Tasty Numbers! Targeting $1 billion in annual revenue
Name: Robert Rodriguez
Company: Tasty Restaurant Group
Units: 222 Pizza Hut, 90 KFC, 68 Burger King, 20 Dunkin’, 15 Taco Bell, 6 Baskin-Robbins
Family: Spouse of 28 years, Sylvia; father of 5 (Tess, Evan, Alec, Bryan, and Maria)
Years in franchising: 50-plus
Years in current position: 5
After 50 years in business, Robert Rodriguez has come to some conclusions about what work can be—and is using them to drive toward $1 billion in annual revenue for the Tasty Restaurant Group (TRG). After just 5 years, TRG is at 421 units with 6 brands in 22 states. For Rodriguez, though, building TRG is about more than money.
“We want to create an organization where people want to come to work for us,” he says. “I want to treat people the way I wish I had been treated. I tell everybody that this may not be the job they have in 20 years, but when they leave they will be a better professional than when they came.”
Rodriguez’s philosophy emerged after decades of work, many of them in the corporate setting he stepped away from so he could act on his vision. “I believe strongly that there has to be a balance between career and personal life,” he says, a goal that aligns with his long-held desire to help others. He grew up wanting to be a teacher. “Coaching and helping others hone their skill set gives me great satisfaction.”
Trust, transparency, and honesty are the cultural values of TRG, he says, tenets that go along with scholarship programs for employees, acknowledging top performers in a variety of ways, and filling 80% of TRG positions with talent from within. Covid had an impact on TRG, as it has for all businesses, he says, and the company has responded by being more collaborative, strategic, and innovative.
First job: McDonald’s crew member while attending high school at age 15 in Miami, Florida.
Formative influences/events: My parents emigrated from Cuba to the U.S., fleeing conditions there. Seeing our family members struggle in a new country, not knowing the language, and scraping by gave me enormous inspiration to make the most of what I have and to prove to myself that I could accomplish what I set my sights on.
Key accomplishments: Finishing my education through to my MBA. Nothing came easy, but just having the opportunity and freedom gave me the inspiration to keep working. Believing in oneself makes most things possible.
Biggest current challenge: To continue to build a family culture within our organization. The restaurant business is about millions of details and working to get them right to serve our guests. Caring for our employees, who in turn care for our guests, who in response care for our business completes the circle.
Next big goal: To get our company to $1 billion in sales within the next 5 years.
First turning point in your career: There are two. First would be joining PepsiCo and spending 12 years learning the business, from the details of the corporate world to becoming an executive. Second would be completing my MBA at Kellogg.
Best business decision: Working for multinational brands that are tactical and strategic at the same time.
Hardest lesson learned: There is no tomorrow, you have to show up every day and give it 100%.
Work week: Whatever it takes to get it done professionally at the highest level possible.
Exercise/workout: Playing golf and walking the course.
Best advice you ever got: In junior high school from a teacher: Whatever you tackle in life, whether science or collecting trash, be the best you can be.
What’s your passion in business? I feel a deep responsibility to coach and guide others in this business to be successful—and seeing their enjoyment when they achieve the highest pinnacle of performance.
How do you balance life and work? I so enjoy this business. It has taught me so much about life, and I have met countless inspiring individuals over the years. When you do what you love, there is not much balancing to do.
Guilty pleasure: Practicing my golf swing. Golf came later to me in life, so I have much to learn. But as the consummate (want-to-be) athlete I enjoy the challenge of pursuing the ideal swing. Studying how world-class golfers practice their trade is an enjoyable pastime for me.
Favorite books: Good to Great, Rethinking America
Favorite movie: I am a movie buff, so I have many movies. If I had to pick one, it would “The Sting.” I never saw the ending coming.
What do most people not know about you? I love to salsa (dance, not eat) and love to do anything to please and enjoy my family.
Pet peeve: Being a victim in a problem. I don’t mind talking about problems, but there has to be a solution that we put all our energies toward. When there were hiring issues there were those who threw up their hands in frustration and closed their restaurants, and then there were those who rallied together, leveraged their work families, and kept their businesses open. It is how you look at life, glass half-empty or half-full. I insist that it’s full.
What did you want to be when you grew up? A teacher. In many ways I still am. Coaching and helping others hone their skill set gives me great satisfaction.
Last vacation: Road trip with my family to Lake Tahoe.
Person I’d most like to have lunch with: My wife. I don’t spend enough time appreciating all she does for me and our family.
Business philosophy: Positive mindset, because most issues have a solution. Surround yourself with the brightest and most capable team members. Lead the team by energizing them and providing solid guidance.
Management method or style: Collaborative, decisive, focus with the end in mind.
Greatest challenge: Raising a successful family so they find their own way and achieve happiness. And going through Covid while maintaining a team focus and managing the financials of the company.
How do others describe you? Generous with time, attention, and insights. Caring, empathetic, and not afraid to show emotions. Quickly getting to the root issue and offering great counsel. Great storyteller.
One thing I’m looking to do better: You must always challenge your leadership style to make it more effective for everyone.
How I give my team room to innovate and experiment: I am not one to micromanage. I am hands-off on managing the individual businesses. That leadership comes from our brand officers, who each fully manage their P&L, operations, pricing, marketing, and budgets.
How close are you to operations? I travel 45 weeks out of the year, mostly to visit our teams in our restaurants. Conversations with our brand leaders occur a couple of times a week. As a company we are very hands-on and have a support staff in Dallas who work for our restaurants in the field. And we all work for our family team members who serve our guests in restaurants.
What are the two most important things you rely on from your franchisor? Brand strategy and innovation.
What I need from vendors: Partnership to help us all improve quality, gain efficiencies, and wow our guests.
Have you changed your marketing strategy in response to the economy? How? Our business is constantly evolving, so to stay relevant we need to adjust our strategy. Local store marketing has taken on greater importance. How we connect with our communities, employees, and guests requires us to use different channels. Guest reviews, third-party delivery channels, catering offerings, and local marketing each play a role in our business.
How is social media affecting your business? We have invested in social media to help us grow our business, connect with our guests, and help us partner with our family team members.
How do you hire and fire? We strive to hire in the image of our culture and family values. We don’t fire; people self-select when they cannot fit our cultural values or are not willing to be coachable.
How do you train and retain? Training is a continual process that never ends when you are working for Tasty. It is about growing people and maximizing their skills to a new level. It is our policy that 80% of our positions are filled with talent from within the organization. As for retaining people, when our culture is properly implemented and we have a continuing training process, individuals feel wanted, appreciated, and successful in their jobs (provided that the individual had a fit within the Tasty culture from the outset).
How do you deal with problem employees? We believe that there are no problem employees. It almost always is about fit and providing the tools for them to be successful.
Fastest way into my doghouse: Violate one of our cultural values of trust, transparency, and honesty.
How did Covid-19 affect your business? In a multitude of ways, from the way we need to manage people to the financial impact every decision we make has on the P&L.
How have you responded? By being more collaborative, more strategic, and thinking outside the box for solutions.
What changes do you think will be permanent? Employees’ expectations will be permanent, and so are the ongoing costs. Guests will continue to demand new channels of access to our products and restaurants. Companies that are first to innovate and prevail in different channels of distribution will be the long-term winners.
Annual revenue: $400 million for Tasty Restaurant Group; $20 million for Dunkin’ and Baskin-Robbins.
2023 goals: Improve guest satisfaction, achieve all our remodels and new developments on a timely basis, and improve employee satisfaction.
Growth meter: How do you measure your growth? Everything we do is measured through a metrics system that we agree on as a team to achieve. Therefore, we have metrics on every single goal or objective we set annually.
Vision meter: Where do you want to be in 5 years? 10 years? We have a strategic plan with a clear vision and mission including a 5-year financial plan. This plan is reviewed quarterly with our internal board of directors.
Do you have brands in different segments? Why/why not? We strategically chose to be in the beverages and snacks, burgers, pizza, chicken, and Mexican categories. We continue to look for opportunities to broaden our holdings into the sandwich category.
How is the economy in your regions affecting you, your employees, your customers? We operate in 22 states. Although there are different nuances by state and city and the political landscape continues to shift on a macro basis, these factors make every day a little more challenging to operate profitable businesses.
Are you experiencing economic growth in your market? At Dunkin’ and Baskin we have had growth, however not to the levels we expect from our operating team. We have adjusted our leadership of the brand to address the potential we see. We contrast our brands against one another and see great opportunity for improvement in the performance of our Dunkin’ business.
How do changes in the economy affect the way you do business? Over the past several years the financial impact from the economic challenges have affected every line item of our profit-and-loss statement, bar none.
How do you forecast for your business? We remain bullish on the QSR concepts, but also understand that today we must conduct business differently from how we did yesterday to endure the financial pressures the industry is under.
What are the best sources for capital expansion? Operating profits from existing operations. No bank will approach you if you are unable to consistently replicate the financial model.
Experience with private equity, local banks, national banks, other institutions? Why/why not? We are a private equity–funded company.
What are you doing to take care of your employees? We are taking advantage of scholarship programs for employees, all district managers are involved in once-a-week recognition and posting of our employees on social media, continual development of skill sets through in-house training, Center for Creative Leadership attendance, and surveying employees to understand their needs and wants.
How are you handling rising employee costs (payroll, minimum wage, healthcare, etc.)? We must meet the minimum requirements the market expects. The culture within each restaurant and how you take care of people are perfect for these types of circumstances.
What laws and regulations are affecting your business and how are you dealing with them? They have enormous impact on the financial model of our businesses. My biggest concern at the moment is the new legislation passed in California that is an attempt to unionize the quick-service industry.
How do you reward/recognize top-performing employees? We acknowledge top performers in a variety of ways. Some examples: annual performance reviews, progression ladder of growth, investment in development (we send potential leaders to the Center for Creative Leadership), bonus programs, attendance at national conventions, publishing weekly rank and stack performance metrics, posting positive guest comments and calling out great service, team rally and dinners, top performers sharing their secrets to success with others, and we publish an in-house newsletter acknowledging top performance.
What kind of exit strategy do you have in place? At this time, my partners and I are exclusively focused on getting Tasty to our goal of $1 billion in annual revenues.
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Multi-Unit Franchisee Magazine: Issue 1, 2023