The Future of Restaurant Analytics, with Ward Olgreen of Red Onion

How can restaurant operators harness the power of data to streamline their decision-making process and boost their bottom line?

In this episode, Ward Olgreen, Chief Operating Officer at Red Onion, shares his expertise on utilizing analytics to gain a deeper understanding of customer behavior and make data-backed business choices. Red Onion is the premier provider of restaurant analytics, empowering hundreds of brands to fine-tune their strategies based on transactional data and guest preferences.

Ward explains how Red Onion’s system integrates with point-of-sale platforms and payment processors to generate a holistic picture of customer behavior. Through the analysis of this information, restaurants can assess the effects of menu updates, pricing adjustments, marketing campaigns, and other variables on revenue and profitability.

Leveraging his vast experience in the restaurant sector, Ward provides real-world examples of how data-driven insights have enabled brands to enhance their results. He also stresses the significance of prioritizing sales growth over cost-cutting measures, as this strategy can foster a superior guest experience and long-term success.

As Red Onion continues to innovate, Ward identifies an expanding opportunity to bring analytics within reach for smaller restaurant chains. By delivering user-friendly tools for menu analysis, price elasticity, and team performance, Red Onion strives to assist these brands in making more informed decisions and competing more effectively in the marketplace.

Mentors that Inspired Ward:

  • Jeff Rogers – Former CEO of Pizza Inn who instilled in Ward the value of swift decision-making and flexibility in business
  • Paul Brini – A seasoned vendor who exemplified the importance of product expertise, reliability, and honesty in supplier partnerships

Tune in for insightful tips on harnessing data to drive restaurant success, conquering obstacles in a new industry, and the evolution of analytics in the food service sector. 

LISTEN TO THE FULL EPISODE HERE

Transcript

Intro  

Welcome to another edition of inspired stories where leaders share their experiences so we can learn from their successes, how they’ve overcome adversity, and explore current challenges they’re facing.

Anthony Codispoti
Welcome to another edition of the inspired stories podcast where leaders share their experiences so we can learn from their successes and be inspired by how they’ve overcome adversity.

If you liked today’s interview, be sure to hit the like, subscribe, or share button on your favorite podcast app. My name is Anthony Codispoti and today’s guest is Ward Olgreen, COO of Red Onion, the leading provider of restaurant analytics that helps hundreds of brands optimize their decision making based on guest behavior and preferences. He’s also an advisor to OneDine, an all-in-one checkout solution for restaurants that we’ll talk more about.

Ward has over 40 years of experience in the restaurant industry. He’s traveled to over 30 countries to help franchise brands around the world. He’s a former CEO who understands what it takes to develop and implement tech across an operation, as he’s heavily involved in doing exactly that for two companies. And before we get into the good stuff, today’s episode is brought to you by my company, Ad Back Benefits Agency.

Anthony Codispoti (03:22.879)
where we offer very specific and unique employee benefits that are both great for your team and fiscally optimized for your bottom line. One recent client was able to add over $900 per employee per year to their bottom line by implementing one of our proprietary programs. Another client is gonna save over $1,200 per employee per year by implementing a patented construct that we offer. Results vary for each company and some organizations may not be eligible. To find out if your company qualifies, contact us today at addb

Now, back to our guest today, the COO of Red Onion Ward. I appreciate you making the time to share your story today.

Ward Olgreen (03:59.458)
That was great, I appreciate the invite, this ought to be fun.

Anthony Codispoti (04:02.849)
Yeah. So tell us just in plain English, what does red onion do for somebody who’s outside the industry? How can you help them understand what your company does?

Ward Olgreen (04:10.57)
Yeah, we try to eliminate what’s going on through the customer’s mind by way of their wallet. We’re basically taking transactional information on the point sale system, tying that to the payment provider through anonymized tokens to understand the overall purchase activity. So you can start to compare that to what happened prior to, during and post event, like a new limited time offer menu item or your menu shift or new pricing or remodel in the building or a new competitor moving in across the street.

we can help to identify everything that moved in the business down to your KPIs and sub-KPIs to try to understand was that good or bad or what can you learn about yourselves to make smarter decisions around spend. That kind of boils it down.

Anthony Codispoti (04:53.675)
So let’s say I get a postcard in the mail from a local restaurant that’s inviting me to come in to try their new sandwich. And I do that. And I go in with my credit card. I pay for it. And then I like the sandwich so much, I come back three days later. That’s data that you guys contract to say, hey, not only did that bring Anthony in the first time, but it brought him in a second time and maybe a third time a week later. Is that kind of a good summary?

Ward Olgreen (05:19.286)
Yeah, exactly. And the message going outbound can be a wide variety of ways. It could be a billboard that you put up. And so we would set that up as an event that started at a certain date. Then we would look for what all uniquely moved or changed within the patterns of the guests. Now unlike a paper mailing that you’re talking about, it might have been sent to a specific set of addresses. Or then we would look for people from that address to come in and try that product. Now the one cool additional thing that we do since we understand and track.

the frequency of every guest that’s ever been in there, we can also determine if somebody who comes in normally two times a month, all of a sudden came in three times a month as a byproduct of that mailing, but didn’t buy that particular item, which is uniquely better than most loyalty type companies that tend to focus on the item that’s being advertised because they typically track the productivity of loyalty customers versus all the customers.

Anthony Codispoti (06:10.643)
So you mentioned that you use anonymized tokens. So how is it that you would be able to determine if I’m responding to a postcard mailing? Because you can’t tie those two pieces of data together, right?

Ward Olgreen (06:22.826)
Yeah, what you’re simply looking for is unique, different activity. So we will be looking at all the movement prior to that mailing going out. And then we just start to look at what uniquely changed within the patterns of all the guests. So even though we may not know it’s you yet, we know that this person either added an experience or became as a brand new customer. Now, again, you may have other new customers that come in that didn’t get that mailing. But this is where having information about every single transaction starts to…

pull out all this data, because what you’re looking for is a statistical amount of data that gives you a direction. It’s not going to be exact down to the penny with all those, but it’s going to be able to let you know that, hey, every time we do this mailing, we see an additional 48 new guests above the normal number of new guests that we would see without the mailing. So a lot of it is tied back to the person. Some of it is tied back to the overall event to ultimately understand, when I do this,

this is what will happen. So we try to identify the why behind what happened.

Anthony Codispoti (07:24.479)
That’s great. I have a bit of an e-commerce background and so a big thing that we talk about in that arena is attribution. I’m spending money on an ad. Do I have the tracking mechanisms in place to be able to know, is that ad dollar working? Now, in the offline world, that’s traditionally been really difficult to do, but you guys are starting to connect the dots in that arena in a way that hasn’t been possible before.

Ward Olgreen (07:53.622)
Yeah, a lot of it is, yeah, because when I was a CEO, a lot of it was, you know, how many impressions do we get? As a CEO, you’re like, yeah, whatever. I don’t wanna hear about impressions, I wanna see business, right? And so with our product, you can correlate impressions to business in relation to, you know, a message out on Twitter, right? You know, you say, okay, we saw all these people that saw that message, then how can you correlate to that movement within sales on a per trade area basis? Because that’s what you’re really trying to understand is.

Anthony Codispoti (07:54.091)
Pretty cool.

Ward Olgreen (08:21.502)
If your message is targeted evening time, or lunch, or breakfast, we can break everything down to, and segment everything down to day part and revenue center being, revenue center being this targeted the front of house, or back of house seating, or the bar area. So you start to actually understand the value of a chair during happy hour in the bar. So when you can break that all down, you actually get down to real answers instead of making a decision based on guest ticket average, which is the biggest, it’s the biggest.

This is we make most of brands, but it’s the wrong thing to base everything on. It’s the Brommer that means nothing because that includes catering, outside seating, inside seating, backroom seating, happy hour. And so you have all these different numbers that then average $8.02. Right? And so the problem is, is what does that really mean in relation to how to determine marketing spend? But when you can look at it for every single category and every single, you know, menu item and or segment or revenue center.

Then you can start to make decisions, hey, I need to move the drive-through business on the weekends and I understand what’s going on with that category and that timeframe to make a better decision that can impact that. First is just making everything general.

Anthony Codispoti (09:35.307)
Do your customers ever have trouble making the attribution if they’re running multiple things at once? They’ve got a billboard outside, they’re running a radio ad, they’ve done a mail postcard campaign. Do you encourage them to do one thing at a time when you’re trying something new so that we can better pinpoint if it’s working?

Ward Olgreen (09:55.722)
Yeah, I mean, certainly, and also even the positioning of a billboard might be closer to a certain store, right, versus another store. So you’re typically gonna have a trade area impact. But yeah, it helps a little bit if they can stagger them, just, you know, even if a couple of days, because we start to look for what moved in that first two days, and then you’re able to compare that to what additionally moved in the ongoing few days in relation to a secondary offer. But that’s always been with all advertising. You really like to understand and be able to attribute all the moving back to the event that caused it.

to understand that, yeah, I spent this amount of money, which was, I mean, our original name was Marketing Vitals for nine years, and we evolved it to Red Onion because we’re helping all the departments instead of just marketing. Because marketing had the toughest time of proving out the value of their spend. I mean, they couldn’t even prove out what’s the value of a new guest, where we can actually prove out the residual value of a guest over the next 90 days. And so we eventually changed our name Red Onion as in the layers of actual application.

You know peel back the layers of your business things like that But ultimately it is about understanding that guest and individual person so you can make smarter decisions around spent

Anthony Codispoti (11:02.055)
And you guys also tie into or help companies set up their own loyalty programs so that you sort of overcome that issue of an anonymized token where you don’t specifically know that it was me, you just know it was the same person who came in, right?

Ward Olgreen (11:16.554)
Yeah, I mean, what we can do is we work, we’re like agnostic, right? So we’ll pull in information from Punch or Patronix or a wide variety of loyalty companies. So we’ll pull in that data, layer that on top of the data while we’re tracking. But ultimately, you try to pull in data that can be tied back to the transaction. And that’s where we can, again, learn about that guest. All the way down to we pull in weather for every weather station in the United States. So we understand when weather was an issue versus when it wasn’t. Funny story, we had a

company that wanted to do business with us, but the CEO said, hey, how can I use your product to blame weather on everything that happened last year? Yeah. It’s really, you know, our job is not to, you know, make our answers fit your narrative. It’s the other way around. You know, and so, but yeah, so we pull in anything we can pull back in the hard tie back to that transaction. It helps us understand that guess better. And that’s at the end of the day, when you can understand the guests as it applies to your menu, one of my favorite sayings, and this is actually my saying is, you know, there’s no, there’s no more honest way a guest can talk.

to you about your brand and how they buy your food. Because I can say whatever I want on social media. I can tell people, yeah, I had a Caesar salad yesterday with a low amount of dressing, and I’m really focused on my diet. And with my transactions, I had a double cheeseburger with onion rings, fries, and a giant drink. So the transaction is always gonna be the truth about what a customer is doing and how they treat your brand.

Anthony Codispoti (12:35.467)
So I’m curious to better understand who would be sort of the ideal fit for your technology. Is it like a one or two store chain? Is it like these big national brands? Do they have to have certain tech in place in order to be able to tie into your systems?

Ward Olgreen (12:53.958)
I mean, of course, we love to have cloud-based point-of-sale systems like Toast or Square. At the same time, we’re integrated into, I think, 35 different point-of-sale systems, whether it’s Aloha, PosiTouch, Parbrink, which is also cloud-based. Starting with that, because that’s where you’re getting the bulk of the data and then tying it into the payment process, like FiveServe, et cetera. So the technology, I mean, the data is typically there. They just don’t understand what a wealth of information they’re sitting on. That’s our job, is to pull in all that data.

And then make sense of it all to be able to project it out in simple answers in a, it’s a complex platform, I’ll have to say. But at the same time, it’s gotta be to handle that much data to be able to project out answers that make sense relative to that business. And that’s what we’re trying to do is help these people see what they can’t see with their naked eye, which is most people think, yeah, I know my guests, right? And I always…

When I was a franchise business consultant with the Pizza Inn, I’d always take the franchisee out. Really? You know your guests, huh? So let’s go stand at the front door. And as they walk in, I want to know, first name, last name, where they live, how much money they make, how much did they spend last year, what’s their lifetime spend, what’s their favorite item? And they find out very quickly. One, they didn’t know any of the 20 people that came through the door, much less any of those details. And so that’s the problem of most of the restaurants. They were started by a very passionate person who had this idea for a brand. And then they’d take it.

have a tough time getting past what they think they know about the brand to get down to the level with the data will tell you. Because it illuminates some really interesting things. Well, my favorite data points is I’ll ask a prospect, I say, tell me what do you think, what are the patterns that you have around your single visit guests? And they go, well, there’s no pattern at all that came at one time. I said, well, this is what’s unique about our product, because we can then take all the single visit guests and look for common.

commonalities within those purchases, all the way down to identifying the person who served them so we can bubble up and show every time Susie serves a first time guest, she has a much greater chance of that guest never coming back as a comparison to other servers, which is a data point you would never see managing her, but when you can look at 300 different transactions and the impact of those transactions, the data doesn’t lie from that standpoint.

Anthony Codispoti (15:02.748)
Mm-hmm.

Anthony Codispoti (15:11.455)
So I can surface a training opportunity there. Maybe, yeah, Susie needs a little coaching on how she’s interacting with that guest, and you had no idea. That’s really interesting. Can you think of another specific example of some insights that your data can help surface?

Ward Olgreen (15:16.03)
Exactly. Yeah.

Ward Olgreen (15:26.334)
Yeah, we had one of the casual dining large brands. You’ve probably seen them run like the two for 20 lunch deals. And we’re like, so why are you doing this? What’s the goal? They said, well, our guest ticket average is $9.40. So we figure if we can get two people to come in at $10 each, that’ll move the ticket ratio up. We’re like, well, let’s run through our analytics and see what it’ll do. Because we’re segmenting spend to understand what each segment will do as a byproduct of that offer.

And we said, well, it looks like your actual, your guest ticket average is gonna go down. They’re gonna go, well, that’s impossible. I said, well, let me show you why. Is what happens is all the people who spent less than 9.42 never traded up to two for 10 or two for 20, right? Everybody that spent more than $10 each all traded down. So you ended up actually moving the guest ticket average down, you know, which was opposite of their goal. But that’s what the analytics will actually show you.

because you can actually simulate some of this information based on the data they’re already pulling in. So it’s funny that marketing often creates these ideas and not truly understanding the impact on the overall bottom line.

Anthony Codispoti (16:38.079)
So is part of your service then not just to provide the data in a dashboard format, but it sounds like you’re also providing some coaching and some consulting on how to interpret that data?

Ward Olgreen (16:50.058)
Yeah, we do have. We have some analysts. The work can basically oversee our success team. So our goal is to make them want to use our product and continue using it. And we have everything from CEO down to assistant general managers will sign in and use our product. But yeah, we’re constantly trying to help them understand how to use it. So we’ll take it down the level, here’s the data, here’s what it means, but they’re always going to stop short of saying, and this is what I would do if I were you.

because then you’re starting to direct people on decision making, which is really not our role because we may be serving A of the top 10 Tex-Mex companies in Texas, and it just wouldn’t be right to be directing one with data even though subconsciously you might be saying, oh, and I’ve seen this happening in other brands and I’m gonna use that data to now direct you for your brand. So it’s hard to keep it separate from that standpoint, but we do try to educate as much as possible. I see as…

Maybe we’re an education tool, we’re a strategic decision making tool, but we don’t act as consultants to the brands.

Anthony Codispoti (17:52.511)
Yeah, that actually brings up a good question, because you’ve got this data from so many different restaurant sources. Is there an opportunity for that data to become useful to somebody in aggregate?

Ward Olgreen (18:07.583)
There is, but we made a promise to all of our brands that we would not share the data, would not sell the data, we would not aggregate the data in any way. So, we’re going to go ahead and start the presentation. So, we’re going to start the presentation.

Anthony Codispoti (18:15.075)
So even internally, you’re not looking to see, you’ve got everything siloed off.

Ward Olgreen (18:18.114)
No, we may, yeah, the only thing I would say, we may even learn ourselves smarter things to do and smarter ways to use our platform. Because again, it’s a deep data platform. And so there are things that you go, oh wow, I didn’t even think about using it that way. Now that’s something because we’re learning every day how to even further use our platform because we’re constantly getting better, smarter, adding new ways of using it. So we would take that and apply that to.

other customers as a smarter way to use all of our, we have like 60 major analytics, so smarter ways to use those.

Anthony Codispoti (18:54.039)
I’m sure there must be other brands similar to Red Onion who are trying to do the same or similar kinds of things in the space. What separates you guys? What puts you head and shoulders above the rest?

Ward Olgreen (19:06.73)
One, we’re the first ones to really do this. I mean, at this level down, you know, we started in 2014, so we got 10 years behind us. And we’re, a lot of other people are maybe compartmentalized competing with this, but I’ve yet to see anybody that does everything we do around menu and price, employee impact, et cetera. It’s just really deep, you know what I mean? Like, I usually don’t mention customers, but we have one customer that’s been with us since 2015 on a month-to-month contract. And for us, I mean, we’re…

about saying it’s about creating value on a monthly basis because that customer can exit at any time. So it really kind of keeps you on your toes.

Anthony Codispoti (19:43.175)
Is there any thought or do you feel like there’s an opportunity to take your same tech into other kinds of retail establishments that are not restaurant oriented?

Ward Olgreen (19:53.874)
It’s usually about the third to fourth question that everybody asks, that how can I use what you do and apply it? I mean, we’re constantly looking at how we can evolve, but as an example, let’s just say if it was something like a men’s warehouse, the entree could be the suit, the appetizer could be the socks and the shoes, the dessert could be the tie and the shirt. So there’s ways of taking what we do and applying it to retail. Certainly we do think about that all the time, but we also know that there’s a lot of restaurants out there that need help.

And the other thing is restaurant learning is on a per transaction basis, and you’re having three to four transactions a day sometimes. So there’s a lot to learn in a very quick manner on restaurants where, you know, shirts and stuff like that retail, I mean, you go to Nordstrom’s once every four months and you buy free shirts, right, or whatever, and then you don’t see them again for six months. And so it is tougher to understand, you know, purchase activities and patterns when they’re shopping so far apart.

and may only be impacted by a sale. But food is consumed, again, three and four times daily, so there’s a lot to learn.

Anthony Codispoti (21:00.159)
probably be a good application for grocery store chains, although a lot of those are big enough that maybe they are employing their own kind of tech behind the scenes. I don’t know.

Ward Olgreen (21:11.158)
Yeah, a lot of it is also with them, it’s also, how you say, it’s inventory driven, right? The goal of the distributor who’s selling the product is to get my box out of my inventory into your inventory. Now, once it’s at the grocery store level, then it’s their ability to move that product before the shelf life issues arise. So with that standpoint, there’s so many moving parts. I think the average grocery store has something like 75,000 SKUs, whatever items.

And so it’s a lot to track. So it becomes tougher to understand the causation correlation in relation to products. But like when you buy a steak, do you also buy a can of corn and a can of green beans and three potatoes? But there is a way to correlate and try to understand it. But the truth is, how can you then impact the next purchase not knowing if next week you’re going to have pasta? It’s a little tougher to correlate the information, but there’s certainly a lot to learn.

Anthony Codispoti (22:05.351)
Yeah, so you guys have been in the restaurant space longer than anybody compared to your competitors. That’s allowed you to build a tremendous number of integrations with different point of sale systems and get your tech just so much further ahead. So yeah, I can see how it would make sense for you guys to say, hey, there’s just tons of opportunity for us to continue growing in the restaurant space.

Ward Olgreen (22:26.518)
Yeah, right now we’re dominantly in the US. So we’re cloud-based. We can be anywhere. I mean, like with one of our brands, we’re in 26 countries. So they just love the fact that they can utilize us to understand data available to them the very next morning. And we can process every currency in the world and inclusive of daily exchange rates. So they can go, I want to see all the different currencies, the 12 different currencies representing these 26 countries all in US dollars this morning. And our product will do.

Anthony Codispoti (22:53.831)
And you already have that capability built in. Multi-currency, multi-local.

Ward Olgreen (22:57.238)
Yeah, they don’t have to do anything. They just say, it’s basically a point and click model. They say, I just want to see it in US dollars, or dirhams, or pesos, or whatever. And they would convert all the different locations into pesos.

Anthony Codispoti (23:11.003)
Is there a plan, a thought in place to put in an international sales team?

Ward Olgreen (23:16.966)
It’s, you know, from the standpoint, we, there’s several events. There’s a GRLC, there’s a RLC, which is Restaurant Leadership Conference, which is domestic, and there’s another one in Singapore coming up actually in November. And, you know, everybody has the same issues. The one thing about the United States, it might be a little bit further ahead on technology as it relates to restaurants. At the same time, I think the United States has a much higher ticket average. So they might be able to, you know, handle the additional cost of technology.

But everybody has the same issues. You know, we do have somebody that’s going to be looking at our product for the UK, be able to offer it there. But at the same time, we can be anywhere. So we do talk to customers all over the world.

Anthony Codispoti (24:01.683)
Let’s switch gears a little bit and talk about One Dine. You’re an advisor here with this company. Tell me what these guys do.

Ward Olgreen (24:09.898)
Yeah, I mean, it’s really what they call like an e-commerce cloud, one-dine. It was one of the first ones to create the QR codes that could be placed in front of a chair at a table so the customers could actually just scan that and be able to pull up the entire menu, place your order, split tab and pay. One of my favorite items about that is they also have these really smart tablets right there that you’re looking at. And the tablets help to take the order by chair instead of by the table.

So let’s just say, and we’ve all been at the wrong end of this, where there’s a table of eight, and then two people, one couple orders a very expensive bottle of wine. But at the end of the day, everybody just goes, hey, everybody just throw your credit card in, let’s divide it four ways. And so then you get six people helping to pay for that very expensive bottle of wine. But with our product, the server can simply take their fingers and drag those two chairs together for that one menu item to split the cost across those two.

And then maybe four people try a certain appetizer, the other four have a different one, they can actually drag and drop information relative to the menu items, specific to the people that dine with them. And then each person or each couple can say, okay, I’m gonna be responsible chair one and two, let me pay for those two. And the tablet just goes around and everybody puts in a credit card and takes care of the business. And it really works well. It speeds up everything, it improves accuracy.

It also eliminates any chargebacks because the customers never lose control of the credit card. So yeah, it’s really easy to use.

Anthony Codispoti (25:36.531)
And so, does this layer on top of an existing point of sale system or does this become the point of sale system?

Ward Olgreen (25:44.354)
It generally lays on top of existing systems. So let’s just say, again, you have an existing system where, and I apologize for the terminology, but you have a master and slaves, as far as they have one major unit that controls the other additional ones off to the side. And as those break down, instead of having to replace everything, you can simply layer our product on top of that point-of-sale system, the major one that’s collecting all the information. What’s cool is we’re able to grab all that data first.

So we can also bring in surveys and other ways of talking about the guests. I think our ability to bring in surveys is two and three times higher than the other ways of doing it because the customer is taking that survey as a byproduct of doing the payment process. So it’s much easier to capture the information. Plus, the information can be relevant to that purchase. So instead of the question being, how was your visit this evening, which is like boring, right? It’s, hey, I noticed you ordered the steak medium rare.

Was it to temperature? Right, no, so you can be very specific with your questions.

Anthony Codispoti (26:44.803)
And I can see a number of the companies here, trusted by thousands of locations, a number of big name brands, a lot of people would recognize, Cheesecake Factory. And so the way this would work is, this device has actually brought table side, I ask for my bill, they bring this to the table, I pull out my credit card, I tap on there, and maybe there’s a survey question, and then when I’m done with it, the…

The server takes the device back and everything’s done, right?

Ward Olgreen (27:15.082)
Now at the same time, you also just use your own phone. So you can use your own phone to shoot the QR code and scan it or tap it and then pull up the order. So the server tablet is really for customers who simply want to use the server tablet as a brand or for let’s say customers who don’t like the idea of using their phone or simply, I just say older customers who are just not ready to do that yet or don’t understand how to do that. So yeah, so brands will use it both ways.

Anthony Codispoti (27:43.439)
And so what’s coming here for One Dine? What’s up next for them?

Ward Olgreen (27:48.346)
If I told you that I’d have to kill you. But…

Anthony Codispoti (27:50.516)
Fair enough. Maybe we’ll do a future episode to do a look back on what’s happened since then. Great.

Ward Olgreen (27:59.958)
But you also saw that some of the logos were like Look Cinema, which was the previous owner of Studio Movie Grill, Brian. And they used that to be able to just generate easier order taking where the people are placing your orders while they’re sitting at the seat watching the movie. So it’s a very nice, quiet process of placing that order, then the server simply bring the food to that chair. So it can be used in arenas. And so from that standpoint, it’s really helpful with simplifying the order process because it’s a lot easier.

Anthony Codispoti (28:05.545)
Okay.

Ward Olgreen (28:28.63)
It also generates higher sales because instead of customers walking up the stairs to go to the concession, they are able to place the order with their phone and the server knows where to bring the food. Much easier, much faster.

Anthony Codispoti (28:39.063)
So it’s not just a payment vehicle, it’s an order vehicle as well.

Ward Olgreen (28:43.73)
Exactly. Yeah, like one of the brands actually they’ve talked about this publicly Bartaco uses it and they’ve actually flipped their entire service module that the servers are all on salary and the cooks are tipped Right because the customers I think I think that around 90% of our customers are placing their own orders using their phone All right. So again, if they make mistake that’s accuracy on them Not somebody taking the wrong order so it really helps from that standpoint because they get a chance to review it etc And that way the servers get to focus on providing service instead of

repetitive order taking or repetitive, here’s our house special tonight, and they have to go around the entire table because it’s loud enough that one side couldn’t hear it, the other side, you know, did. So yeah, it did. I think they’re running somewhere north of a 30% EBITDA in those brands, which is just out of the park. My wife used to work for Brinker a long time ago, and typically their goal was to hit 25%. And so at a time when costs are up and labor is difficult,

Anthony Codispoti (29:37.911)
Okay.

Ward Olgreen (29:42.63)
They were able to cut back on the number of servers needed to service a dining room, because now instead of going through the repetitive order taking, you’re focused on delivering food to the right person. And so instead of only handling four tables, you can now handle six and seven tables. So we’re able to cut back. Yeah.

Anthony Codispoti (29:57.055)
Like you said, at a time when it’s hard to find good labor, reliable labor.

Ward Olgreen (30:01.453)
Yeah, exactly. And now you have people from other companies fighting to have a position there.

Anthony Codispoti (30:07.467)
fighting to have a position with what?

Ward Olgreen (30:09.234)
As a server, as a server. It’s like, you know, for the servers in Casual Dine are hoping to become a server in a fine dine, right? So you have people in other brands that have heard, wow, you can make more money being a server at a bar taco.

Anthony Codispoti (30:23.447)
Specifically because they sort of flipped the model on its head and now they’re salary-based. So they don’t have to worry about maybe potentially a slow shift where they’re not getting tipped out. Is there a relationship between One Dine and Red Onion, these sort of sister companies?

Ward Olgreen (30:31.894)
Yeah, exactly.

Ward Olgreen (30:39.43)
Just say the same founders created both brands one dine Was created out of red onion or marketing vials at the time actually created back in I think 2019 They actually started right for Kovac hit and offered their technology free to the full service brands that lost their dining rooms Yeah, so me absolutely still have to pay for the you know the tablets But they just offered the actual technology to connect and use it so that way if you ever seeing

parking spots with signs on the back end where the customer gets, you know, scan the QR code, place the order pay, and then the server to run the food out. That was our technology helping customers be profitable.

Anthony Codispoti (31:18.847)
Oh, what a terrific service to be able to offer during a really difficult time.

Ward Olgreen (31:24.298)
Yeah, that was a tough time for all technology stocks, or products should I say, and it’s just, yeah, because we’re tied directly to them. So when they suffer, we suffer.

Anthony Codispoti (31:33.771)
So is there any additional functionality that a customer who subscribes to both Red Onion and OneDine would get that a customer who’s only using, for example, Red Onion may not see?

Ward Olgreen (31:46.934)
Well, the one thing that’s a little bit different is Red Onion is typically we download information once a day. So because we’re analytics, right? You’re not doing analytics throughout the day. Red Onion does. And then One Dine is live during the day. So in relation to survey information or learning what’s going on during the day, as it could apply to analytics, we can tie the two together and start to just look for any unique data points that occur. And it’s typically going to be around the ordering process, going to be around menu.

Ward Olgreen (32:17.41)
as a limited time offer rolls out, you’d like to know during the day what’s going on, determine how do I want to evolve that offer tomorrow. But yeah, so there’s certainly different things. We’re really just kind of tying that together where the primary founder who created Red Onion is really focusing his time on the OneDyne right now. And that’s where we’re kind of getting to is perfecting that product and then how do we combine the two to again.

create some really unique data points that come up only when we’re both together.

Anthony Codispoti (32:47.179)
Hmm. Ward, everyone I’ve ever met, particularly business leaders, have at least one story where they overcame a big challenge in their life. Personal, professional, sometimes a combination of the two, coming out the other side, they’re better, stronger, wiser because of it. Is there something in your past that you can think of that would serve as a good inspiration for other folks that you could share with us?

Ward Olgreen (33:15.842)
I mean, I would say that, I mean, I didn’t go to college, right? So I was thrust into the work atmosphere at a younger age than most people would. But at the same time, I worked really hard and I wanted to work my way up in management. I had worked for Waterberg for nine years and then saw this opportunity to work in the equipment industry because, you know, I was trying to see what can I learn there that I can apply back to either food. And got a chance to run a company, a food equipment repair company, sales and repair.

Called GCS service at the time and I was 26. I think the average managers branch managers at age was 45 So here I am this young whippersnapper going into a business I’ve never dealt with before having no idea some of the terminology they use around Boilers and thermocouples and all these other things that you know, they talk about all day long So I’m this young guy, you know and trying to manage people that are all 10 and 20 years older than me and it was tough It was it was it was tough to you know one

get their trust and get their appreciation for me being there. But the idea of management putting me there was trying to bring this fresh set of eyes from the restaurant industry, who deals with pressure all day long, 24 hours a day. And they were a service company that basically worked eight to five Monday through Friday. So the whole idea was there’s something I can bring to the table that can improve their service model.

Anthony Codispoti (34:40.719)
And so you were coming in with an outside view. You had not had experience with the hardware, with the equipment, other than knowing sort of the pains of what it’s like to be in a restaurant and maybe have one of these pieces of equipment stop working at a critical time. So you had sort of the experience of being the customer of that company.

Ward Olgreen (35:03.006)
Yeah. Yeah, and that’s where it just helped me to be able to sit down with the service technicians to say, hey guys, I’m not here to try to be smarter than you in relation to how to fix a boiler on a steamer, things like that. I’m just here to try to help the brand make more money to be smarter in relation to how we help our guests. And again, I remember the days of a Friday night, it’s 5.01, the service companies have all shut down, and my grill just broke, and my fryer broke, right?

And I’m stuck out, so I got to go the entire weekend with, you know, 50% productivity on an item that I really need. And so my first moves with the company was to bring on 24-hour service. And of course, introducing the idea to the staff, you know, it was nothing but groans, right? Oh, you got to be kidding. Really? I’m not going to spend the weekend with the family. I said, yeah, well, the by-product is we’re going to be charging overtime, and I’m going to give you 50% of all the labor charge. And it immediately flipped the model of the groans went to, wow, really? Okay. So you’re going to give that up.

Anthony Codispoti (35:53.005)
Mmm.

Anthony Codispoti (35:56.212)
Hehehe

Ward Olgreen (35:58.294)
And so we had a 24 hour beeper that the guys would have to wear, you know, during the week as well, but typically, as always, all the equipment breaks, you know, on Friday night. And so you had people fighting, you know, it was in rotation, but they would say, hey, if John doesn’t want it, I’ll take it. Because they would sometimes double their entire weekly salary by running the 24 hour beeper for a weekend. And so we solved some, it was dual issues being solved.

Anthony Codispoti (36:17.387)
Wow.

Anthony Codispoti (36:21.568)
Wow.

Ward Olgreen (36:25.026)
The restaurants loved it because we’re providing service that nobody else was providing. We were also a contract-based company. So if we had to go in on Monday morning to fix it, we’re doing it zero labor charge. We would only charge it for the parts. So now we’re able to charge for the labor. The technician is making a ton of money. Now we’re minimizing the number of calls we have to make on Monday morning free, and the guest loves it. So it was really about addressing, where are the pain points?

of the person you’re trying to serve, and how can I make that better for them? And at the same time, how can I also make the life better for the person in the workforce? And so it ended up being a win-win-win. It was really a great experience. And so the people started to understand that, wow, okay, maybe it is helpful to have the outside eyes coming in and applying what they know in business to our business. And we quickly became the number one branch in the country. I had our collection person.

I said, well, have you ever been to a collection class? She said, well, no, I didn’t know there was one. So I sent her a collection. So we became number one in collections. It was just the simplest solutions applied to companies were typically run by a service technician, became the service manager, then became the branch manager. So they already had these embedded ways of running a business that they never knew to go outside. And so it just really helps sometimes to have the outside set of eyes, bring into your own business or apply your knowledge to somebody else’s.

Anthony Codispoti (37:36.053)
It is.

Anthony Codispoti (37:51.559)
So the idea for changing up the service model, the after hours component and sharing the revenue with the service techs, how did that idea come to you? Was it just sort of like a eureka moment? Like it just boom, here it was, or did you go through some different iterations of it until you landed on what worked?

Ward Olgreen (38:12.338)
I always went back to my dad when I was younger. He always taught me if something’s broken, you should be able to take it apart, figure out which part is broken, and then put it back together. So I would do that in any business I was ever part of. I would simply say, okay, what’s not working? What’s the pain points? And then simply say, okay, what’s the solution? And it can really be that easy. So often the people that were there were the ones who made the decisions to put you in the situation you’re in. So they often don’t look within.

right, to figure out what did I do that was wrong, right? I hate to say it, but when you come in with this fresh set of eyes, you’re simply, just like, you know, you get a blank chalkboard, right? You’re able to kind of say, well, what if, what if, what if, you know, what if I do this, what if we try this? But luckily, it actually happened fairly quick because I just, I remember those problems of not being able to get a service company to visit your restaurant after five-a-one on a Friday. And I was just thinking to myself, what’s, you know,

what’s the biggest thing we can provide to the biggest pain point in the restaurant. So it really, it actually flush out pretty easy.

Anthony Codispoti (39:16.203)
Did you borrow the idea from a past experience? Was there sort of somebody that you saw in a different vertical that was providing the 24-hour service?

Ward Olgreen (39:26.038)
Yeah, I mean it from that standpoint is, yeah, I just already was beginning a 24 hour world when I worked at McDonald’s when I was young. I mean, I mean, I was sounds crazy, but I was I was when I was like 15 years old, I was going in the mornings at five o’clock in the morning and helping to open up the restaurant and leaving at 730 going to school, finishing school at three o’clock playing baseball till six and then going back to work. So my life was already a 24 hour whirlwind. So I just started thinking from that standpoint of always is, you know,

When you have downtime, you’re earning nothing. You’re not costing yourself anything, but you’re not earning anything. So how can you compartmentalize solutions on an hour by hour basis in a business? And then you start to look for opportunities where you can make something when you were making nothing.

Anthony Codispoti (40:10.891)
Did this whole experience of sort of turning the service model on its head, did that, coming through the other side of that, had you sort of established your credibility now in your new position? Were people taking you seriously, not, you know, looking down at you because you didn’t know what a thermocoupler was, or was that something you continued having to fight against?

Ward Olgreen (40:28.226)
Hehehehe

No, it was actually pretty, because when people make more money, they tend to like you more. And so they go, oh, that idea actually worked. And then we started offering ways of selling parts to outside of our immediate trade area, ways to, again, increase sales. We smartened up on our ability to collect debt, things like that. And so I was actually voted into. It was called like the 3M manager team, I think my second year, which was just ridiculous. And so.

A lot of these guys have been there for a long time. So at some point, they set their pride aside and they go, okay, damn it, what are y’all doing to make these numbers, to make stuff happen? And so it did, it was kind of fun being celebrated but at the same time, we had some old timers who were maybe last to adopt what we were doing but at the same time, the company had leadership and leadership started saying, hey guys, this is working. And there doesn’t seem to be any drawbacks.

So I think within maybe eight months of starting TORG for our business, they introduced that across the entire brand. I think it was 23 branches across the United States.

Anthony Codispoti (41:38.732)
I’m curious, Ward, as a tech team, you hear a lot of conversations around AI and how AI is disrupting so many different spaces right now. Is there a place for AI tools like ChatGPT within the tech that you guys are offering your customers or do you feel like that’s kind of more noise than anything else?

Ward Olgreen (42:01.298)
It’s, you know, it’s better how you look at it. I mean, there’s some people who don’t believe anything is AI at this point, because AI means it’s truly operating without any human touch. Because almost everything right now is like the mouse going down the path, right? If the red light is on, it goes right. If it’s not on, it goes left. So everything is kind of what you used to call that trained responses or came out of the actual terminology. But at the same time, there’s easier ways to use the technology. So for us, you know, whether it’s simply, you know, saying into a microphone, hey,

how were sales yesterday, and then our product would bubble up all the different ways you can look at sales yesterday. So there’s simply easier ways to do it, like a hands-off use of the product. But our product is already machine learning. It’s been machine learning for 10 years. I mean, if AI is AI, we were AI before AI was AI, if that makes any sense. And we were already doing, you know, the machine doing all the heavy processing, where we have a price elasticity tool that all you do is say, I wanna see a 2% total lift in sales,

I only want to see this in my entrees. I want everything to end in nine. I want to have minimum guess loss. And you just set these parameters and you say go. And then machine learning will run for minutes, hours sometimes, depending on the size of the brand. But it’ll come back and tell you, here’s what the price is for every menu item in each location. And here’s what the price should be based on the buying sensitivities of the people that bought those items in those trade areas. So

Most people who look at that go, well, that’s AI. Well, no, it’s machine learning because it’s still machine learning, right? The purchasing activity of the guests and the location. And it’s just applying, whether it’s algorithms or ways of looking at that data to project out, this is what you’re selling it at, here’s what you can sell it at with minimum guess law. So in many ways, in the eyes of many, we are AI in everything we do. I honestly think we’re more just true machine learning.

Anthony Codispoti (43:55.391)
In that example that you just gave there, it would seem to me as a relative novice that you would need a tremendous amount of data to train the machine to be able to respond to that sort of a complex request. Am I correct in that or is it a smaller amount of data than I would imagine?

Ward Olgreen (44:14.25)
No, we’re holding three years, three months of historical transaction data. So everything down to modifiers. So we know the entree. We know what do they do. I want this entree medium rare. I love onions. I hate jalapenos. You know, this person always orders a drink. This person doesn’t. So we’re pulling in all that data that sets on Amazon servers securely, you know, in the cloud, from that standpoint. So all the data sits elsewhere. And then we simply do that processing of the data on a daily basis for the customers that have access to the next.

to it the next morning. Yeah, but that’s a lot of data, yeah.

Anthony Codispoti (44:47.919)
Yeah. And what does the interface look like for the customer? Like how easy is it for them to sort of specify all those example parameters that you gave? Is it like a, like a, like a natural language, like, you know, like a large language model, you can just sort of type in free text or am I sort of choosing from a series of different dropdown menus?

Ward Olgreen (44:57.774)
Yeah.

Ward Olgreen (45:07.322)
It’s drop-down type menus where you’re simply picking a date range. I mean, it’s really point and click. I mean, if you can point and click and you know your brand, you can use our product. So you’re saying, I want to run a price elasticity starting today for the next two weeks, whatever. It’ll basically, you set the parameters and you hit go. You know, it has a menu analysis tool that’ll look at menu items and start to understand which ones are doing the most for you versus which ones are doing the least in relation to overall basket profit, item profit, et cetera.

which ones are being ordered by the same person, which is really important. If you look at popularity of a menu item, you’d probably think a Jack in the Box, the two tacos for a certain price has gotta be the founding item for that brand, but at the same time, that’s because it’s just so popular, it’s ordered all the time. But is that the item you want to hang your hat on? What you really want is an item that people ordered and that same person came back and ordered again and again. That’s the type of item that drives affinity to brand.

versus something that’s simply popular because you advertise it like crazy. It’s on every billboard. It’s on the static clean as you walk in. It’s the first item on the menu. When somebody says, hey, what’s the best item here? They all mention that item. So it’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy that that’s gonna be the most popular item when the fact that you want an item that brings people back and creates frequency, creates new guests, and then for me, the most important visit of all time is the second visit of a guest. They can fall through your door for all the wrong reasons.

Anthony Codispoti (46:29.281)
Yeah.

Ward Olgreen (46:33.366)
But when you get them to come back within a measured amount of time as a second visit, that’s the entire goal.

Anthony Codispoti (46:41.799)
Yeah, you know, as business leaders, one of the many jobs that we have is to find ways to increase profitability for the companies that we’re serving. And I love that service model example that you gave, a very sort of non-traditional way to kind of look at a problem and not only solve a problem for your clients, but to drive more profitability for the business. I’m curious if another example comes to mind of something creative that you did to help

drive better EBITDA for one of your companies.

Ward Olgreen (47:15.066)
I can start with what you should do. All right? What, when I used to handle all the R&D also for pizza in for a time period. And, you know, even if you switch to a better quality item in the eyes of a franchisee, you change the item, which means you’re probably buying it for less money, it’s probably cheaper, et cetera, et cetera. So often changing menu or ingredients, even to the betterment changes the product in the eyes of the guests and then they may not like it.

You know, one of our customers, I remember just looking at this, they wanted to change the salsa. They said they had just received 3,000 complaints about the salsa being too spicy. And so they said, we’re gonna reinvent it, we’re gonna roll it back out to those 3,000 people to see what they think. And they loved it. It was fantastic, great response. They rolled it out chain wide. And within two weeks, they had 200,000 complaints that they changed the salsa. You know, so sometimes you gotta really watch out why you’re doing what you’re doing.

But for me, the best way I ever was able to improve costs was to increase incentives to the people who control that happening. In other words, and it was all built around driving sales, not driving cost reduction. Because you can get tied up in saying, oh, if I can reduce my food costs from 31% to 29%, I hate to say it, they’re going to find creative ways to do that. I’m going to put less tomatoes on, or less pickles on, or whatever. Or I’m going to slice things thinner than I should.

But if it’s all tied into you also you’ve got to drive sales to drive your costs down For me that was always the learning it just took a while to figure it out that when it’s when it’s purely on Driving costs down as a way to make a bonus People to get creative, but if they have to prove the ability to drive sales that as a byproduct will drive cost down

Anthony Codispoti (49:06.519)
And driving costs down doesn’t really work because the customer experience suffers, right? If you’re cutting the meat a little bit thinner, you’re putting on fewer condiments, it doesn’t taste the same. It’s not as enjoyable. So, when you…

Ward Olgreen (49:19.61)
Yeah, it is. Now I was going to say it is because on the flip side of driving sales, right, we were actually able to impact costs at the same time when I was with Super Salad. I was retained to kind of take both Super Salad and Grandys through the cleanup period and get it both sold. And by the time we got there, they were on the back end of the sixth price increase over three years. Because, you know, companies are kind of led by CFO or equity type companies sometimes focus so much on the money.

They lose sight on what’s really important to the guest. And so we just noticed that we had these coupons that we would send others back when you used to put mailers out, right? And you get a coupon that says, you can use this coupon once at this certain price point. So we quickly learned that we had two sets of people, two sets of guests. We had one guest who would only show up when they had that coupon, right? We had another set of guests, maybe about 6% of the customers who…

just love the product no matter what. They’re okay with the price because it fits their dietary requirements and they’re just okay. So we were able to, I was trying to, and this is what all of the data, I would have figured it out within a couple clicks with our product. But it was, maybe it was because how can I take that person who uses the coupon once and then throws it away? And so I said, okay, we basically rolled out a Willy Wonka, you know, golden ticket. So the customer could use that coupon as often as they want. They didn’t have to turn it in, right?

Anthony Codispoti (50:40.85)
Okay.

Ward Olgreen (50:41.486)
So the CFO was like, this is crazy. So how are you gonna know how many people actually use the ticket and there’s gonna be fraud, there’s gonna be all these things. So yeah, but I’m gonna have a greater redemption. And right now that’s going board because you’re talking about taking the come through bankruptcy. So instead of somebody using it once every eight weeks, they were using it 30 and 40 times. So we went from our frequency being and guest count being down 30% to guest count being up 20 and 25%.

Because those people who could only afford to eat the buffet when it was $5.79 or whatever the price point was, instead of $7.49, they just used it morning and evening, morning and evening, three and four days a week, because they loved the product and it was a great deal. Now, the financial entity, the liaison that we were working with, he was like, well, that’s impossible. How is that gonna drive food costs down? I said, well, because you open the doors with $642 worth of food on a buffet, right?

The whole idea is you get rotation of that food continually. So the more people that dine off that, you just start to drive your overall cost down through frequency and guest count. Because it’s a lot easier to make a dollar off a thousand people than a thousand dollars off of one person, right? So the whole idea was driving lines, just lines of people back into the restaurant. And it was funny, just a simple decision like that drove both costs down, but also sales up.

Anthony Codispoti (52:07.695)
And in that example that you just gave there, that lower price, was that still a profitable price for the company or are they losing money?

Ward Olgreen (52:13.758)
Oh, very probably. Yeah, I mean, yeah, overall profits went significantly higher because, I mean, it’s the old, I’m trying to think of the calculator we always used to use for understanding fixed costs versus variable costs, determine your break even point of a restaurant over the course of a month, that you had to have a certain amount of sales at this level of profit per sale to cover all your fixed costs like rent, right? Management salaries, all the things that you got to pay, whether you got one customer or 10,000 customers in that month.

So the more customers you drive in, eventually drive the profit at a much, much greater level. Because it is, it’s butts and seats is what saves a brand, not making too much money on a per person basis. Too often they get tied into the, how much money am I making on this transaction? My focus was always, how much money am I making on a guest over the length of an entire year? So instead of 12 visits, I want 36 visits at a little bit less per visit.

Because I’m also stealing visits from my competitor, where they’re making nothing, and I’m making a little bit less on each one, but I’m getting a lot.

Anthony Codispoti (53:22.775)
That’s interesting. Ward, are there any specific mentors or books, maybe life experiences that have been particularly helpful in your career trajectory?

Ward Olgreen (53:32.906)
I always wish I could say I’m a big reader, but I just, that’s just not me, right? I’d rather watch the three stooges. But for me, it was the CEO of Pizza Inn was Jeff Rogers. He was a marketing whiz, and he was the one that turned around USA Cafes, which is Bonanza and Ponderosa in the late 80s. He turned that brand around. He came in, was actually hired to liquidate Pizza Inn.

and loved the product and saw that there was enough to save and actually helped to take him out of bankruptcy and that’s right when I started. And it was just interesting to watch him work in relation to making decisions. He would not wait for all the details to make a decision. He would get just enough to make a smart decision and then be able to set his pride aside and say, okay, I made 10 decisions in the time it would take the average person to make one. Okay, I was right on seven of them. So I’m good on those seven and I just need to change my direction on the other three.

So it was all about the speed of decision making and getting better and smarter at that. And I learned so much from just watching how he worked. But at the same time, we would have these open meetings with 10, 12 people. And you also learned really quickly not to say something was just stupid. Because he’d let you know it. So it made you think through, what am I about to say and how is it gonna be received and how intelligent actually is it or it’s just off the cuff. And so he was just a really smart operator and how to deal with people, how to get the most out of a situation.

So he helped to take a company that was in bankruptcy, close to liquidation in 1990, and we became the number one pizza chain in the United States by 1994. So that was a really cool guy, really smart. I just loved every minute. I was just kind of like his right-hand man. So he allowed me to do all these different things. I remember our R&D guy was quitting, and I jokingly said, because I was kind of a smartass, right? So I jokingly said, I could do that with 10% of my time. And he goes, okay. So.

So I started handling the R&D for the company, but he would always give me things to do and give me things to try. And that’s what I really liked the most. He allowed me to broaden my skillset to the point that my final position there was Senior Vice President of Worldwide Franchising. And it was really cool as I got to go out and I would meet with people in Bangladesh. And I’d be on one side of the table. They’d have 10 people on the other side of the table. And I could represent every department in the company, whether it’s equipment or onboarding or training or whatever.

Ward Olgreen (56:00.49)
And it was just a blast to do that in different countries around the world and meet with people and try to understand their needs and how do you apply pizza to Bangladesh? But yeah, I loved that. The fact that he allowed me the opportunity to do that. And then the second person was a gentleman, Paul Brini. Paul Brini managed the meat company that we used at Pizza Inn. And it was just seeing how a professional vendor represents himself. That the fact is, you know,

He has this product, he understands this product, he knows the value of his product. He’s not there to negotiate, he’s not there to wheel and deal. Now he’s there to say, hey, here’s what I do, I’m the best at it, I don’t vary, we always deliver, if something’s wrong, we take care of it, and here’s the price. But he knew the product inside and out, it’s just very detailed, very knowledgeable, very helpful, but it was just interesting to see somebody versus somebody who walks in wheeling and dealing.

I’m selling myself. I said, well, don’t just sell me yourself. I need to understand your product and how it’s going to improve my brand. It was just very interesting. Those two people combined, I was kind of seeing the opposite ends of the spectrum. One was a fairly flashy marketing guy. The other guy was a nuts and bolts vendor who was running a hundred million dollar or a hundred million pound facility generating food products for a wide variety of companies in the pizza industry.

Anthony Codispoti (57:20.531)
You mentioned going overseas to help out. Tell me a little bit more about what you were doing there. You were helping to take USA based franchise concepts and introduce them to international markets.

Ward Olgreen (57:34.166)
Yeah, it was predominantly Pizza Inn. And it was interesting because at that time, you didn’t have a Cisco or US Foods, typically on a localized basis to do that. You would often actually have to set up your own distribution hub. So the like in the Middle East, our master franchisee was DayMAC, which is if you’ve ever been to Dubai or seen any pictures, you’ll see DayMAC on the cross of the top of buildings, the name all over the place. So they were a master licensee for 14 countries. Then we had another major franchisee.

in Saudi Arabia, the Abu Nian group. And so we would have to go in and help them set up the facility, you know, how much product you need to receive in relation, like Saudi Arabia, they had a very stringent shelf life of issues. So the product had to be produced, received, and have at least 50% shelf life on that product with them setting the total shelf life. So they made it really hard to get product in some of these areas. It’s so funny, we used to ship into Korea. And Korea would want to know,

your exact recipe down to your ingredients and percentages and production process. And so I used to actually change all the numbers and change the process completely so there was no way they could take and replicate our product in country.

Anthony Codispoti (58:45.483)
So how did that, so you were just giving them information that was not entirely accurate?

Ward Olgreen (58:50.474)
Yeah, I mean, they get taken instead of making a bunch of pizzas, it might make a gigantic Pillsbury doughboy or something, I’m not sure. But it wasn’t going to make pizza. I could promise you that. But it was just kind of funny. Yeah, you do what you need to do from that standpoint. But yeah, it was just a blast to take them, set them up. Yeah, I was teaching companies how to make pepperoni locally, you know. But a lot of it was around the franchising side of identifying who’d be a good partner, how to bring them on so they’ll be successful.

And how can they grow the business internally? Because most of them, we had a company down in Brazil that was just, they actually owned all the inbound and outbound duty-free sales in their airports, because they’re unique down there. So these are Brazilian billionaire type people. And so before they even got the first restaurant open, they had 17 people working in the office, because that’s what they do. They have this person checks it, and this person checks it, and this person checks it. They have…

They’re so concerned about somebody stealing that they have three people and four people checking the same documents and stuff like that. But it was about taking these people and understanding, this is how to run a company. This is how to make money running a company instead of building up an administrative staff. But so it was fun. It was to take the American way of taking the steps out to their process of adding steps. And they always go, oh, we can do it. The average employee in Brazil at the time made $110 a month.

Yeah, so in their mind, it’s OK. We have extra two people, extra three people here and there. And I was like, yeah, but how do you think they feel? When they’re not really learning anything, and they’re not getting any better, not learning how to, how can I be of value to the company I’m working in? That’s what they really need to learn. Yeah, they don’t have a purpose or a strong enough purpose to really want to do well. And they all feel like they can be replaced immediately. And yeah, so it was fun.

Anthony Codispoti (01:00:35.307)
They don’t have any purpose there. Yeah.

Ward Olgreen (01:00:45.174)
to do that or like in the Middle East, some of the floors were dirty. And again, that was back when you show up with a USA passport and the people look at you like your God. And you would show up and one of the floors was dirty and the manager, that’s not dirty, that’s just the way it looks. I’d say, fine, give me a scrub brush, give me a bucket of soapy water and I’m gonna get on the floor and I’m gonna scrub a circle in the floor. I’m gonna show you what the floor can look like. Of course, all the, I mean, they’re freaking out because, oh my God.

person here’s from corporate and he’s on the floor on his hands and knees scrubbing a circle. And I said, all I want you to do is by tomorrow, make the rest of the floor look like the circle. You know, it’s simple examples that you give them and it, but it lasts a lifetime for them because they’re like, you know, nobody’s above anything in relation to running the business.

Anthony Codispoti (01:01:32.635)
What kind of passions and interests do you have outside of work?

Ward Olgreen (01:01:36.214)
I’m a golfer. I’m an avid golfer. I enjoy the game. I wish would have taken it up younger in life. It’s probably one of the reasons why I didn’t go to school. I thought I was gonna get a scholarship playing baseball. So, you know, you had the natural swing, but it was also pitcher. So you learned how to leverage your weight in throwing something. But yeah, I started playing and maybe 22, 23 years old and tried to, you know, qualify for some of the professional tournaments and everything. But you know, it’s hard to do that while you’re working.

but I do enjoy the game. Married to my lovely wife who actually met on a dance floor. She’s from the Bahamas, so here I’m a white guy in a predominantly black club with my buddy who looks exactly like Reggie Jackson. And met her on the dance floor and tricked her into learning the line dance, telling her that I don’t know how to do it. And she said, well, let’s learn it together. And so here I’m out there, the white guy in the black club, teaching my wife how to dance.

which was just hilarious. And then we met in 1990 and we’ve never been apart.

Anthony Codispoti (01:02:39.979)
That’s great. And big golf fan, so what’s your best score? Or what’s your handicap? Let me ask you that.

Ward Olgreen (01:02:47.846)
It’s I mean it still stays around zero. It’s been as low as I think plus two or plus three. The best score was on a it was a ridiculously short track. And we showed up and we were meeting my buddy, he’s a lot of partner type golf, where you take on two other people. And the two guys we were playing with, one guy was on the team at SMU and the other guy was a long drive champion. And they were like this, you know, braggadocious one and two, all right. So they’re like, well, you know, on this course, if you can’t shoot in the 60s, you just can’t do it, right.

Anthony Codispoti (01:02:54.007)
Okay.

Ward Olgreen (01:03:17.77)
And so we’re like, okay, let’s have some fun. So a lot of the tees were way up. It was already a short course. So I’m just making everything from everywhere and I shoot a 62. All right. And it just, these guys are so pissed off. They had never had to open up their wallet on number 18 to pay a bet. Yeah, yeah, so that was, on a short course, my best regular score would be 64 on a regular course at a regular length. But that’s 30 years ago, back in the day.

But I still try to scrape it around and get it in the hole.

Anthony Codispoti (01:03:48.791)
That’s fun. Ward, I just have one more question for you, but before I ask it, I want to do two things. First is, if you’re listening today and you like today’s content, be sure to hit the like, subscribe or share button on your favorite podcast app. And then Ward, I want to tell people the best way to get in touch with you. What is that?

Ward Olgreen (01:04:07.486)
It’s really just reach out by email ward Reach out to me 24 hours a day. I’m always checking my email. Phone number is also 214-460-3204. That is my personal cell number. Always ready to answer and look for opportunities to do business or just meet somebody in the industry and talk shop.

Anthony Codispoti (01:04:32.083)
Last question, how do you see your company evolving in the next five years? I mean, what you guys are doing is really cool on the tech front. What can you talk about without giving away sort of trade secrets about what’s coming? What do you think the trends are?

Ward Olgreen (01:04:48.678)
I mean, the trends are is data, right? I mean, it’s you still have brands are not using or they have, they don’t know what to do with it, right? Which is sad because we see brands, you know, they’ve been hitting the news lately, whether it’s Tijuana flats or one after another, been going through bankruptcy. And all of it is because they’re making decisions using their gut or using their emotions instead of using the data that they’re sitting on. So data is just going to be used at a greater and greater amount on a go forward basis for everything. You know, I mean, the AI is obviously going to enhance that.

At the same time, using data to make smarter decisions is absolutely it. Now, as a brand, we’ve typically targeted restaurant brands with at least 20 locations or up. There’s a National Restaurant Association show coming up in Chicago, May 18 through the 21st. And we’ll be introducing more of a compartmentalized version of a manual analysis type tool, including price elasticity, and also a team performance product, which the.

which we’re going to be able to offer at a lower price point from that standpoint, just to make it easier for the smaller brands, smaller unit account brands to be able to plug and play. So we will be only focused into point-of-sale systems that have cloud-based, which allows us, cloud-based simply means the brand tells the point-of-sale system company that they want us to have access to the data. Then we’re able to connect directly to the point-of-sale provider to bring in all the data. So it’s pretty much hands-off of the brand.

And they’ll have some very simple ways to use our product as it relates to team performance, which we also have an incentivize me tool. So incentivize me is a way for the team members to compete against other team members, both within the location or even system wide. But on a fair basis, so in other words, you’re not having somebody work on Tuesdays as if they had the same opportunity to compete against somebody working on Friday night to sell margaritas.

All right, so we actually do the comparisons on an hour by hour basis. How are you doing against anybody else working within that same hour? And then we also even compare it to historically, if you’re serving Bob and Bob has never tried a top shelf margarita and that’s your goal, is to convince them into top shelf and you convert that sale, but you get full credit for that. But if John comes in and John always buy the top shelf margarita, well you really didn’t do anything, you just took the order.

Ward Olgreen (01:07:04.43)
So there’s ways of assigned value, a level of value to accomplishment of each one of those. So it becomes more of a batting average in relation to the ability to convert sale. So it shows true salesmanship in that standpoint. And so we’re trying to bring in the onesy twosies who really need help and honestly can’t afford to have an analyst where most of the bigger brands will do that. The small brands, they struggle with just having enough time to run the restaurant. So we’re trying to make our product available to some of the smaller unit count brands.

Anthony Codispoti (01:07:32.979)
Ward, thank you so much for making the time to share your story today. I really appreciate it.

Ward Olgreen (01:07:37.73)
Thanks for the time. This is awesome. I really enjoyed it. And by the way, you look just like George Clooney. So I was trying to imagine all the movies you’ve been in. But I had a great time.

Anthony Codispoti (01:07:46.359)
I appreciate that compliment, thank you. Folks, that’s a wrap on another episode of the Inspired Stories podcast. Thanks for learning with us today.


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