What makes a place ‘special’ to work at? I’m excited to share with you a conversation I had with an expert in this field. David Dressler is a leadership coach, strategic advisor to purpose-driven entrepreneurs, author of ‘Ten Year Plan’ and one of the co-founders of Tender Greens – a successful and purpose-driven restaurant chain in the USA.
In this candid interview, David shares how to form a ten year business plan, making a difference in your community, the current restaurant ‘Renaissance’, and why making a hard decision doesn't have to be so hard. We also dive into the pains of growing a business and what it means for you as a founder.
‘Ten Year Plan’ by David Dressler
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Michael Tingsager: 3.38
Todays guest is a great example of how you can build a successful business
with a strong purpose at its core - great pleasure to have you here as a guest David.
David Dressler: 3:42
Thank you, Michael. It's really great to be with you, I love talking with you.
Michael Tingsager: 3:46
Yeah, David, I've been lucky to read your book prior to this and your journey. And I talked with you prior to that. And you've been really on an interesting journey for over a decade, building a business from a simple idea to Tender Greens to quite a big business. So a scaling up and a lot of what's happening but before the pandemic as well. But it'd be really good for people out there. Because we are a global podcast. You're based in the US I'm here in the UK to maybe hear about your journey and Tender Greens and what was it all about and what was the intent behind it?
David Dressler: 4:26
Sure. So again, Thanks for having me on. It's really a pleasure to talk to you about this and yeah, it's it was it's a remarkable ride. My life before creating my own company was as an executive in the luxury hotel business. And I was one of those guys that were sort of driven career advancement person. I worked in six cities in six years for one company and had nothing in my fridge but a six-pack of beer and mayonnaise. I had no furniture. And I never really asked myself a lot of questions about what I wanted really, I just did what was in front of me. And at some point that started to itch. I think one because I was getting myself in a little over my head, as a young executive, always just going for it.
And not asking for help. And two, I was starting to feel the entrepreneurial itch, the need to go out and create something of my own. And it wasn't until I landed at a beautiful little luxury hotel in Santa Monica, California that I met my two partners, like to future partners, Eric and Matt, who were within six months of age of me. And we were all sufficiently burned out of working for the man. And so we started talking about this idea of a little restaurant, that could be a lot of little restaurants one day, and we began to plan our exit. In 2006, we managed to raise enough money to jump ship to start our own business, we opened our first restaurant, and it was an overnight sensation. And we were off to the races.
And we had over a 10 year period. An awesome run, we opened 30 of them, and we grew the business to 100 million dollars in revenue. We had 1700 employees at our peak, we were on two coasts, we and I think the thing that I'm most proud of in all of that is that we managed to build a culture that felt very much like a loving environment where people could express themselves where people could grow in ways that worked for them. The culture was a special, almost unicorn of a company where everyone contributed, and everyone mattered. And there was a really, really good feeling, of unity, we managed to do some really special things that were beyond the pale of just operating a day-to-day restaurant, we improved a lot of lives. And the company continues to do that, which continues to be a source of brightness in the world. And so I think that's my that's the legacy of it and the beauty of it. In 2016, we attracted the attention of a great investor to scale the company. And we provided a remarkable exit for our legacy shareholders, which really felt good to live the promise that we made. And at some point, I think that as the company grew and as the complexities changed, I also started to feel like maybe it was time for me to consider a new adventure. I had watched us professionalize the company and hire amazing executives who could grow the next phase beyond my abilities and my partner's abilities. And so we phased out and when, when I knew that that was coming up, when I again started to feel the itch, like I had felt, in my hotel days, I knew that I had to be mindful about it because I had created a culture that was part an expression of me.
And so I began your process of finding my replacement, training my replacement, saying a long goodbye. And just before the pandemic. Thankfully, I transitioned away from the company and saw the team in full flight and I'm so thankful and grateful that it was that team that negotiated the many, many hills and valleys of the pandemic. And I had the intention to take a week off, to build a treehouse for my daughter and then to hang up my shingle as an advisor and coach, I had gone back to school, got an IFC certified coaching degree and because during that two year period of saying goodbye, I was thinking about what am I going to do next.
And Michael, the thing that I love to do most was to help people get unstuck to help them navigate their own scale, their own personal scale. And so I started out as a coach and it turned out that the pandemic was a good time to be helping people to be a service to people who were coming up against it. And that's what I've done. I'm an advisor and coach to founders primarily but also to hired executives. When I was in coaching school, I realized that many of the amazing people that I was training with, were great at asking skilled questions. They were thoughtful, they were insightful, and they were kind, but they'd never built a business.
And so the fact that I've spent over a decade building a substantial business gives me an ability to understand what founders and executives go through at all levels of growth and to speak a language that's important to them. It's hard to ask for help. And it's great to receive the help that is like-minded. So that's what I do. I help founders navigate the winds of scale, I help executives understand founders so that they can protect the culture that made the company successful, to begin with. And as a coach holistically, I'd like to say that people who run companies often find themselves in two boats, either they're one of two boats, they're either managing great businesses but dragging their lives behind them, or they are having good lives but struggling at work and either way, but my mantra has become over time, happier at work is happier at home and happier at home is happier at work, the two are inextricably linked. And so if I can support a leader, be a leader, a strong leader, both at home and at work, then I feel like I'm doing my job.Michael Tingsager::
I guess for me, when you said from the beginning, when you were an executive in the luxury hotel business, to start your own business, that has been a battle you have had to take as well, because running your business, especially in the startup years takes, you know, you know, you know all your waking time and focus, I guess that that journey, that that battle, were exactly trying to find a balance is that something you see many, many founders, really, that's what they're struggling with, and don't want to be honest about it, because they maybe think it's gonna make them look weak?David Dressler::
Everybody, we're all trying to do the very best that we can. And the pandemic has been a great teacher, in terms of how we keep all the plates spinning. And there's always one that's teetering on the verge of collapse. And the question is, how do we? How do we keep them all spinning? How do we give them the focus that they need, because they are all deserving of our time? And we are deserving of receiving gifts from them. So how do we? How do we manage them, and give a little bit of love to everything that needs us so that we can receive that love back and get nourished by it?Michael Tingsager::
When you think about it back to your time when you started out the business with Tender Greens and where you're going now, at that point, you wanted to be an entrepreneur you wanted to be a business owner? I don't know if you've decided already, then what roles CEOs, chief people, and officers, do you divide up between yourself? How was that putting that you know, identity, you know, on the shelf selling a business and say now we're gonna go and be a coach because it's two different sets? It's totally different seats, in my view? Do you still have that edge that you want to go back and be the CEO? Have you dealt with that identity? Check that now I'm no longer CEO, I'm actually just the person that helps and support the CEO?David Dressler::
I don't know. I can't say never if I got the right, ah, that was a full expression of who I am. Meaning that the job was labelled CEO and it was running something that was meaningful to me. Amazing. But what I do know now is that I have a bunch of experience. And I love giving it away. I love being in service to others. I love being the guy that can see around corners for people and ask good questions to help them come up with their own wisdom. And I'm actually building a business of that. So I am a CEO in a way, right? I'm a CEO and a service company that is using all of the stuff that I collected over the years and putting it out for people who need it, you know, the book is a gift to the restaurant business or to any purpose-driven business, as a guide for seeing around corners. And my work with individuals is going deep into what we call a 10-year plan is exactly that. It's how do you create a purpose-driven business and how do you take care of all of the pieces of it so that it can thrive? I love doing that. I love being useful to those who are committed to that idea. And that's a great business for me to be in.Michael Tingsager::
Yeah, because it leads very well into the next question I have to you as well about the 10-year plan. Because when you read the book and some of the other stuff I've read about you and Tender Greens is like you from outside as a team, you had an idea about this is not a quick one, we need time to do it, right? Because we don't just want to build restaurants we want to do restaurants with the right ingredients, the right food, the right people, the right impact, and the community. Can you tell us a bit more about having that as a starting point, seeing that we have a 10-year plan, instead of a three-year plan? What's often talking about today, when you want to open.David Dressler::
When the three of us were, were writing our business plan. We knew that we wanted to open a bunch of restaurants, we didn't want to open just one, we wanted to make an impact on communities up and down the California coast, and we wanted to go to other places. Those were our big dreams. And so when we thought about that, we realised that wasn't gonna happen in one, two, or three years. It wasn't gonna happen in five years. And the more that we crafted that business plan, the more that we massage this idea of if you could have it all your way, what would this look like? The more we realized that it was a big commitment that we were making.
And one of the biggest commitments that we were making is that we were asking people that we knew personally, to write checks to contribute to this, we were saying, Hey, you for whom $10,000 is a lot of money. We're asking you to write this check, we're asking you to give us this check. And we're asking you to forget that you gave it to us a long time. Because we're not going to, we're not going to be able to pay a dividend, we're not going to pay your money back in three years. And most importantly, we're going to take every cent that we receive, and we're going to plough it into growing the company. So what you're investing in is not just one restaurant, you're investing in the totality of our ability to bring this 10-year plan to fruition. So don't ask us next Christmas, Hey, when are we going to see a check because you're not going to see one. That's a big thing to say to somebody who you know, personally. And then to each other, the three partners, the three founders, what happens in two years when you get an edge, or when some other shiny thing shows up? Where do you commit? Right? So and then to our employees, how are we going to take care of them over the next few years, give them the same opportunities that we're trying to give ourselves?
And so we called our company TYP Restaurant Group. When we incorporated it in 2004, we named it TYP Ten-year-plan. I told this story a lot, the first safe box. In our first restaurant, the combination was 10 330 10, guys, 10 years, three guys, 30 restaurants. So we were committed to this ideal, and that was the story that we sold to our investors. And that's what we delivered on in year nine was the exit strategy, the exit liquidity event for them. And you know, as you write a business plan, as you know Michael, and as you refine it, and as you meet with investors to pitch it, you get a lot of questions back. And each time we got questions back, we refine that pitch, we refine that story, because we got a lot of really smart questions.
And those smart questions deserved answers, not just flipping dancers like your shirt, just give us your money and be quiet. Like, wow, that's a really thoughtful idea that we need to consider. And that might have been about marketing, it might have been about corporate governance, it might have been about HR, whatever those questions were, we needed to answer them. And so we did. So we ended up with this very thoughtful business plan that wasn't just about our cash on cash return, it was about the ethos of the company. How are we going to treat people? How are we going to grow? How are we going to train and develop people so that we thought through those things, as you and I were talking about earlier, Michael, we still made our fair share of mistakes, but at least we had a foundation for a business that made sense to us and we felt could be the springboard for a rich culture.Michael Tingsager::
Yeah. And you talk about, you know, you delivered on the 10-year plan, but also talk about in the book of this power of clarity you had as a group on you know, your purpose, your mission, your vision, and how you wanted to build a special place to work because if you got that right, you believe that the rest will take care of itself. That was the principle of what I read in the book. So how do you keep that because you know, as you meet challenges, these often the thing Is there are, you know, put in the background or the missed? In a way sometimes because now we need to make some money to survive? How did you keep that purpose, vision, and mission? I'm sure lots of other people out there are listening in now thinking about how they actually keep that, as they're growing a very successful business.David Dressler::
One of the reasons that we resisted in the early days of writing down a mission and principles was because we didn't actually start with one, we had it in our heads. Not fully baked, but we were busy being it. And I can remember so many times having this discussion with Eric, my partner, said, he would say I don't just want to have a mission statement to have it on the wall somewhere, I don't want just have it on the cover of the training manual. I want us to embody it. And I would agree. And so we were just being those people were being those leaders, they all came out of hiring high school students who had some degree of parenting happening in their home, maybe they had a mom, but no dad or dad, but no mom, maybe they live with their grandparents, we found ourselves giving life skills training as much as on the job training to those kids. That got us into our dad's energy around being a leader.
So we were just embodying it. And then as the company started to grow, and I think this is an important part, as the company started to grow, and we were less involved directly in people's training, or as people in people's hiring, onboarding, we realize that we really actually have to write this down so that our managers in restaurants 4, 5, 6, 10, 20 can refer to something that will help them understand it. First, we have to make sure that we're hiring people who are thinking about these kinds of things. But second, we have to give them language. And so we sat with somebody to distil it out. And that distilling process really got us like, committed recommitted to our own cultural heritage they like, if culture is the product of intention supported by action, we need to be in lockstep with each other that if we make decisions, and they go counter to the culture, that we need somebody to remind us.
And so when we actually put out our mission and principles to our company, we said, By the way, this is not just us telling you how it is a Tender Greens, it's you absorbing it and saying that you have a right and a responsibility to call us out if we ever screw this up. And we have lots of examples in the book of times when we made decisions. Total heartfelt sometimes what we thought were smart decisions, but somebody in the organization said, David, is this really creating restaurants people really love? Is this really living up to our principles? And then we'd have a frank conversation, and sometimes it would be you know what, no, you're absolutely right. We screwed the pooch on this one. We didn't, we didn't handle this, right. And then we'd have a chance to backstep.
And one of the things that do when you have a bad day, and you make a bad decision, and you have the chance to have a do-over. It affirms in the organization that, Hey, it's okay for the bosses to screw up. And, wow, they actually listened to me. And they did the right thing. And we all had a hand in that together. And that creates purpose. And that crew deepens culture, and that makes everybody feel like they're contributing. And that's pretty awesome. You get to use every opportunity as some kind of shameless blameless teaching and learning moment for everybody. As Eric used to always say, in that way, everybody's got one hand in front of them being pulled along by some teacher, and everybody's got one hand behind them pulling somebody along so that we're a chain of people learning and growing. And that was for real, and it's not just talking - it's a real thing that that happens.Michael Tingsager::
I love the way you talk about as well life skills and how exactly helping people to get skills they can use transferable skills. And you know, one of the things I've been asked a lot about in my career, why did you spend so many years with McDonald's? Exactly. That is why I got transferable skills. They were making me better at things or making me a better person or a better leader or whatever it is, I got something with me on my journey was not just a job. It was much more than that. So it's also interesting when you talk about that thing you like a chain of people As lifting each other up, and you launched this project in the book, that made me really interesting, probably a bit halfway a bit longer in your journey you launched the sustainable living project was really about these young people in the communities you are a part of. Can you talk a bit about that, and what that did to your, your business at that point?David Dressler::
Oh, man. So Eric really deserves all the credit for the Sustainable Life Project. But I'll tell you about it. So SLP was born. Because we remember I talked about these, these kids that we hired from Venice High in the early days. And we also hired some folks who, who were struggling. And we saw that we could make an impact if we could say, Hey, this is a place where you can come and learn some life skills, this is a place where you can learn a job. Who could we benefit, we saw that emancipating foster youth were an at-risk group that we could have an impact on, because due to the fact that they don't have a lot of stability in their formative years, they're not learning life skills, they, they don't typically perform well with responsibility only because they're so busy trying to keep themselves alive.
Many of them are impacted by heavy-duty trauma, in their younger years, just the displacement alone from family to family, let alone whatever violence happened in there, in their really, really early formative years, there's high degrees of addiction. And you know, it's, it's hard to get to work if you can't even take a shower, or shave or wash your clothes or what have you. So we spearheaded the SLP project as a means to partner with local organizations that were helping and supporting at-risk foster youth, but who had reached a certain place where they were a little bit self-sufficient, and really just needed somebody to give them a chance. And the idea was, let's give them life skills, training, job skills, training, put them through an apprenticeship, and if they can make it, if they can deliver their 50%, we'll meet them the other half with a job and a career training. And so they started in the dish room, just like everybody else starts in the dish room.
And if they could make it through, if they could show up on time, if they could show up, groomed and ready. And if they could do good work, then they could go on and learn pantry, then they could, you know, move along the progression. And we had some remarkable people who suited up, who showed up and who did it, and who are now in management positions in the company. And they were supported. To answer your question, Michael, they were supported by some great big-shouldered heart-centered leaders in our organization, executive chefs who ran our restaurants, who said, Yeah, I'm going to take this on, I'm going to challenge myself to be a big brother or to be a dad or a mom, to these kids and make an impact in their lives.
So what it did, not only did it help these emancipating foster people, but it also helped us grow our consciousness around helping to be of service. And it was very frustrating at times, there were some sad goodbyes for people who just couldn't get out of their own way and make it work. But by and large, they were many successes, enduring successes, people who maybe they, maybe they stayed with Tender Greens, and they and they grew in the ranks. Or maybe they went on because they grew to be self-confident, really young warriors who really wanted to go to nursing school. And our feeling was great. Use us as a stepping stone to get into something bigger and better. That's more in tune with your life purpose than the restaurant business might be. But what a great thing to have been able to say that we created an opportunity for them to move on.Michael Tingsager::
Yeah, I love the last thing you say about giving the confidence because that's often what we need as any individual we need that confidence to take the next step to be able to move on. I think it's so a beautiful thing and how was that for the organisation? Because I guess that was it was like it was not a charity because it was like a business outcome. You got some talent inside your business. But what did that do to the business? How did people feel that you were doing that piece of work and employees, how will they engage with this whole thing?David Dressler::
I'm not going to sugarcoat it and say that it was perfect. Because when you have a job to do as an executive chef running a restaurant, and one of your people is struggling or doesn't show up repeatedly. That's hard. You know, some of these foster youth were deeply troubled and had a hard time with the responsibilities. They had our time with authority sometimes, and so they would push back. So it wasn't always ideal. But I think by and large if you ask the executive chefs who participated in who sponsored one of these, these people, weren't worth it, I think they would say for sure. And so as a practical matter, it provided some staffing, it wasn't a major source of staffing, but it was a source of staffing.
But I think most importantly, it created consciousness around being of service, not just for the executive chefs who were the mentors for these young people, but also for everybody in the organization to know, to the extent that they knew, well, this company believes enough in this kid to bring him in and train them and hold them accountable and teach them skills. I like the idea that I work for an organization that believes in something like that, that creates a level of engagement that I think a lot of companies miss that that the purpose of the enterprise is to create value in many different ways.
One of those is societal value. And so I think if you're one of the things that the pandemic has done is it's made restaurateurs and other business operators a little gun shy. Because the margins are slim, and it's hard to do stuff. And staffing is such a problem. What if there's a way to make a difference, even if it's, I don't know, I used to take we take the office staff out in downtown Los Angeles, and everybody would get a pair of gloves and everybody would get a trash bag and we go pick up trash for half an hour we'd be out in the sun, we get sun on our faces, and we pick up trash is one thing. And I don't think we did this intentionally. But sometimes people would end up you know, you got 20 people out there with trash bags, and they're wearing Tender Greens T-shirts. And it's a nice way to say, hey, we were here and we care. But beyond that, beyond anybody seeing the right thing that you're doing, we all feel like we're doing something valuable. We all feel like we're making a difference. feeding people in a soup kitchen, picking up trash, sponsoring something, volunteering at the VA, I don't know, whatever it is that we can do to make a difference. I think companies should do that. Because it's teaching young people civic service. It's teaching responsibility. It's creating community towards it.Michael Tingsager::
And of course, it impacted a culture. So how did that like anything in your on your people's journey, you would say that was unique for you to be able to create this kind of journey for people. Because I guess what you're alluding to is also that people came and started working with you and they stayed for a longer period and therefore you're able to build this culture you had.David Dressler::
Yeah, thank you. I mean, yes, it's, I think it's a retention tool. Because people feel like the place that they work at matters, not only did they matter to the organization, but the organization does something that matters. I think that's really important and underappreciated by employers, that the more that they create a soulful work environment that makes a difference or seeks to make a difference or cares beyond the transaction. More young people especially now feel connected and feel loyal, and are less likely to look for the next thing. People want to feel like the place that they work at matters to the world, that they matter, and that they have an opportunity to learn things and learn things. You know, it's either technical skills, soft skills, or just an enhancement of their own souls. And not to get all like pseudo-spiritual but if they feel like they're becoming better people, not just better professionals but better people as a result of working in the organization. That's the thing.Michael Tingsager::
I love that David because that's very much in line with one of my you know, big believers in Daniel Pinkâs Drive and he talks about autonomy, purpose, and mastery. And I've always tried to myself and teams through those things and create frameworks and organizations and teams when I've been able to do that they could operate under this, I can hear that the similar kinds of thinking. But one of the things I was thinking as I was reading the book, and maybe some people, if they're sitting out there, listen to suspend on the website, look at Tender Greens and think about this is a, you know, a chef-driven environment like this is not cookie-cutter kind food. It's not factory-farm food. This is like real food, they're making a real kitchen. And they scaled the business to 30 restaurants, and what about consistency, operational standards, training, and so on. Can you give a bit of a little glimpse into how you dealt with that because I think that's one of the really, really remarkable things about the journey of Tender Greens as well?David Dressler::
I'm not gonna paint the picture that it was perfect, because it wasn't we were always touring restaurants and always tasting the mashed potatoes, and always tasting the tomato soup. And we would find them perennially under-seasoned and it was always a thing, right. And so the mantra was always taste the mash - taste the mash - taste the mash. So we're not perfect by any means. But I'll say what we did early on was, one, create a culture where everybody was responsible for tasting the mash. In other words, if you put it on the plate, but you didn't taste it, you are at fault, whether you're a supervisor or a line cook. So if you put too many olives on the plate, in a salad, and somebody looked over at you, who was your colleague, your fellow salad maker, and said, there are too many olives on that plate, the only acceptable response was, thank you for letting me know. Now, you're not the boss of me, you don't tell me what to do. But you're right, there are too many holes. So we were self-policing. And that self-policing was great because it created leaders who have everybody, everybody felt like they had a hand in it. Pete Balistreri, who's the VP of Operations, who's been at the company since our second world since our first location, really. He called it I couldn't have named it this way. In this video, he called it a culture of love and discipline.
So the love is that you can actually taste somebody's feeling in the food, because of the love of the salt, the love of the pepper, the love of the hands that were taking care of that food, the gentleness by which it was plated, the care and precision of putting it on the plate. That's the love and the way that we certainly treat the people they love towards the guests. The discipline part is the desire to get it right, every day, the desire to do it a little bit faster, a little bit better, to care more to push ourselves to be the best at what we're doing. And those two things had to happen every single day, every single minute, in order for us to grow. So that's another piece. I'd say that another axiom for our company was if you want to build a better broom, ask the guy that sweeps the floor. So we would, as we grew one, go to our managers and say, How can we do this better? To ask the staff, the team? How can we do this better, and be open to hey, you know what, if you move this over here, that would make it a lot easier? Now, if we're burning too many hazelnuts, then one way to do that would be the dedicated set a timer for hazelnuts and make that the standard.
Whatever it was, that could make the product better can make the way that we create it better our production method, the layout of equipment, the equipment itself, we're always open to evolution, to make it better, and then and then to train and to standardize the things that we were doing and not to get too technical. But if you want to train people, and you're not going to be there to do the training, lots of photographs, a few words, as training structure, a training checklist, the ability to make sure that somebody got the information that they needed. And this turns things on their head a little bit in terms of how we train people in that that the employer, we the trainer, take responsibility for making sure the information is transmitted as opposed to holding somebody accountable for making sure that they understand it. We have to say, I'm going to make sure that you understand this. I'm going to say it to you in ways I'm going check in with you, I'm going to make you do it. I'm going to have you demonstrate your proficiency at this. And we're going to do this until you know it. As opposed to dude, you better learn this by Friday, there's a quiz.David Dressler::
From there watching, creating, creating a culture of watching of eyes open of see, when you look and hear, when you listen, make sure that they're saying what they're supposed to be saying at the cash register, when they're giving change back, make sure that they're handing the pen while the receipt is printing so that the two things happen at the same time, make sure that the bussers are out on the floor doing the things that they are supposed to do, and that they know the things that they need to know in order to be good set a higher standard than, okay, you want to be a busser if you can lift 50 pounds, you're hired? No, I think we aspire to be greater than that. We had so many examples of this one in the book where the well-intentioned busser would be roaming the patio, and the guests would say, Hey, can I have more dressing, and the buzzer would say yes.
And the buzzer would come back to the kitchen and say I need more dressing and the cook would say which dressing and the buzzer was, I don't know. So if we could train the busser to look down at the plate, and look at the salad and know which salad that is and therefore know which dressing that is and to come back to the kitchens and need more horseradish dressing, then we can go and take care of that in one step. That's a commitment to training that says, I want to aim high for each one of these people so that they're learning stuff, and they're growing and they're proficient and they're confident in front of the guests. And they can win, they can really win and they can be training for their next position while they're doing their first position.Michael Tingsager::
Yeah, and that's super, super interesting. And as these you know, you feel you are almost leaving one position while you're in it. But you're slowly getting ready for the next step because I guess that's what's happened. And they already had a feeling about what is demanded is a waitress, for example, what, how to look after people's plates, what they're doing, how they are acting, what are their body language saying about right now they feel about the meal, the whole experience in the restaurant. And that led me to think about as well as preparing for this like in the book and also being on the Tender Greens website. It feels like the customers are very engaged in this journey of building the company. They're not just customers, they are almost part of a community for they have a very special relationship, and a couple of your advisors in this journey are also found in the customer group or the community. What did you do there was so special with your local community that make people feel there was almost a part of their life? Was it more than a restaurant for them?David Dressler::
That's a really great question. And I appreciate it. Because when I meet people who have read the book, and they show something back to me that I not necessarily thinking about it shows me the depth of the story. So that's an example early on. Our first round of financing was for friends and family. And the second round of financing the second time we went out to raise money, it was all practically all customers. And those customers within the first few weeks of us being open were saying, Hey, if you go out for money, can you let us know? Because I'd like to invest in this, how can I be involved? So already they were connected to the business opportunity of, of, of our company of tender greens. And then they were also because we were super open with them and cordial and we hired nice friendly people who wanted to connect, they would connect back so they would give us feedback. Hey, you know the patios are a little sloppy or your bathroom needs toilet paper or whatever. We would engage with them every so often we would ask people like if Eric and I and Matt decided what we really want to know is this we'd say Okay, today Eric, you're asking the questions, or Eric would be out in the dining room asking me what do you think of this? Or can I have a taste of this and tell them what you think? We were just engaging with them in ways that were meaningful. We were also supporting local events so that we're building trust we were feeding police officers and firefighters so that we're creating, you know, the local feeling of awareness. We engaged with people we talked to them. We asked them their opinions and what they thought of the brand.
So people felt like they could take ownership, a little bit of it. And the feedback was always really helpful. And that feedback allowed us to grow and because I think I think because Michael people felt like a little bit of ownership. Like that their opinion mattered, they felt really good about bringing people in. So we were, I remember when we were still behind the counter, people would come in and say, Oh, Hi, David, these are our friends this so and so's. And we're, they're joining us for the first time. And then these people would go up to the menu, and they would start describing how the menu works the same way that we described how the menu works to them, they would be explaining to their new friends. And this is how you order it, this is something that I like, and you should get this and don't forget to get that is awesome because that was the feeling of like, we're all in it together that we are trying to kind of foster.Michael Tingsager::
It almost feels a bit like when you find your rock band, and you want your friends to come to experience this like for me, as I've always been pulling people to Bruce Springsteen, concerts or Rolling Stones, you need to experience this, this is like out of body experience, you know, then you have to do this and this is going to happen, but he's gonna say that. So I really love that idea about it's almost like raving fans you're creating you're both internally and externally. But not like you have conscious said this is what we want to create it to happen to the unconscious because the whole feel of one our serve hospitality want to make things better. I really, really like that. How do you see in hospitality now because now you sit on the sidelines, that's all you talked a bit about the pandemic and the challenges and, you know, still coming out of it the industry? Where do you see the industry now as it is and where it's heading. You know, it's a, it's quite bleak for some people, other people are very successful in this. But it's a very changed industry.David Dressler::
There's no doubt that we were severely impacted. You know, whether you were listening, if you weren't successful going into the pandemic, chances are, you're not around anymore. And if you can hold on to the pandemic, God bless you. And it's amazing, but I think everybody is a little bit battle weary. We've had to do so much more with so much less the staffing situation, at least here and I imagine there too, is desperate, it's so hard to fill a weekly schedule, and there's no extra cash to do the things that need to be done. For many of us, our restaurants haven't been painted in years, let alone you know, the fabric on the cushions that it's worn out. And but one thing that I think if we've made concessions and food quality, if we've gone down what Eric is to call the slippery slope of just, you know, managing to the bottom line, it's time to start thinking about getting back to what made you great, to begin with, what made you special because we're all as customers, tasting the difference feeling the difference, noticing the skimpier portion and restaurants are going to have a renaissance they're starting there is so much pent up demand for people getting away from the food that they've been making in their microwave ovens for the last two and a half years. They don't want to eat the same food, they don't want to eat it in their little dining room or in front of their TV, they want to get out and see life. And restaurants are the last bastion of social contact in that way. That they are the community gathering spots. And people have realized how much they love that. I think there's post-pandemic there's a little bit of a let's, let's forget about third-party delivery for a minute.
Let's actually get away from that. Let's put pants on and go out like big people like grownups and actually have a meal somewhere. Yes, we can't watch television while we're doing it. But I think that's going to be okay. People have a well-made cocktail, a beautiful plate of food to be served by a friendly person who brings it is such a novel idea. My wife and I have started going out a little bit. And it's such a pleasure. You know, I think people who are battle-weary in the restaurant business need to appreciate that what we provide is something beautiful and in demand and need for people to get out of their stuff to go meet another couple to go meet another family to dine.
And we each in the restaurant business have a responsibility to put our best foot forward. Remember what it was like, even if it's I haven't adjusted my playlist in two and a half years, put some fresh music on, and look at your lighting again. Increase the portion size a little bit, if you know you need to go back to using something fresher and better up the spec on a one produce item two produce items, three produce items, get some fresh herbs, do something to come back to the place where you have more pride in what you've done, and go away from the concessions that you made out of necessity, and see what happens. Because I think we all deserve to feel a little bit more pride. We've been first responders for a long time. And we and we've put ourselves on our staffs, risks, to take care not just to keep our businesses afloat, but also to support our communities. And I think the future is bright for the restaurant business. And we need to take advantage of it. But we also need to be responsible for putting our best foot forward.Michael Tingsager::
Yeah, that's super interesting, you say the opportunities there. But also we need to increase our, you know, your show our standards, the hospitality we put on because these are the businesses that will stand out and survive long term as well and do really well, because we're still as individual and human beings need that, you know, space to go to, to meet and connect and get away from the inside walls of our homes.David Dressler::
Yes. And I think also, just to add this, I think we also need to look at our businesses with fresh eyes, we've been so down in the muck for so long. And if you can't see it, ask a friend to come in and walk your restaurant for you and have him or her describe to you what they see. And it may result that you didn't see that certain things are tired beyond acceptable, because you've been looking at them for so long. But that doesn't mean you can't go out and buy a $25 can of paint and freshen things up a little bit doesn't mean that you can't finally replace that missing toilet paper roll. You know, in the men's room that's been gone for six months that you keep thinking you're gonna get to, but you never do on your business again, with some level of like, well, I know it needs freshening and I'm going to freshen it in cost-effective ways that work for me.Michael Tingsager::
Great advice, David moved to take you as an individual and also look at this whole transformation and paradigm shift that has happened in maybe are still happening. What is your been your deep internal learning over the last two years, it's already been two years now since we've been in this pandemic. And we're now hopefully in the last phase of it.David Dressler::
Personally, I guess, managing my expectations of myself has probably been the greatest learning. The pandemic has come with great stress and great demand and interrupted momentum. You know, when you're homeschooling your kids, and you're trying to get a business off the ground, and I have felt because I'm a doer that I've been spinning my wheels. And so I think it's important for me to have some level of compassion for myself and also celebrate the things that I did well, and I think others should like, wow, if you made it through the pandemic, with a relatively intact family, and a relatively intact business, kudos to you. And I can celebrate also that I managed to build a business and publish a book and take care of my family.
And to cultivate some more compassion for myself, it's not totally the way I imagined 2021 or 2022 would look. But I'm okay. And I can also acknowledge and I think others need to acknowledge how deeply tiring this period has been to give ourselves permission to be tired. Not to give up, but to give ourselves permission to really feel that professionally. I think one of the things that my work with my clients, my advisory work and coaching work with my clients, and the reception of the book, even you know, your very kind comments about the book have affirmed to me that the process that my partners and I used over our 10-year span works and is a benefit and transfers across all different kinds of businesses. It's a place where purpose-driven business can be created. It's a model for that. And I'm super committed not only, to helping others but to making that more accessible. But my partner Eric and I are working on a year-long program to help entrepreneurs to help founders to help executives actually model this out for their own businesses and then do it. And not to do it alone to do it in a sort of mastermind community. So you're getting them our framework, and, and working with not just me, but working with a community of like-minded purpose-driven entrepreneurs who want to make it happen for their businesses as well.Michael Tingsager::
That's how I'm super interested because I guess you can, are you gonna confirm maybe that I know for a fact there's a lot of people out there that are going to start from the outset of being very purpose-driven. And then when external money gets involved, that's where the battle starts. As you know, the founder and you call them investors or financial partners get evolved used to maybe feeling that you have to put the purpose a bit on the back burner, because that's not really what's valued anymore. It's the bottom line is the race to the bottom line.David Dressler::
I guess it's both. As one of my mentors and advisors, Frank said, when we made, our deal, the good news is you got a big check. The bad news is you got a big check. I think that the folks that invested in Tender Greens, believed wholeheartedly in the mission, and believed wholeheartedly in aligning with a purpose-driven business. And as long as the business is functioning, well and prosperous, then absolutely do all those things. And if it's not figure out the ways to fix it. And I don't think that means immediately cut out anything that's a new age, or overly purpose-driven, or take out anything that's cool that you do with your for your team members, I don't think it means anything like that. But it means an investor, has an expectation of a timeline for their return. And they were clear about that. Anybody that takes money from an institutional player has to know that you can't be idealistic about that. And manage your business accordingly. And you have to make tough decisions.
But I don't think the first thing is to cut your way to prosperity. I think I would rather and you know, we made our fair share of mistakes in this way. But I would rather grow revenue than cut costs. So how can we be creative about growing revenue? Because the more sales you have, the less it's an issue, the less anybody's beating down your door to cut, cut, cut or to make a reduction or to I think it's, it's good, it's good training. I think it also points to the idea of Michael, that when, when some of your listeners do take on investment, they need to be upfront and clear with their potential suitors about what's important to them. Are you aligned with the idea of doing good in the world and affecting communities and impacting them? And they said, Yes, fine. That doesn't sound like a commitment. That sounds more like you can't do it until we get your financials. But if they say, Absolutely, we are, and here are some of the ways that we do that, then we know that that's important. And another thing is like, if we're committed together to doing those things, then we will think twice before we put that on the chopping block. And we'll think of other ways to get the ball through the hoop before we take away things that are actually meaningful to both sides.Michael Tingsager::
I love that. David also talked about in the book. Just want to touch that before we tie up the conversation. You talk about hard and difficult decisions. Can you tell us a bit more about this? Because that was really for me. I never ever framed it like that before. But suddenly, there were like some things that were made clear. And I actually said to myself yesterday, that I had to make a hard decision. And I use that framework so much easier for me. I just have to do it because it's just a hard decision. And it's just gonna be worse if I keep on pushing it down the road.David Dressler::
Sure. Well, I wish I could take credit for the wisdom but it's something that I learned among many lessons from Danny Meyer. And the idea is that a difficult decision is difficult because the answer is unclear. both sides could be argued easily, one could take any number of possible paths, and rushing, to make a difficult decision and not taking the time to deliberate to really thoughtfully think it through, reduces the chance of making a wise decision. That's a difficult one. A hard decision, by contrast, is actually crystal clear. You know what to do. Maybe this is your situation yesterday that it's crystal clear, but it's going to hurt. It's typically these choices around people, people in the organization that either has sort of have grown their ability or right. And failure to make the hard decision in a timely way, is, one, it's this painful limbo, it's this unresolved issue that's been lingering for a long time. And that can do serious damage to the organization because as a leader, other people know that this decision is out there and it hasn't been made. And the action has not been taken. And the organization's morale, the organisation's reputation, and ultimately, its success are in jeopardy.Michael Tingsager::
And I think people listen to this, I was just thinking about a couple of examples of my career as well, especially people's decisions where I waited too long. And the impact of waiting too long was huge, you know, I had other people leaving the business, I didn't want to leave the business because I hadn't made my decisions. And this was actually a decision about myself, it's about stopping doing something. Because as a doer myself, I maybe sometimes start more than I can chew. And therefore I had to make some hard decisions. For myself, and my own health, you know, my own well-being. And again, having that balance you mentioned before was my heart decision, and I just pushed it down the line for, you know, months, instead of I knew, I knew the itch was not there. And I just am just polite about it, instead of saying no, I can't participate in that, because it's not the right thing for me. So I did it. I got the email together, and it was all fine. You know, everybody was happy. It was just in my head. It was playing around. What is the one thing you would have loved I've asked you. What would you have answered?David Dressler::
Oh, my gosh. So it's funny that you were just saying how, when you finally made the hard decision, everything was fine. And it was just in your own head. So the thing that I wanted you to ask me was, what's, what's one of your funniest quotes that you appreciate? So I would have answered. And I think about this a lot when I'm feeling sorry for myself. George Carlin, the comedian, is doing a news broadcast. And he says âA man has barricaded himself inside his home today. However, he is unarmed and no one is paying any attention to him.â And for me, that's what I can do to myself. So I love that like, yeah, man, just talking out just say something, just do something as opposed to just being in your own head feeling grumpy.Michael Tingsager::
Great David I love that, I love that. Where can people find more about you in the book? The Quiet Advisory you're doing now was the best place to go.David Dressler::
To learn more about me get in touch to get on my calendar to talk. quietadvisory.com My social is at David T. Dressler. And to pick up a copy of the book 10-year plan you can go to tenyearplan.coMichael Tingsager::
Great David, thank you so much for coming, and sharing your stories. There's also giving you know the founders like myself and others out there who really want to do something purpose-driven and show this away and sharing your roadmap in your book and the program that's coming up. You're an Eric is doing sound really, really interesting. So so thank you for coming and sharing that and sending you power and energy for the time ahead.David Dressler::
Right back to you, Michael. This has been such a great conversation. I'm really grateful. And also best wishes to you.