I landed in the foodservice industry accidentally. After graduating with my business degree from The University of Texas, I began my financial career at KPMG. When I joined KPMG, I always assumed I would spend my entire career there. It was a fantastic environment to hone skills such as financial discipline, accountability, leadership, client relations, and teamwork. I was promoted to senior manager in the Retail Industry Group and was responsible for one of the firm’s largest public company accounts. But I found myself increasingly intrigued with the operations side of businesses.
By chance, I was presented with the opportunity to join the renowned restaurant company Brinker International, led by the legendary Norman Brinker. I had no particular affinity for the food service industry, but at the time, Brinker was the fastest growing casual dining restaurant company in the country owning and operating both venerable and high-growth brands such as Chili’s Bar & Grill, Romano’s Macaroni Grill, Maggiano’s Little Italy, Corner Bakery, and On the Border, just to name a few. Over time, opportunities to work more closely with the various brand presidents provided me with more exposure and experience with the operations teams. One of these opportunities brought me to where I am today: Eatzi’s Market & Bakery.
Eatzi’s—a European-style craft food and beverage market—was born of a partnership between Brinker and another restaurant legend, Phil Romano. It was the first of its kind as far as a meals-to-go concept, and it was an instant consumer blockbuster.
Eventually, the decision was made to structure Eatzi’s as a separate company with its own management team. I was tapped as the CFO, and the development really took off. I ended up pursuing a stint of other opportunities, including joining a technology company in California and working for private-equity-backed businesses in the medical, retail, logistics and oil and gas industries. But, coming full circle, Romano and I reunited when I rejoined Eatzi’s to lead a new expansion strategy as its CEO. For over a decade now, the brand has successfully expanded and continues to thrive.
What was your first job?
Mowing lawns and delivering papers were technically my first paying gigs, but my first professional job was selling commercial waste disposal services in college.
What’s your favorite menu item at Eatzi’s?
The Idaho Ruby Red Parmesan Crusted Trout is our Wednesday grill special, which I almost never miss. The New York strip steak on Mondays and the brisket tacos on Saturdays are also must-haves for me.
What’s your favorite cuisine aside from Eatzi’s?
I love barbecue. Most people don’t know this, but we also own and operate Slow Bone BBQ in the Dallas Design District. It’s very popular and the food is fantastic. It’s even been voted as one of the best Texas barbecue restaurants by Texas Monthly multiple times.
Who inspires you as a leader?
I’ve had the privilege and great fortune to have worked for two of the most impactful restaurant legends, Norman Brinker and Phil Romano. They did so much to establish the validity of the casual dining industry when it was still nascent.
What’s the best piece of advice that other restaurant executives should hear?
Unequivocally, it has to be about the food. It could be the coolest and most unique concept there is, but if the food isn’t great, customers won’t come back on a regular basis, or worse, won’t come back at all.
What interests you outside of work?
I’m literally on the clock 24/7, but when you love what you do it doesn’t really feel like work.