision meter: Where do you want to be in 5 years? In 5 years, I hope my crew is happy and all my locations are doing well.
Do you have brands in different segments? Why/why not? Yes, because I enjoy it! It helps me diversify my portfolio and it’s nice to be able to pivot from one segment to another.
Are you experiencing economic growth in your markets? Aside from the impact we’ve experienced from the pandemic, we have done very well. Thankfully, a large portion of our business is carryout and delivery, so we’ve been able to focus 100% on those areas.
How do changes in the economy affect the way you do business? Changes in the economy do not affect the way I run my businesses. Since the beginning, I’ve used the tools I have learned over the years, and I routinely apply them in areas that need to be adjusted.
How do you forecast for your business? Looking at both the previous weekly and monthly revenues, because annually they have drastically changed because of Covid. We can no longer compare with previous years since a large component of our business (dine-in) has been affected.
What are the best sources for capital expansion? Growth! Growing my businesses, whether through third-party delivery implementation, focusing on local store marketing and working closely with the brand’s public relations firm for new store openings and systemwide initiatives—and expecting operational excellence from everyone.
What are you doing to take care of your employees? Every one of my employees is provided with the opportunity to grow, and it’s been a pleasure to see them do well.
How are you handling rising employee costs (payroll, minimum wage, healthcare, etc.)? We try to control costs at every level, as well as use new innovative tools.
What laws and regulations are affecting your business and how are you dealing with this? We’ve been around for more than 40 years, which means guests know our product well and love us. Having a great product to lean on has helped significantly, but with Covid having eliminated the dine-in component of our business model it has been difficult. But we’re continuing to push our carryout and delivery programs so our guests can receive a quality product they love.
How do you reward/recognize top-performing employees? Compensation and added benefits.
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