What Inspires GSR Brands CEO Roger David

    The Gold Star Chili and Tom & Chee leader has fostered a culture of family at the multi-concept company.

    Roger David.
    GSR Brands
    Despite the pandemic, 2020 was one of GSR Brands' best years ever.

    Family is at the heart of GSR Brands. Today, I’m fortunate to be running the family business my father and his brothers began 56 years ago. From the beginning, they instilled the brand’s value system throughout the company—respect, passion, courage, and integrity. To this day, we aim to uphold these in everything we do, from how we treat our customers to ensuring that all of our owners identify with these values.

    If I’ve learned anything from my years in the restaurant industry, it’s that anyone can put food on a plate and serve it, but not every restaurant can make you feel at home and feel like family. That is what sets GSR Brands apart.

    I never thought I’d be in the position I’m in today, running the family business. My father actually discouraged me from entering the restaurant industry. Instead, he was always suggesting I become a doctor or lawyer, thinking I could excel elsewhere. But I’m grateful for where I am and the experiences I’ve had.

    After getting my MBA, I worked at Gold Star Chili in the marketing department for 10 years before stepping away to join the dot com industry. When that bubble burst, I was drawn right back to restaurants, this time in the design and brand consulting space. And while I truly enjoyed my work in that space, the hardest part was that all you could do is recommend things, and it was on the client to implement them. My favorite part of my work and role today is that I can be part of not only developing strategy but also overseeing and implementing its execution. Despite the pandemic, 2020 was one of our best years ever.

    We pivoted and grew in sales, in big part thanks to the spirit of our franchisees and the teams they have in place. One key thing we learned in the past year is that the drive-thru is essential, and I don’t think that convenience factor is going away anytime soon. That said, we are beginning to explore “drive-thru only” options for our brands, as well as pickup windows, to continue increasing convenience for our customers.

    What was your first job?

    I started as a dishwasher at the Milford, Ohio, Gold Star Chili in addition to odd jobs in high school like babysitting a pregnant St. Bernard.

    What’s your favorite cuisine outside of chili?

    Obviously, my favorites are the two restaurants in our family of brands—Gold Star and Tom & Chee. But, when I’m not enjoying a 3-Way or Grilled Melt, I enjoy a variety of Mediterranean foods.

    Who inspires you as a leader?

    Danny Meyer, for his take on hospitality. David Novak, for his vision and drive. Brené Brown, for her contribution to vulnerable leadership.

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

    Learn your business from the ground up. Good restaurant owners are the ones who understand the tasks and empathize with the challenges of the position. Understanding hospitality with the end in mind is key. We strive to ensure our guests leave happier than when they arrived. If we execute well, they will share their experience with others. It’s the oldest and most impactful form of marketing. Taking the time to really understand the granular aspects of the industry and how they impact your vision is essential to being a good and successful owner.

    What are some of your interests outside of work?

    Old German cars, helping others when I can, and spending time with my family and friends