Farmer Boys is a Southern California-based fast casual known for its award-winning burgers and exceptional service. Today, we boast 101 corporate and franchised locations across California, Nevada, and Arizona. I joined the team in January 2020, just before COVID-19 hit. Taking over during the pandemic was a mixed bag. On the plus side, Farmer Boys had a planned transition as I first joined as SVP of Operations and had six months to become familiar with the brand. On the flip side, the concept needed to shift priorities, but we managed to thrive through solid communication.

My start in the restaurant industry began at Taco Bell as a general manager in the research and development sector. I worked up from district manager to regional training manager to project manager, staying at Taco Bell for 10 years. My final post was leading the operations services team and express operations group. Following Taco Bell, I headed over to senior operations positions at Koo Koo Roo and El Pollo Loco. Most recently, I was with The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf in franchise operations, followed by a similar position as VP of franchise for Del Taco.

While working at Taco Bell, I met Karen Eadon, a world-class marketer who became Taco Bell’s VP of operations services. Eadon became a personal mentor and we worked together at several companies in the years to follow. At El Pollo Loco, my direct supervisor and mentor was Ken Clark, who oversaw the company’s franchise operations, and we both worked alongside Eadon, who was CMO at the time. Both Clark and Eadon went on to become president of Farmer Boys; first Clark then Eadon. Following in Eadon’s footsteps at Farmer Boys was a huge personal honor.

Upon joining Farmer Boys prior to the pandemic, the concept fortuitously placed a sharp focus on drive-thru service. As COVID set in, we accelerated drive thru efforts by bolstering training, narrowing focus, and installing new technology such as timer systems, new headsets, and outside order-taking devices. I also instituted a weekly video call for all franchisees and general managers, regularly having over 100 participants storewide, to provide updates and reminders, and that call remains in place today.

What was your first job?

I am a California native, born and raised in SoCal. I started working in restaurants as a young teenager in Garden Grove, beginning as a cook in a local pizza chain, Perry’s Pizza. My first boss and mentor was a franchisee, John Vairo, who was a hands-on owner operator. It was my high school job and I stayed with it for several years while attending college part time. Besides a few brief moonlighting positions, I have been in restaurants ever since.

What’s your favorite menu item at Farmer Boys

Tough question. I have to give you a situational answer because it changes based on need. My go-to is the Chopped Cobb Salad, a meal in a bowl. I like it because the flavors are great, and it often stretches out to two meals. When a full meal is not in order then I get the Fried Zucchini, which is much heartier than you might imagine. It has to include a side of our house-made Ranch Dressing. And you cannot know Farmer Boys unless you have our famous Farmers Burger, our “brand on a bun.”

What’s your favorite cuisine aside from Farmer Boys?

Having started in a pizza place I love Italian food (and a nice glass of Chianti). But you really can’t go wrong with most well-prepared meals. I often say that there are some things in life that are never bad: beer, pizza, ice cream, and any meal prepared with love.

Who inspires you as a leader?

It may sound cliché but the people around me. I am continually amazed at how eager our team is to create success and get it right. It is an incredible group.  And watching Ted Lasso. I love that show.

What’s the best piece of advice that other restaurant executives should hear?

Pay attention to the people around you. They are often smarter than you individually and are certainly smarter than you collectively.

What are some of your interests outside of work?

I spend most of my personal time hiking trails or on my mountain bike. My wife and I have four incredible adult children who are making their way in the world, and we love to get them together when they can get “home.” And we have two dogs that regularly remind me to play and have fun, and of the importance of unconditional love

Fast Casual, Restaurant Operations, Start to Finish: What Inspires Execs, Story, Farmer Boys