Surf's Up!: William Bruce Trades In His Surfboard For The Restaurant Life

It was a late night of channel surfing that gave this former surfer-turned-franchisee a life-changing idea to feed the hungry.

William Bruce, chief operating officer at Abundant Brands in American Fork, Utah, stumbled across a cable showing of "Dive!," a documentary that chronicles this nation's habit of throwing out massive amounts of edible food. Bruce was inspired to see how his company--whose portfolio includes 241 Subways and 14 Costa Vida Mexican Restaurants--could bring about its own change.

With a central kitchen for the company's Costa Vidas already in place, Bruce joined forces with The Rescue Mission in Salt Lake City to transform a weekly average of 300 pounds of excess rice, pork, beef, tortillas, and other food into a seven-layer burrito dish. These days, the regular delivery of 450 meals is known on the streets as "Costa Vida Thursday," says Bruce, who hopes to start including leftover bread from his Subway shops in the donation program.

"I'm so happy that we are not wasting a lot of food as a restaurant company," says Bruce, a trained chef who has also been known to serve food at the mission with his wife Tali. "I feel good about it, our company does, and even the kids who make the tortillas late at night feel good knowing the extra is going to feed the community."

Bruce is energetic, warm, and friendly, and his desire to do good seems a natural part of a corporate culture he strives to have permeate throughout Abundant Brands, whose holdings also include Roxberry Smoothies, Big Al's Bar-B-Q, and the Utah Blaze arena football team. This self-described operating philosophy of "good and human progression," or "good vibrations," is fitting for a guy who grew up surfing every day in Southern California and whose parents owned a consumer marketing company that rated restaurant quality and service.

Bruce joined Abundant Brands in 2008 after serving as director of operations at ARG Restaurant group, which operated Arby's restaurants in California and Texas. He's been in the foodservice business a long time, starting out by tossing pizzas at a beachside restaurant at age 16. His restaurant experience also includes stints with Paradise Bakery & Cafe, Souper Salad, and Souplantation & Sweet Tomatoes.

His recipe for success includes his belief in strong operational systems, checklists for all facets of a restaurant, and hiring and training the right people. "My main thing is our people," says Bruce. "We hire great people with the same vibration I have, that our company has, and our culture has. We have low attrition, and that is a good win for us in all our restaurants."

For Bruce, a father of five, finding time to work hard and play hard is everything. An avid reader who counts snowboarding, date night with his wife, watching his kids' sports, and cleaning house among his hobbies, also admits to one "toy:" a Big Dog K-9 custom chopper complete with flames on the tank and tail.

"For me, balance is real easy because it just keeps you vibrant, healthy, and awake," he says. Who knows what his next late night of channel surfing might bring?

Name: William Ray Bruce
Title: Chief Operating Officer
Company: Abundant Brands, LLC
No. of units: 283: 241 Subways (developing agent for Utah; 16 are AB LLC owned, the rest franchised); 14 Costa Vida Mexican Grills; 11 Roxberry Smoothies; 1 Big Al's Bar-B-Q

Published: December 12th, 2012

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