Start to Finish: What Inspires Execs | November 2015 | By Robert Thomas

Start to Finish: Chris Newcomb

The founder and CEO of Newk’s Eatery explains how the Golden Rule dictates the fast casual's operating strategies.
Southern fast casual chain executive talks influencing upscale restaurant industry.
Chris Newcomb, Founder & CEO Newk’s Eatery

As an out-of-work college student, I got into this industry purely by accident. My father, who was a dentist at the time, had the desire to open a restaurant and told me I was going to be part of the business. Having no restaurant experience, we opened our first deli concept, called Checquers, in 1989. We really started growing our concept and wanted to break from the association with hamburgers and Checkers Double Drive-Thru. We changed the name to McAlister’s Deli, opened four restaurants, and started franchising. Franchising made both my father and me realize that we’re not just in the food business—we’re in the people business. That key element helped us grow McAlister’s, which we ultimately sold in 1999 to an outside investor group.

I wanted to change the idea of what it meant to eat fast casual and create more of a fresh-casual concept, allowing us to take all of the lessons we learned with McAlister’s and have an if-I-could-do-it-all-over-again sort of scenario. We simplified our processes, made it as efficient as we could, and Newk’s Eatery came to fruition. From an operator’s perspective, it became very simple. We took down the wall—literally and figuratively. Operators can manage all aspects of the business from the frontline. When that wall exists, it separates the front and the back into two different teams, which is something I wanted to avoid. With Newk’s, our exposed “stage” is all part of ensuring the customers’ satisfaction and happiness when it comes to our products.

Whether it’s coming up with new menu items or operational changes, I want to always make sure Newk’s is on the cutting culinary edge and that we stay true to our culture. It’s not complicated: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Meet people with respect, and they’ll take pride in what they do. And if you take care of the guests, the profits come. Because it’s a thriving, growing concept, I am lucky to be a part of it. People want to succeed and make our guests happy. Newk’s is in the business of doing those two most important things on a daily basis.

What is your favorite menu item at Newk’s?

Our Newk’s “Q” with coleslaw added.

What is your favorite restaurant or type of food excluding Newk’s?

Going to a steakhouse with some friends never gets old.

What are some of your interests outside of the business?

I love to spend as much time with my family as I can. We like to travel. And I duck hunt quite a bit.

What menu item or operational strategy are you most proud of?

Our Ahi Tuna Salad. It’s sushi-grade tuna seared in-house, with our handcrafted ginger wasabi dressing.

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

From my dad: “Believe in yourself and what you’re doing, and your perseverance will pay off.”

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