Article Analysis

Wil’s GrillIn January 2017, John Christ needed to make some decisions about his business, Wil’s Grill. Not long ago, his dad had said, “Son, passion has gotten you here; not the money.” Now,John needed to focus on “the money” – but which path should he take? He could expand his “street food” business, add a catering business, or do something else. John, who loved to make customers happy by serving them great healthy local food, recognized that he also needed to do so profitably.BACKGROUNDJohn grew up on a ranch in Cave Creek, AZ, a small community northeast of Phoenix Arizona. His parents had food service and restaurant experience, and cooking and entertaining were an integral part of spending time with them. “By age 10,” John recalled, “I could cook.”As a teenager, John bussed tables at a restaurant where his dad Wil worked. He also spent many mornings with his dad at a clay-bird sport shooting range near Cave Creek. When done, they needed to go elsewhere for lunch, since the range did not offer food or beverages. So, father and son worked out an agreement with the range owner to open a small food booth on-site, which they named “Wil’s Grill.” On a single grill they cooked burgers, fries and served beverages. Wil taught his son the nuts and bolts of running the business: obtaining necessary permits and licenses, ordering food and supplies, shopping, transportation, inventorying, cooking, cleaning and most importantly, “treating customers as friends.” Hospitality-driven service was a core value.To celebrate his high school graduation in December 2009, John went on a 30-day backpacking excursion with the National Outdoor Leadership School in Wyoming, where he later recalled, “I honed my leadership skills there and this would serve me well in managing my future business.”In August 2010 Wil closed Wil’s Grill when John enrolled at Northern Arizona University (NAU), in Flagstaff, about 120 miles north of Phoenix. At that time NAUenrolled about 23,000 students. John majored in Environmental Studies, and also took classes in other areas, driven by “my inquisitive nature to learn as much as I could about the world around me.” At the NAU School of Hotel and Restaurant Management John learned about the “clean food” movement – characterized by locally produced, organic foods and sustainable practices.1 Clean food was healthy for both the planet and for people through production of efficient amounts of food, provision of leftovers to local shelters, and minimization of waste via biodegradable products and recycling practices.WIL’S GRILL FLAGSTAFFOn a visit to Costa Rica in 2013, John and another NAU student – Karl Shilhanek observed a vibrant “street food” community.2 The “chicken lady,” “kabob guy,” and many other vendors served tasty, locally sourced and ready-to-eat fresh foods to local residents on the street, in the market, at a fair or other public place. Vendors sold “street food” from a portable stall, cart or food truck. John and Karl were inspired to start their own business, and the flames of Wil’s Grill were reignited when they founded their own Wil’s Grill in Flagstaff, AZ in January 2014.The young men worked hard to get Wil’s Grill off the ground. They wrote a business plan, secured the required permits and licenses, and set up as a general partnership. The two partners each invested $500 to get the business off the ground, and John’s parents provided a $2000 low-interest loan to help them purchase grilling equipment“We earned our stripes in the first year,” John recalled. “We were hands-on with every aspect of the business.” Karl focused on business strategy, marketing and social media. He created a website that included their “clean food” menu, a mobile app and a social media presence (on Facebook). John focused on operations and food preparation. He established relationships with five local food sources — including John’s parents’ Happy Mountain Farms. John believed his relationship with farms and producers “allowed me to have a unique understanding of the local supply chain.”Wil’s Grill was highly portable, and targeted two main markets: 1) NAU students who were tired of chain-based fast food and wanted good, reasonably priced, late night food, and 2) community events, where organizers and customers wanted reasonably priced, clean, high quality street food (in contrast, many street food vendors served manufacturer prepared and processed food). Operations included procuring food, preparing main courses and sides, transporting food to venues, and hiring temporary labor for serving and clean-up. Wil’s Grill leased excess kitchen space in non- competing Flagstaff restaurants and bars, for prepping or cooking some food. Once the food was prepared in these locations it was served on tables with warming trays. For outdoor events, an event management company assigned Wil’s Grill and other vendors to specific locations for specific hours. Most food (e.g. burgers, vegetables) was prepared on site, in view of customers.Within four months John and Karl were able to pay off the $2000 loan; since then, they had taken no further loans. The business was not profitable and they did not pay themselves a salary. John and Karl both worked second jobs to cover basic living expenses in 2014 and 2015, and their parents paid their college tuition. John lived a simple lifestyle with minimal financial obligations. They did not invest in a brick-and- mortar operation. Their “office” was as portable as the business.In May 2014, Karl decided to relocate to Bellingham, WA to be closer to his family. The breakup was amicable. John reestablished Wil’s Grill as a sole proprietorship. Without his partner, at first John relied on “gut instinct” to run his business. Summer 2014 was tough, especially interviewing and hiring people. John felt this “was challenging. I didn’t know what I was looking for.” To hire temporary employees for street events he posted ads and networked with local bar owners. In June John hired what he referred to as “my first permanent part-time employee, Cody McCrae, a Hotel and Restaurant Management student.” Cody had also “grown up in the kitchen.” On his first day John gave him some instructions and left for another commitment. Working alone, Cody prepared sliders and coleslaw and proved himself. John placed a lot of trust in Cody, his first assistant manager. Cody flexed his hours and worked as business levels demanded.Preparation and cooking was fast paced, whether in a leased kitchen or on the grill at an event. There were many 18 to 20 hour work days. John believed that he treated his temporary employees fairly, and therefore they were customer focused and wanted to work for him again. John also learned that he needed to define routines and flow- chart responsibilities for some job positions, and to calculate staffing based on the estimated number of plates/day to be served.

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