In this exclusive Q&A, we chat with Tony Penn, founder of Penn Ultimate Consulting and the Results Driven Leadership program. He currently works directly with clients via hands on, in-person strategy sessions.
Franchise Chatter (FC): Thank you for doing this interview with us, Tony. Can you tell us a bit about your 25-year background in the restaurant industry?
Tony Penn (TP): The one thing I can tell you about my background in the restaurant industry is that it has been very diverse. I started off in operations, having been fortunate to have been at the ground floor of some iconic concepts. Opened the first Outback in California, when almost no one here had ever heard of it. I was there at the beginning of the Buca di Beppo era, before they “jumped the shark”. It was an amazing experience building a brand.
Once I got into the consulting/management role as a COO, I was involved with every aspect of the business. From site selection and lease negotiations, to construction management and of course operations. I then got exposed to the fast-rising world of Celebrity Chefs. In that world, I had to manage the Chef and the business and the two sometimes were diametrically opposed.
There was a common theme throughout, which was the importance of collaboration and buy-in. Without that, results came slow and hard. From there, I started my own businesses which all utilize the collaboration process to help others succeed in their business.
FC: What is Penn Ultimate Consulting, Penn Restaurant Group and what are the differentiators between the two?
TP: Penn Ultimate Consulting is the parent company of Penn Restaurant Group, The Alternative Board and Results Driven Leadership (RDL). The Alternative Board and RDL consist of training and coaching of various types of businesses, while PRG is a full-service restaurant consulting business.
FC: We are excited to hear about Results Driven Leadership. What is the scoop on this program?
TP: RDL is an LLC started by myself and two other very intelligent business owners/executives from a very diverse background of businesses. The reason we got together was because through our many travels in the coaching and consulting world, we were finding managers who are in leadership positions, but have not been trained on HOW to lead.
So many individuals are launched into positions they are not ready for. We know what this looks like, because all of us have had this happen in our careers. There is quite a jump from being good at what you do, to now having to lead others and ensure they get results. Our program focuses on the areas in which managers commonly fall short, including: Strategic Leadership, Employee Buy-In, Talent Retention, Time Management and How to Run an Effective Meeting, to name a few.
FC: What type of clients do you typically seek out or prefer?
TP: As I mentioned before, I prefer to work with those that understand that they need help to give themselves the best chance to succeed. So many people are afraid to seek help as if it’s a sign of weakness. Actually, the opposite is true. Asking for assistance takes courage and the ability to see the benefits far down the road.
In addition, I have to believe in the client’s vision, be it a product, a concept, or a service. And finally, I need to like them as people and vice versa. I’m generally entrenched with my clients working closely on what many times is their life blood. Connecting with them on a personal level is critical.
FC: For franchisees of single and multi-unit locations, what is your best piece of leadership advice?
TP: Understand clearly what it is you don’t know. Don’t let your ego make critical decisions for you. You need to fill in those gaps with knowledge learned on your own, or via outside expertise, with the latter being a better use of your time and in most cases a better return on investment.
Most franchisees I’ve worked with have been successful in other businesses other than restaurants. Some of the skills they’ve learned are transferable; however, there is a whole series of skills in the restaurant world that cannot be learned in a short period of time. Not understanding that is a hard lesson to learn. One that will cost both time and money.
FC: What are a couple common issues you find that franchise owners come to you with?
TP: Many of them want to grow and scale their business, which requires a different set of systems and processes. I also get a lot of franchisees that need help finding great people, which is the most common need in any business I work with. Of course I work with them in the process of sourcing good people; however, I also work with them on retaining people by enhancing the quality of their business culture. Bringing in new people into a toxic culture is just going to extend the cycle of high turnover.
FC: What was it like working with Aarón Sánchez and what type of projects did you collaborate on?
TP: Running his restaurant ventures was a wild ride for a few years. He’s a great Chef but more importantly a great human being and I loved our time working together.
Celebrity Chefs in this day and age are like rock stars, which requires managing both the celebrity and the Chef to ensure the restaurants are providing a great experience for the guests. That can be a challenge when the Chef is being pulled in different directions. Also, there is a high expectation when a Chef’s name is on the sign, so you have to execute at an even higher level than normal.
We had a few diverse projects we worked together on. First, we were contracted to redo all the food menus for the House of Blues throughout the country. It was a big project, but we had a blast, since we both love food and music. Some great stories to tell…
We retooled a Mexican concept in Cleveland, Ohio called Zocalo’s, which is where I first met Aaron. We also opened a 450-seat Latin Steakhouse in Stamford, Connecticut, as well as a more traditional Mexican restaurant in Leawood, Kansas. In addition, I helped him with projects like Johnny Sanchez that he was collaborating on.
Nowadays we live on different sides of the country, but with his show, MasterChef, filming in LA, we still get to hang out often.
FC: What’s coming up in 2020 for Results Driven Leadership and with your consult service offerings?
TP: Well, we’re finishing up 2019 with a few more Leadership Workshops, including Dealing with Difficult People, Underperforming Sales Teams and Managing Stress in the Workplace. For 2020, we have a few clients signed up for our Management Training courses and will continue to conduct more relevant Workshops that anyone can attend. Our goal at RDL is to be working with 5 or 6 mid to large sized companies throughout the year.
As far as my restaurant consulting business goals go, I would like to work with a few great people that have a compelling start-up idea, or that want to scale a concept that is already great. There are a few concepts I’m currently looking at that sound exciting.
FC: How do people get a hold of you and learn more about your services?
TP: I am easy to get a hold of – email@example.com or by phone 818-510-1753. You can check my website pennultimateconsulting.com which has all my services.