Sherry Broesamle’s promotion to Flame Broiler’s vice president of people—the first such position in company history—was implemented to make a statement. As the name suggests, the brand wanted all stakeholders to recognize its commitment to people.
“A statement of wanting to say how important we see people,” Broesamle says. “And it was what attracted me to the company from the beginning of why I said yes and actually made a leap to a completely different industry. I’ve never led in restaurants before, but I loved how they talked about the value of people and it actually didn’t feel like it was just something they were talking about, but it was something that they were wanting to embody.”
She entered her new role in April, and the impact is noticeable. Flame Broiler’s turnover rate for the past two quarters has been 35 percent. Therefore, as the brand acquires new franchised locations in the coming months, they have an established internal leadership pipeline to rely on.
Flame Broiler has bolstered benefits, like paid family leave for store leaders, increased wellness and mental health resources, and continued evaluation of compensation. A majority of managers have been internally promoted, and around 75 percent of them are women. In addition, the fast casual is upgrading processes for employees—anything to make things easier, from onboarding to e-learning.
The progress is also obvious by looking at the support center’s expansion—one of the chain’s biggest initiatives within the past year. Flame Broiler aims to establish a headquarters tailored to its franchisees’ needs. Around the same time Broesamle was hired two years ago, the company also brought on a new director of operations and a director of learning and development. Additionally, the roughly 125-unit chain has tripled the size of its marketing team and recently appointed a new director of marketing.
“Because what we care about is [franchisee’s] profitability and their growth,” Broesamle says. “And part of my role is actually building the support center, to undergird that to bring growth to the system. That’s in keeping people, growing people, and then also being a place that attracts people. I think from all three of those levels that brings a more smooth opportunity for our growth that we’re not scrambling as we grow. We’re ready, we have a bench, we’re growing that leadership bench, and we’re ready for what’s next and giving attention to that.”
Following a nearly two-decade run in the nonprofit sector, Flame Broiler brought on Broesamle in September 2021 as director of people and culture—her two favorite topics. For the past two years, she’s worked to shape the chain’s purpose, mission, and leadership development.
The Southern California-based Flame Broiler was founded in 1995 by Young Lee and has remained a family affair ever since. His three sons each hold key leadership positions. Christian Lee was named COO at the start of 2023 and Daniel Lee was appointed chief technology and marketing officer. The youngest brother, David Lee, serves as brand coordinator.
Given this three-decade history, Broesamle didn’t view her role as changing anything; it was more about successfully scaling Flame Broiler’s values—exemplify love to help others win with fanatical excellence to feed communities. The position of vice president of people provides her the opportunity to sit at the leadership table as a representative and take these guideposts to the next level. Her work touches corporate team members, corporate restaurants, the support center team, and the franchise network.
“The words you’re going to hear are the words I heard from the very first conversation I had when I met with Christian,” Broesamle says. “We just talked about the values of the company. That’s all. There only was a conversation on values. You’re going to hear it in our stores. You’re going to hear it here in our support center—we want to be a company that exemplifies love and we want to help others. We want to do it with excellence. And the ultimate goal is that we want to feed communities. We want to take all those things with the end goal that people are fed healthy food, that we’re continuing to increase our access to that.”
These values aren’t posted on a wall in the support center. Broesamle is of the mindset that every single person influences culture and that employees are creating it all the time: Whether they mean to or not by being quiet and tolerating things, by what Flame Broiler rewards or doesn’t reward, or by what data it gathers and what it ignores. She hopes to be someone that advocates for culture, and in a very intentional manner. That means promoting an environment where people own their mistakes, apologize, and move on, and where employees are familiar with rolling up their sleeves and getting involved.
It’s a communal belief as opposed to an individualistic one. Broesamle wants to define what workers are owning together and how they can help each other. Scaling that philosophy to hundreds of locations is a challenge, she admits. This is her first stop at a restaurant company, but she’s been in human resources for years. She understands how the department sometimes has to deal with a less-than-stellar reputation. For Broesamle personally, she wants to be a partner to everyone and not be viewed as the policy police.
“This isn’t just something that you would hear me talking about,” Broesamle says. “If you were to talk to our director of restaurant operations, he’s talking about the same thing and we meet together every week and we talk about these things and so that has to come through partnership and collaboration together. And I mean, it’s long slow work. It’s not like there’s been like this instantaneous change. But I think it comes to us all owning it and growing it together and saying that culture lives everywhere and that culture just doesn’t live with me.”