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

Start to Finish: Paul Damico

President of Moe’s Southwest Grill

Moe's president learned restaurant business working father's catering company.
Paul Damico Moe’s Southwest Grill
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My dad managed a large catering operation out in eastern Long Island, New York, and I started working for him I think when I was in the eighth grade. Like everyone else, I got started as a dishwasher, and we would cater four weddings every weekend. Eighth grade, I was washing dishes; ninth grade, I was doing some prep work. By the time I got to tenth grade, I was cooking in the kitchen, and by my senior year, I was running the kitchen. I became enamored with the foodservice industry, probably because I watched my father be so successful at it.

I went to Johnson and Wales, got my culinary degree, and I stayed on for my business degree. When I made the conscious decision to go off to culinary school, I really thought that I was going to be a chef and that I was going to stay in the kitchen my entire career. Then probably half way through my freshman year, I said there’s no way I’m going to work in kitchens my whole life.

My entire career has been in what we call nontraditional. So I started in Marriott, and I was with Marriott for 15 years, but I was in their foodservice division. From there I went on to Compass and FSP. Then I got the call to interview for this brand, and I was a big fan of Moe’s because I was a consumer of it. When that opportunity came, that was really my first opportunity to lead a singular brand. My entire career had been managing multiple brands and multiple venues.

I’ve never been part of something that is growing as fast as Moe’s, so when I talk about what juices me up and what makes me come to work every day, it’s the growth of this brand that is providing incredible opportunity for not only our franchisees, but we’ve also got a team here of 74 people at the corporate/franchisor level, and we promoted 12 of those people this year because of the performance that they have delivered. I want to be remembered as the person who provided opportunity and helped a lot of people reach their personal goals. I really believe that one of the core roles that I play is to provide opportunities for people to grow within this organization.


When did you first enter the quick-service industry?

With Marriott Host running the snack bars at JFK airport.

What is your favorite dish at Moe’s?

The Homewrecker Burrito with Chicken. I love our handmade guacamole.

What is your favorite restaurant or type of food (excluding Moe’s)?

It’s got to be Indian food. I love a good curry.

What are some of your interests outside of the business?

My wife and I run and work out together. I also enjoy drinking and collecting wine.

Which menu item or operational strategy at Moe’s are you most proud of?

The development and implementation of our Food Mission.

What is the biggest risk you’ve ever taken as president?

Putting myself, my family, and the Moe’s franchise community out there for “Undercover Boss.” Giant risk.

Who are some leaders that inspire you?

Bill Marriott. I spent 14 years at Marriott/Host Marriott and was enamored with what he did developing the hotel industry. And Howard Schultz. He had a vision and was able to carry it out in a giant format.

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

Keep reinventing your brand, keep it current, and know what your customers are saying about you all the time.