Whether you’re running a single location or a 10,000-unit restaurant chain, success is built on the shoulders of those who show up to work and believe in your vision. As a leader, you may have an innovative and compelling vision, but this vision will never come to fruition without a dedicated team that believes in your company’s mission. It’s important to hire people who are passionate about not only the brand, but what they do for the brand day in and day out. 

Building a successful company is like crafting the perfect pizza. You need the right ingredients, and in this case, those ingredients are the talented individuals who make up your team. However, it’s not just about hiring folks and calling it a day. It’s about developing a culture that inspires growth, builds strong relationships and fosters teamwork. These essential elements create a trusting, collaborative and supportive atmosphere in which all team members have the opportunity to thrive.

The Secret Sauce is Service to All

So, what’s the secret sauce that transforms a company from ordinary to exceptional? It’s a little something called servant leadership—the philosophy whereby you lead by serving others instead of through power and control. Mix in a hefty dose of exceptional talent and you’ve got a winning combination. When your leaders put the team first, listen to their ideas and make sure everyone feels valued, you set the stage for greatness. 

Ask any restaurateur who’s been around the block a few times and they will echo a familiar mantra: “Surround yourself with the best people you can find.” It’s not about being the smartest person in the room; it’s about knowing how to hire the smartest people and letting them shine. When you encourage debate, welcome different perspectives and treat people with respect, you pave your own road to success.

Servant leadership isn’t just a fancy buzzword—it’s a way of life. This type of approach is about genuinely caring for your team and showing them that you’ve got their backs. According to research from the University at Buffalo, servant leadership, on average, leads to a 6 percent increase in productivity—because when folks know you’re in their corner, they’ll go the extra mile for you, and by extension, for your guests. This distinctive leadership philosophy was adopted by Happy Joe’s Pizza & Ice Cream years ago and has played a pivotal role in its journey to success. It’s the invisible, yet foundational, reason the company surpassed the $2 billion systemwide sales threshold during the first quarter of 2024. Notably, while it took Happy Joe’s its first 30 years to reach the $1 billion milestone, it took just over two decades to double that figure. This underscores the importance of the servant leadership model in driving sustained growth and innovation within the industry.

Frequent Flyers and Repeat Business

Speaking of guests … aside from leadership, what keeps them coming back for more? It’s not just about serving up killer products; it’s about consistency, being the best option out there, and creating lifelong memories. Whether you’re opening a new concept or running a 50-year-old company, you’ve got to stay ahead of the game, keep things fresh, deliver top-notch quality every single time, and do whatever it takes to create magical memories because they don’t come with an expiration date.

When it comes to keeping franchisees happy and driving sales, you can’t just talk the talk—you’ve got to walk the walk by showing your franchisees that you’re in it together. It’s about building trust, providing meaningful support and making sure everyone’s on the same page.

Success isn’t just about making a short-term profit; rather it’s about making a lifelong difference. It’s about building the best team imaginable, leading with heart and creating a culture that lifts each other up. Mixing up the secret sauce of leadership and talent while delivering the best service and products for your guests is anything but easy. But it’s always worth the extra effort.

Tom Sacco, CEO, Chief Happiness Officer & President, Happy Joe’s Pizza & Ice Cream. Since joining Dynamic Restaurant Holdings, LLC. in October of 2020, Sacco is guiding the nostalgic brands down a path of resurgence using his 30+ years of restaurant experience. Tom has held C-level leadership positions at a wide variety of other concepts including BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse, Red Robin Gourmet Burgers & Brews, Ghirardelli Chocolate, Ponderosa and Bonanza Steakhouses, FOX Sports Grill and Gooey Looey’s Bar & Grill. 

Employee Management, Fast Casual, Fast Food, Outside Insights, Story