Start to Finish: What Inspires Execs | April 2014 | By Sam Oches

Start to Finish: Mike Rotondo

CEO of Tropical Smoothie Café

Tropical Smoothie Café's CEO shares how he built a lifestyle brand.
Tropical Smoothie Café
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I worked at Baskin-Robbins all through high school and all through college, and really got into management. I did everything for the franchisee when I was in college—I ordered product, I hired, I fired, I did payroll. So it really got me into the business and hospitality. I thought it was a lot of fun, and I really enjoyed it.

I enjoyed my time at Baskin-Robbins, but when I was at Wendy’s—I started at Wendy’s in Chicago as an assistant manager, worked my way up to district manager—that really taught me a lot about how much this business is about people. That was 100 percent in my wheelhouse. Yes it’s about quality, service, and cleanliness, but also being able to motivate people, being able to train people. That’s what makes a difference between, I believe, a good restaurant and a great restaurant. I got up in the morning and looked forward to going and doing that for 12 or 14 hours a day.

Tropical Smoothie was a brand that I thought had so much going for it. I think back to 2008, when I started here; that was a rough time. That was a rough economy, it was hard to grow. But people were starting to be more conscious of what they eat and how they take care of themselves, and we’re living the dream right now in that people are looking for brands like us. I knew that as I looked at the brand, there was a lot of low-hanging fruit in terms of what was needed at Tropical Smoothie was leadership, direction, and strategy. And all those things played 100 percent into my strengths. Then and now, what inspires me about this brand is that it’s what people are looking for, and we can help people live a healthier lifestyle.

I want to create wealth for franchisees and for the franchisor and our equity partners. What I really want to be remembered as is the guy who took the good risks and made the hard decisions and created these game-changing events at Tropical Smoothie. I want to continue that legacy of not just small incremental changes, not as this slow and steady guy, but the guy who really shook things up and broke through in areas that couldn’t be done before.


What is your favorite dish at Tropical Smoothie?

Caribbean Carrot is my favorite smoothie; Jamaican Jerk Wrap is my favorite food item.

What is your favorite restaurant or type of food (excluding Tropical Smoothie)?

I have favorite dishes everywhere and frequent restaurants of all kinds, but the top of my list is definitely great sushi. I love how fresh and healthy it is. R Rice is one of my favorite restaurants. I also love J. Alexander’s for its Ahi Tuna Salad.

What are some of your interests outside of the business?

I enjoy lake fishing and other outdoor activities. I love going to movies. I also love renovating our house. We’ve made so many changes to it in the last 18 months it’s almost unrecognizable.

Who are some leaders that inspire you?

From a business perspective, I would say Russ Umphenour. From a motivational perspective, I would say Vince Lombardi. But personally, I got my leadership from my parents. They showed me what it was like to absolutely cherish relationships with people.

What is the best piece of advice quick-serve executives should hear?

You have to have the ability and desire to create and motive and lead an incredible team of people. You can’t do everything yourself; stick to your strengths and then surround yourself with people that have strengths you don’t have. Also, I would say stay true to your brand and what your brand is.