Start to Finish: What Inspires Execs | April 2016 | By Robert Thomas

Start to Finish: Charley Shin

Charley Shin, founder and CEO of Charleys Philly Steaks and Bibibop Asian Grill, explains how a life lived in restaurants has encouraged him to set franchisees and employees up for success.
Top sandwich QSR chain executive shares love for restaurant business.
Charley Shin is founder and CEO of Charleys Philly Steaks and Bibibop Asian Grill. Charleys Philly Steaks

I’ve been in this industry such a long time; I feel I don’t know anything else! I started out as a dishwasher in my teenage years for a nearby Japanese steakhouse and have never looked at any other industry since. Living and growing up in Columbus, Ohio, I graduated from Ohio State University and was looking to start a new quick-serve concept. Being on a college campus, I saw a lot of products offered—burgers, pizza, doughnuts, even gyros—but I never saw a cheesesteak concept. I made it my mission to start a business with that as my core product.

When we started franchising, I really felt a sense of responsibility for the franchisees. We were positioning ourselves as a company that is going to support and propel these franchisees further, and I continually asked myself, “Am I doing everything possible to make sure that happens?” It’s something I always think about because I’d love to one day grow this brand into 3,000 or more stores. We have a mid-length goal of 1,000 stores by 2020, and we’re getting there piece by piece.

Regardless of store number, the drive is to make every restaurant perform at its fullest potential, and the belief is taking care of people. When I maximize my efforts in providing and taking care of the franchisees and employees, they can in turn take care of their customers better. It’s a very simple concept, and it continues to motivate my team and me on a daily basis.

That focus on people is more important now than ever because this industry changes so fast. Customers want the product even quicker than before. We’ve had to up our speed of service while focusing on more flavor profiles. Bibibop came out of a prayer on how to make Charleys more successful as it relates to customers, and I never thought that answer would be to start a different concept. On a whim, I set aside a team of people to figure out a concept that could provide fresh Korean food, and then we were putting together Bibibop stores around Columbus. It allowed us to focus on our niche of well-educated Millennials who understand the concept.

What was your first job?

I was a dishwasher at a Japanese steakhouse.

What is your favorite menu item at Charleys?

The classic Philly Cheesesteak.

What is your favorite restaurant or type of food, excluding Charleys?

I grew up on and love Korean food.

What are some of your interests outside of the business?

Business is a great deal of interest to me because I see the benefit to balance [it with life outside business].

Who are some leaders that inspire you?

Barry Zacks, cofounder of Max & Erma's restaurants.

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

Do good and don’t chase money.

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