It seems almost impossible to think about, but my quick-serve career started back when the McDonald’s in my town didn’t even have a drive-thru window. Taking a job as a cashier while I was in high school, I quickly gained more responsibilities and duties. My sister and I worked together most nights and would have to do inventory, count the cash, balance the books, and other financial tasks before closing. I remember liking the nature of the business at that time. There also was a group of area directors who inspected our restaurant, and they always drove up in nice cars and came in talking about their next vacation. I wanted that success, and I assumed that staying in the industry would get me there.

Initially, my parents wanted me to study to be either a doctor or dentist. Being the first in my family to attend college, I didn’t want to disappoint them. One assignment in college was to interview three people in your future profession, and after talking to each dissatisfied dentist, I decided to change my major to food and nutrition, with a minor in business, and go into the foodservice industry.

Having gone from entry-level cashier to managerial positions to current president of McAlister’s gives me great perspective, and I’m reminded of my period of growth and development. I always remember the influence and value managers or supervisors had on me. I try to emulate that same positive nature with everyone, whether it is a sandwich maker or a franchisee. Individuals in those roles inspired me, and I hope to do the same for everyone associated with McAlister’s. I hope to be seen and remembered as the optimist, the one person who always said, “We can do this.”

That attitude allows me to keep goals in sight. We’re in an organizational shift right now with our new parent company. Navigating roles and responsibilities is important to the company, but I focus on being that source of motivation that I always had in this industry. It’s my job to express to everyone associated with McAlister’s that they add value to our company.

What was your first job?

My first paying job was three paper routes.

When did you first enter the quick-service industry?

Junior year in high school.

What is your favorite dish at McAlister’s?

Our Choose Two, Spud Max—hold the black olives—with our Savannah Chopped Salad.

What is your favorite restaurant or type of food aside from McAlister’s?

Thai yellow curry.

What are some of your interests outside of the business?

Family, friends, golf with our boys, and ending each day with the New York Times crossword puzzle.

Who are some leaders that inspire you?

Cheryl Bachelder at Popeyes, Don Fox at Firehouse Subs, and Marla Topliff at Rosati’s.

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

Your guest will never have a better experience than your team. Therefore, do your best to give your team members a great working environment where they feel appreciated. They matter!

Back of House, Customer Experience, Fast Casual, Growth, Restaurant Operations, Start to Finish: What Inspires Execs, Story, McAlister's Deli