How Troy Hooper Turned Adversity into Opportunity as CEO of Pepper Lunch

How do you introduce a novel restaurant concept to the US market?

 

In this episode, Troy Hooper, CEO of Hot Palate America, the parent company of Pepper Lunch Restaurants, shares his journey bringing a unique Japanese fast-casual dining experience to the United States.

 

Pepper Lunch offers a “DIY teppanyaki” model where customers cook their own high-quality ingredients on a 500-degree iron plate at their table. With over 500 locations worldwide, they’re bringing an experiential twist to fast-casual.

 

Troy discusses the benefits of the Pepper Lunch model for franchisees, including low labor costs, no need for skilled culinary staff, and the ability to capitalize on the fast-growing Asian cuisine trend.

 

He also opens up about a challenging time in his career where a major investment deal fell through due to COVID-19, leaving him with no plan B. Troy shares how he pivoted by becoming a stay-at-home dad, immersing himself in online communities, and letting his expertise shine.

 

Troy believes in the power of giving without expectation and openly sharing your dreams. He emphasizes that surrounding yourself with a supportive community is the clearest path to achieving your goals.

 

Mentors that Inspired Troy:

  • Stephen Covey (author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) – foundational lessons for personal and professional development

  • Gary Vaynerchuk – insights on developing your passions and understanding people as individuals

  • Will Guidara (author of Unreasonable Hospitality) – lessons on providing exceptional service applicable to any industry

  • Jim Collins (author of Good to Great) – timeless business principles

Tune in for insights on bringing an innovative dining concept to market, overcoming major setbacks, and the future of automation in the restaurant industry.

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, how they’ve overcome adversity and explore current challenges they’re facing. My name is Anthony Cotus Bodhi, and today’s guest is Troy Hooper. Troy is the CEO of Pepper Lunch Restaurants, an international concept that marries fresh, high quality ingredients with a unique do it yourself teppanyaki culinary experience. And we’re going to dive into that more so we can all understand what that means. They currently have over 500 locations throughout the world. But before we get into the good stuff, today’s episode is brought to you by my company add back benefits agency, where we offer very unique and specific employee benefits that are both great for your team and fiscally for your bottom line. One recent client was able to save over $900 per employee per year by implementing one of our proprietary programs. Another client is going to 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@addbackbenefitsagency.com. Dot okay, now back to our guest today, the CEO of Hot Pepper restaurants, Troy. I appreciate you making time to share your story today.

Troy Hooper 13:48

Thanks, Anthony. Just quick note there, hot Palate America is the parent company of pepper lunch restaurants. A lot of people get stuck on the hot pepper thing. It’s. It’s actually black pepper, not a chili pepper. It’s just a. It gets people tripped up, for sure.

Anthony Codispoti 14:02

Well, I apologize for that slip up, but thank. Thanks for calling that out. So the hot palate America is the parent name of the entity, but it’s pepper lunch restaurants that is the franchise concept that you guys are proud to be part of. Tell me about this restaurant concept. What is new? What’s different about this thing?

Troy Hooper 14:24

Yeah, so what’s really interesting is that it resonates, I think, more today because of its business model than ever it had before, because of the way fast casual and QSR business is evolving. But 30 years ago, in 1994, a master teppanyaki chef invented the idea of taking what is traditionally this group, or small group experience with a teppanyaki chef across from you, like at Benihana, as one of the brands we know here in the US. And there’s lots of local family, neighborhood ones as well, of course. But the idea of taking that from this full service, long format, experiential dining journey that you go on with that chef across the table and pairing that down to this QSR fast casual model. And basically, the, the thing that allowed that to happen was the invention of our proprietary, patented induction heater, high energy induction heater in our back of the house, paired with this really unique iron and aluminum clad plate. So it’s really an iron skillet without a handle. Ultimately, that superheats and lets you cook your ingredients on your table in a very fast casual model. You ordered a kiosk or a counter, you sit down with your drink, and in three to five minutes, we bring you this 500 degree sizzling hot ingredients, and you can add your spices and your sauces and mix it the way you want, cook the meats the way you like, as if you were the. What we say is, everybody’s a master chef at pepper lunch as if you were the teppanyaki chef. And that was the mission and the goal of our founding chef was he wanted to bring this experience to the individual in this fast casual, quick service model, where you could get in and out for less than $20 in under 20 minutes and get the same quality food ingredients and proteins at a very affordable price on the go, basically.

Anthony Codispoti 16:18

And so this was a concept that existed. I think the idea was borrowed from Japan. Right. But it was founded in Japan. Okay. So it was not a fast casual concept there. It was more of a. An expensive, nice, sit down kind of an experience.

Troy Hooper 16:33

The traditional teppanyaki is. Right. And so our chef converted the idea of a traditional teppanyaki experience into this fast casual model. He invented this actual business model. Not only did he invent the equipment to produce this experience, but he invented the entire genre in 1994. And so we’re still the biggest and best version of it in the world. There’s a couple of little, you know, copycat knockoff mom and pops, a couple small chains out there that have copied the idea of it, but we invented it. And of course, there’s nobody bigger. At over 500 locations in 15 countries, so. And so we’ve always grown. We grow consistently, and now we have high growth in the US.

Anthony Codispoti 17:17

That’s. That’s really cool. Tell me a little bit more about what the customer experience is like walking into the restaurant. Do I go up to the counter? Do I just seat myself? And on the table is a QR code, is this, am I doing it chipotle style? Like, kind of going down the line? Help me understand.

Troy Hooper 17:34

Yeah. So it depends on where. Today, our new stores are going to have a very defined experience here in the US, but throughout the world, there’s some variables to it, but it is fast casual. You are going to order at a counter with a person traditionally, like, across a typical fast food or fast casual concept, or you’re going to order at a kiosk. And we’re going all digital here in the US with what we call a hospitality host. So you’re going to walk into a pepper lunch of the United States, states in the next few months, and somebody’s going to greet you, and they’re going to ask you if you’ve been there before and if you’d like some guidance or some suggestions or let you know what the latest and greatest lto or beverage product or our new dessert is, that kind of thing. They’re going to walk you over to kiosk, and you’re going to order yourself or with their assistance. And so you’re going to order that, you’re going to get a beverage, you’re going to sit down, and in three to five minutes, we’re going to bring that plate over to you. Just like any other fast casual concept that takes a little bit longer to prepare, cook your food, they’re going to bring it to you. So it’s not true. Fast food, where you get your food by the time you pay, or chipotle style or blaze pizza style, where you’re going down the line, as that’s called. Typically, we’re not a bowl concept. We are fresh, high quality ingredients put onto this sizzling hot plate. And we have an option of six sauces and a couple of spices. You can kind of mix it up your way. We have a bunch of add ons, you know, not unlike those bowl style concepts where you can choose some different ingredients to top on top of your dish the way you like. But, yeah, in that model, you’re going to order to kiosk or to counter service, and you’re going to sit down. We’re going to bring your food in just a few minutes, and then you’re going to really mix it and sizzle it your way. As we say, if you like your meat medium rare, take it off the hot plate, put it on top of your rice right away. You want a little bit of sauce, you want a lot of sauce. You want two different sauces, you can do it the way you like. So that’s the real beauty of what we call DIY teppanyaki.

Anthony Codispoti 19:20

And people, I’m guessing this is a fun experience. Like, they enjoy sort of getting to be involved in the whole process themselves.

Troy Hooper 19:27

Yeah, I mean, we’ve coined the term experiential fast casual for that reason. When you hear that plate coming, you see that steam. You pour that sauce on there and it bubbles up effervescently. And the meat sizzling, and you’re frying your rice, there’s a whole little mini show to it, and you’re really in charge of how that goes. Right? And so people like to see how other people are doing it. But different from the full service competitors, we have what I would call our family of cuisine genre. You know, the korean barbecue has become very, very popular. The japanese version of korean barbecue is called yakaniku, with a brand called gayukaku, which is very large and growing and getting popular in the United States. Those experiences are awesome, but they’re generally going to be group experiences. They’re generally going to be 45 to 90 minutes long. Cooking at the table experiences, they require the implement of some kind of cooking apparatus in the table and extra ventilation, things like that. And generally they’re going to cost, you know, $35 to $60 a person. For us, you’re in and out in 20 minutes. For under $20, you can come by yourself and have the same experience as if you came with a group of six or ten people. So that’s the real secret sauce, so to speak, of pepper lunch. That makes it really unique in that you can enjoy it anytime. As many times, you don’t need a group, you don’t need to feel strange coming in by yourself or with just two people, because you’re not two people sitting in an all you can eat experience kind of. It’s an individual menu plated item that you choose, and you just make it your way.

Anthony Codispoti 20:55

And I love how there’s that education component, because somebody walking in, at least here in the States, who, you know, they haven’t come across this concept before. Okay, what do I do? Hey, we’re here to help. Like, let us walk you through it. What questions do you have? You know, you choose this. You choose this. You choose this, right?

Troy Hooper 21:13

Yeah. We believe in deep hospitality. I mean, at the end of the day, the Japanese are, in my opinion and opinion of many people of the world, some of the absolute best, if not the best, in hospitality as a society, not just in food and beverage, not just in hotels or in tourism, but just as a culture, just as a people. And so that’s a really, really important element of our experience, that when you come in, you’re authentically welcomed in a japanese way, that we extend this deep hospitality and deep connection with our community and our guests when they come in and we keep in contact and we build community with them over time. It really has what is, what has allowed this brand to have this ubiquitous awareness among the asian people of the world. Because we’re in almost every asian nation of the world, and they, of course, travel and move, and we go and visit western cultures, go and visit the asian countries, and many, many people discover pepper lunch organically that way. And so it’s really important to maintain that brand culture of a true deep hospitality connection to our guest.

Anthony Codispoti 22:18

Now, with over 500 locations, I’m going to guess these aren’t all corporate owned. Is there a franchise model at play here?

Troy Hooper 22:24

Yeah, it’s mixed. So we do own about 23% of our stores, corporate. 126 stores in three countries today. Singapore, China, mostly in Hong Kong and Japan, of course, as well, where we have 60 corporate stores, but we are a franchise model. In every country we’re in, we have franchises for Singapore. It’s funny, Singapore is the only place we don’t have franchises. But we. It’s just a small nation. We own all 36 stores there. But yeah, we are a franchise model. And particularly in the United States and Australia and Canada, we focus heavily on the franchise model for expansion.

Anthony Codispoti 23:00

So are you guys currently looking for more franchises?

Troy Hooper 23:04

Yeah.

Anthony Codispoti 23:04

So franchisees, I guess.

Troy Hooper 23:06

Yeah. Yeah. And we do. We do grow organically with our existing and new franchisees around the world, sort of on an organic, natural basis of about five stores a month currently, and have been doing that for the last few years. In the United States, we’re actively advertising, telling the world, telling the nation, that we’re really looking to partner with the best in class multi unit operators, folks that are existing or have experience in multi unit, fast casual QSR operation, ideally, or any other restaurant or hospitality style brand. But yeah, we are being aggressive and selective. We’re looking for the right partners that will have experience in a particular territory that they operate in already and understand the value proposition that pepper lunch brings as a business opportunity, but also as a dining opportunity to a community. And we’re looking for them to open multiple restaurants in each market that they choose to engage us with. So, yep, very active on the franchising front, spending a lot of time and a lot of conferences and summits and expos and things like that to get the word out and educate the world about pepper lunch.

Anthony Codispoti 24:13

And so what territories are you looking for? Is it all 50 United States? Is it Canada? Is it. Paint a picture here.

Troy Hooper 24:21

Yeah. So right now we’ll start offering in Canada in 2025. We do have one sportsman in Canada for a number of years. We’re developing the infrastructure there and the supply chain, negotiated supply chain infrastructure to be able to be very successful in Canada. So we’ll go to Canada in 2025. Right now it’s the majority of the US, a couple of states, north and South Dakota. Not to discriminate, but if somebody calls us from there, we can do the registration. There’s some legal extra paperwork in about 13 what we call registration states. But currently we’re offering in just about every state in the country. And we do have franchisees who have come on board in the last year, and all of them are in development of multiple stores at the same time. So we’re going to see a number, at least five or six new stores open here in the United States this year. We’re on track for about 25 new openings in 2025. And then we’re probably going to compound that into the 50, 60 store opening range from 2026 on. But, yeah, we’re coming to, we’ve announced Utah and Hawaii, Arizona. Specific sites are about to be announced in the next couple days. As a matter of fact, specific leases have been signed, and so we’re excited about some of those locations. And we’re also in Florida and central Florida with Tampa Bay and St. Petersburg and Orlando and Gainesville, Florida as well. A couple of great deals on the horizon can’t yet announce, but continuing in the western US and our first growth plan in the far northeast. Wink, wink, big cities of the far northeast coming soon, too.

Anthony Codispoti 25:52

Exciting. Well, I’m here in central Ohio, and so when you guys have got an announcement here, please let me know. And I want to check one of these out.

Troy Hooper 26:00

Well, believe it or not, Anthony, we actually have somebody who, one of our franchisees today has an option, the first right of refusal for Ohio. So he, if somebody else steps up and says they want all or part or major markets in Ohio, he’ll have that first right. But we can knock him out if he’s not ready and we’re ready to come to Ohio. I love Cincinnati. Spent a lot of time in Dayton and would love to spend more time in Columbus as well.

Anthony Codispoti 26:28

Well, there you go. If anybody’s listening in the Ohio area and you’ve got experience in this space, you’re looking for a new franchise concept, something new, exciting and fresh. Troy Hooper’s your guy. So. And let’s talk about that a little bit. Like from the franchisee perspective, somebody who’s experienced, they have, you know, some other restaurants, some other concepts that they own. What, what is it that they get with pepper lunch that maybe isn’t common with their current setup?

Troy Hooper 27:01

Yeah. So I always go to the business case side of it first, the operation. I’m an operator. I started as a chef in my career and came up in running large organizations and operations, luxury venues and things like this. So I always go to what does it mean to the business operator first? And in this day and age, obviously, there’s a lot of pressures that always are. But the pressures are increasing both on cost of labor, the lack of availability of labor, especially skilled in culinary labor, and as well as, you know, supply costs and demands that are required to kind of open and operate restaurants successfully from a financial perspective, pepper lunch. And this is the reason I originally got very interested and involved with them is pepper lunch has several of these differentiating value propositions that are very unique to it, that you can’t find in many or most other concepts in the QSR fast casual space. One is we need very, very few people to run a store. We can run a food court kiosk with three people and serve 700 plates a day. But our average inline restaurant, brick and mortar, as most people would refer to it, is 1700 square feet, and it can run from between three and to five employees per shift. So that’s a very low total labor model. We have no prep labor. We do. All of our supply chain is redundant and secured nationally with purveyors that provide us our ingredients fully rendered and ready to go. That means all of your vegetables are sliced, diced, chopped, and put in a vacuum packed bag and portioned for you. All of our meats are cut and sliced ahead of time in vacuum packed per each or in small batch, etcetera. So we’ve made it really, really easy. So we literally have no prep. Matter of fact, you make rice in the store and you have to be able to push three buttons to do that. We’ve automated the rice production so it’s consistent and high quality. So that’s a huge differentiator. And also, on the labor side, no culinary labor. You don’t have to have ever worked in a kitchen to come operate and or work inside of a pepper lunch. And so you don’t have to have a prep cook, a line cook, anybody that’s ever had experience, because we’re not actually cooking anything. We’re serving all of our ingredients, raw or pre prepared or pre cooked, onto this hot plate, where the guest is actually making it their way, and so essentially cooking it themselves. And so you’re not making sauces and you’re not chopping, dicing, slicing, you’re not rendering meats and things like that. So because of that, the total labor cost and complexity of labor, and difficulty in finding the right kind of labor, all really goes away. And so, that’s very, very attractive to a multi unit operator who is currently likely struggling around finding high quality and enough labor to run their businesses. So that’s really attractive. And the fact that asian cuisine is the fastest growing cuisine in North America for the last three years, with no sign of slowing that asian culture among, among people under 30, is the number one culture of interest, both in gaming, and music, and art and travel and food, etcetera. And so, because the young people of America are so enthralled and engaged in asian cultures, overall, it makes pepper lunch a very interesting and attractive food. Product to be able to provide to people that are looking for those new and innovative and different experiences. And by the way, our food is not unapproachable. It’s protein, rice and veg. If you like meat, chicken, fish, shrimp, tofu, veggies. And you want them grilled with some rice or pasta, you want to put some different sauces and toppings on it. That’s all we are. And it’s so. It’s very approachable as well.

Anthony Codispoti 30:33

Not super exotic.

Troy Hooper 30:35

People don’t have to be worried like.

Anthony Codispoti 30:36

Oh, am I going to like this?

Troy Hooper 30:38

Yeah, exactly. So those are some of the differentiating value props that that multi unit and franchise entrepreneur operators are looking for. And so the fact that we hit on multiple interesting propositions that matter both to the top and bottom line, but also to the longevity potential of the business, really appealing to young people as they grow into their first jobs and new families and the teenagers go to college and things like that, we become a very affordable, regularly visited, and a great place for gathering because of that experiential side. So a lot of people do like to get together in small groups and come together and have these experiences together.

Anthony Codispoti 31:16

I can see one of the really attractive things is that low labor requirement. You know, you don’t need a lot of employees. Boy, everybody I talk to, and I don’t care what the industry is, they have the hardest time finding people. But some of these lower paying jobs, like fast food workers, seem to be some of the hardest hit. And I would think that if you’re in that space, this is one of the biggest challenges that you’re facing on a daily basis. And so you’re telling me you can run a shift with what you say, three or four people?

Troy Hooper 31:45

Three people? Yeah, three.

Anthony Codispoti 31:46

And how does that come? How does that compare to, like, a, I don’t know, a McDonald’s or a subway or, like, walk into a chick.

Troy Hooper 31:53

Fil a, count the heads, right? Like, and chick fil a is an extreme example, right? They do huge business, but, you know, anybody doing two to $3 million in sales per store, you know, they’re running on 810. Twelve, definitely some brands, 15 to 16 people per shift. And most of those are part timers as well. So you have to have a lot more of them on the payroll, so to speak with us. When you really can run a store at peak, and when I say three to five, I mean off peak, you need three people to sort of operate the store just at any given time. But when you’re humming and it’s lunch hour, dinner hour, late night, whatever that is in that store. Five people generally is all you’ll ever need to run a store. Compare that to on peak at any of these fast food restaurants, which, yes, if you went in today and counted heads, they’re not going to have more than five or six people. But if you did it two, three years ago, they would have had 1215 people. The fact that they’re running very lean and things are taking longer and accuracy and quality are going down is because they can’t find the people. Right. Because of our model, we actually are able to pay more. Our franchisees generally pay significantly more than minimum wage and certainly more than the market bears. And we also, because we give a decent sense of hospitality, we bring you your food, we tell you how to engage and do the thing and tell you about your sauces, and we check back in on you. It’s this sort of pseudo, what we call, kind of like a heavy fast casual. We want to give you some attention and hospitality during your stay. We’re going to clear the table for you. We’re not expecting you to sort of bring the food on a tray and then tray your food to a dump station on your own. You know, that little bit of extra results and tips. Our staff today in the US is realizing between three dollars, fifty cents to five dollars an hour per employee just in tips and in a fast casual model. So, you know, they’re doing pretty well. And so because that we, we tend to have great retention, we tend to have, you know, less people being willing to work more hours. They don’t feel like they need to have three jobs. Maybe they have two, maybe they have one and a half jobs to meet their needs. And so for that we get some great consistency and some great quality of service from our employees, which are very, very proud to be a part of the brand.

Anthony Codispoti 34:14

That’s cool. Can we talk about the financial aspect of this from a franchisee point of view? Like, what is their investment? What do they look like? The return could be.

Troy Hooper 34:26

Yeah. So I can speak to what is fully disclosed in our franchise disclosure document. That is the federal and nationally distributed version. So basically, the only thing I can’t talk about is EBITDA or net returns. That would be a financial claim that we can’t make. But yeah, our stores, you know, our stores are above average. You know, today, if you were to go out and look for a franchise restaurant concept in the QSR fast casual space, you’re looking at on an average gross revenue of $1.2 million in that industry, we’re at 1.5 million average unit volume, and we have stores doing up to 3 million. So that’s well above the average, which is fantastic. I can’t say specific numbers around EBITDA, but when we just had that conversation about labor, if you’re in this business and you understand what I just said, you understand that the EBITDA is much, much higher at a pepper lunch generally because of the lack of prep, low labor model, no skilled labor. You’re paying less people, less money overall. So your return should be significantly above average. But, you know, to get into the business, we currently require a five unit commitment. That five unit commitment is paid upfront for all the fees. So it’s $150,000 investment upfront to license a territory and then on an individual store basis, depending on where you are in the US, you know, basically we’re looking at the high six hundred s to the, to the high $700,000 range to open a standard in line, brick and mortar 1700 square foot store where we’re light in equipment. Generally, compared to most restaurants, we do have some really high quality millwork and build out and some specific requirements in the furnitures and fixtures. So we come in pretty average. You know, most fast casual restaurants today would be 680 to 750,000. And we’re right in that range to build and open an individual store.

Anthony Codispoti 36:27

How did you get started with all of this, Troy? How did you get into pepper lunch?

Troy Hooper 36:31

I did a podcast. Anthony, you’re going to be very proud and happy to hear that. Yeah. So in early 2022, I did a podcast. About two months later, a president and COO of a hospitality group joined one of his brand leaders on a discovery phone call. He called me to learn about what my consulting practice did and was asking for help in potentially getting acquired or getting an investment. And that’s president and COO. And I sort of hit it off a little bit. We had a little bit of a follow up call, and about two months after that, he emailed me and said, hey, Troy, a good buddy of mine, my roommate from my MBA program, is just joining this private equity firm and they bought this brand and they’ve been struggling to get off the ground in the US. And he needs some advice and maybe you can introduce him to some people that he’s trying to get this thing going. And would you mind if I introduced you? And I said, of course, absolutely. I got this term from Sean Walshef. I’m weirdly available. I’m very approachable, I’m very accessible. So I was like, of course I’d be happy to. Coincidentally, his counterpart was from Japan and happened to be in San Francisco and said, emailed me immediately and said, hey, Troy, I’m going to be in LA in two days. Can we meet at the hotel at the LAX and have a visit and learn about what we need and learn about what you might be able to help us? We started that meeting with three questions. I said, are you open for dinner? Yes. Do you sell any food at dinner? Yes, because of the name. And are you willing to change the name in the United States? He says, if you think we should, we’re willing. I was like, okay, that’s how this started. 90 minutes later, he asked me if I’d be the CEO of the holding company and take a very deep involvement. Of course, there was much more conversation and proposals and things.

Anthony Codispoti 38:32

But you made a great first impression, huh?

Troy Hooper 38:34

It worked out. It worked out because at the end of the day, he was trying to stitch something together that we already had the formula for. He was trying to create, you know, draw the map to success. And we already had the roadmap built. So, you know, we were able to, I was able to say to him, look, what you’re looking for is exactly what my consulting practice was built to do, and that is to help emerging brands establish themselves, build their infrastructure and scale at speed while improving the quality of their brand. That’s what we did. So ultimately, two things happened. They asked me to come on insourced as the CEO and they hired my consulting firm initially to help build the strategy and the budget and the initial infrastructure development. And that has morphed into essentially insourcing my entire team. So that this is the only thing we do. We are all on staff, employed part of the brand now because a, we believe in it so much for many of the reasons we’ve shared and more, we enjoy it. We think it’s fantastic. They’re an amazing ownership group in the private equity and holding company infrastructure team is phenomenal and they believe and trust in the people they put in place to do what they do really well and give them the appropriate resources. So all the stars aligned, Anthony, at the end of the day, all the stars aligned. I went on a first date, we got married in a couple of months and we’ve been happily married ever since. At the end of the day, for an analogy, that’s kind of where we’re at and it’s, it’s been a great match and we’re having a lot of fun with it and just enjoy. At the end of the day, my favorite thing is to take people to a pepper lunch and see them enjoy it for the first time. And then really, my second or most favorite thing, to be honest with you, is three days, four days later when they text, email, call me, write me, whatever, and say, oh my God, I’m craving it. I have to get back. I’m taking my friends this week. It’s just so, so. It’s in my brain. I can’t get it out. The flavors are on my tongue. I want to go back. So those are just, it’s just a lot of fun to have a brand you can really enjoy and have fun with along the way.

Anthony Codispoti 40:36

That is a lot of fun. Yeah. I appreciate you sharing all that. I’m going to shift gears on you a bit, though, and because, you know, a lot of times people see business owners and, and they, they see sort of the fun and the good side, the upside to everything. And they’re like, oh, man, that guy’s got it made. You know, things just work out for him. He’s just got the tools, he’s got the gifts, he’s got the connections. And what they don’t see is all the hard stuff behind the scenes, all the hard stuff that, you know, we came from before, because that’s the stuff that’s maybe not so fun to share. But every business owner, every business leader I’ve ever talked to has got piles of these stories where they had to overcome some really big challenge. And I would love to hear one or more stories from you, something big that happened to you that you had to figure out how to get back up from and fight through.

Troy Hooper 41:28

Well, I really appreciate that about both you and your show and your thesis of sort of the storytelling piece of this that’s really important because you’re right. Most people flaunt their successes and, you know, good begets great and great begets greater kind of idea that we can’t show the other side and we can’t show our vulnerability. Matter of fact, if you go to my LinkedIn page only two posts ago, there’s a picture of my arm with an iv in it, and I’m stuck in a Kansas City hotel room at a conference where I was sidelined from making it to my speaking engagement because what I thought might have been food poisoning ended up being basically a stomach virus. You know, I put that on the Internet. I put that out there, and I’ll tell you, three of the most viewed, engaged posts I’ve ever put on social media ever have been the things that were about personal struggle, strife or challenge. That was me showing that other side. What is the other side of this? On a Saturday at an airport, when I’m surrounded by people going to wonderful places on vacations, I was headed to work, and it was the first time my son cried because it was the first time he realized I was leaving. Like, he’s very young, he’s three and a half now. And the very first time he kind of realized that, oh, daddy’s actually going away and it’s going to be days. And he was sad about that. Like, of course, breaks a father’s heart. Right? So on that Saturday, I get to the airport and I’m in this beautiful lounge. I’m flying business class. I’m going to Asia. What a wonderful life. But at the same time, what a not easy life. Right? There’s another side to this, right? And that’s called not being home with your family. That’s long days and long weeks and lots of time away grinding in the midnight oil. So I think it’s really important. So that to be said, certainly I have stories. Thanks for putting up my iv arm, by the way. My nurse was phenomenal. Came to the hotel room, took great care of me, got me back on my feet for sure, in very short order. So. But I think that’s important. Yeah. So, I mean, to give you a story, you know, as we talked a little bit before we started recording the show, you know, certainly we all have many of these stories, and I have plenty of instances where things didn’t go right. For 15 years of my career, I had a turnaround consulting practice where we would go in and take over hospitality. Assets that were in distress, failing near closing, were bought out of some sort of bankruptcy or distress sale and needed to be turned around. And so I’m a glutton for punishment. I like to walk into hard things. I like to make hard things better. I like to create success where others were not able to. Certainly makes you feel good when you’re able to do that. Most importantly, I do that because I have a great team and I always build the best teams I can possibly put together. But in that world, I chose for 15 years to live in strife, to live in toxic employee environments, people that have been abused and suffered and all these kinds of things. So getting to the end of that 15 years, I had spent about 18 months with the Kiwi team, our partnership team, developing a concept, a new concept to bring to the market. And after about that 18 month period, we had started to seek some investment. We had gone out to say, okay, we need to build a handful of these, and we think we got a great thing, and we want to bring this to the market. We’re going to take investment, and we’re going to go build a couple of these and work it out. We’re going to refine and tool and build what we think is the next great concept. And on March 17, 2020, dramatic pause for everybody to remember that day. I was standing at the lobby of a glass building in Pasadena, California, with my partners at Kiwi, and we were expecting to conclude a meeting to receive a sizable check to get an investment to build this brand from the ground up. And instead of receiving that check, we received a lovely note from a lovely young lady who came down from the office on high and said, unfortunately, due to the circumstances we’re experiencing, we’re not going to be able to conclude this. Uh, this deal together. Today will be convened in a few weeks, once everything has sort of sorted itself out. As we all know, we thought we were going into a two to three week sort of lockdown. Everybody keep your hands to yourself, stay home kind of environment. Little did any of us know that it was going to be a year and a half, two plus years, depending on where you lived. And I’m in southern California, where we were on lockdown hard for a long time. That evaporated. That opportunity went out the window. And quite frankly, Anthony, I had no plan b. I had put 18 months into this. I had sunsetted our management clients, our turnaround business. We had concluded the projects in a way so that we could then put all of our time, energy, and effort into launching this great new idea we had with this wonderful new money we were about to receive. And it just evaporated. And so what next? Right? And so that’s the hard thing. That’s the start from zero. And I’m a big follower of Gary Vaynerchuk, Gary V. If anybody, you know, he talks about all the time. He’s like, if I went to zero today, I would be okay. The question is, if you went to zero today, could you be okay? If everything you knew and believed, if everything you would plan for and work towards, if the rug was pulled out today, what would you do tomorrow? Right? And so I was faced with that moment, and thankfully, it had not been the first time in my life I had faced that kind of moment. I lost everything I owned as a 16 and a half year old in Hurricane Andrew in Miami when my house was destroyed. And we rebuilt from there. And my mother and my father got cancer and both passed away within a year of each other, two years after being diagnosed. My entire world, as many of us go through these kinds of strifes and struggles in life, the big c. Cancer came to our door, and I had to. You know, we all have these. The question is, what do you do? The now? What is the real story? It’s the real motivator. I mean, hopefully, inspiration, right? Is the what after. And all I can tell you is from that moment till now, look. Look at me now. Right at the end of the day, I’m a holding company CEO, co CEO of a brand, 500 units growing rapidly. Fantastic position to be in a great opportunity to be an inspiration, a mentor, a motivator, you know, somebody to talk to and get advice from that has gone from zero to here in a few years, through quite a few trials and tribulations and, you know, restarts, so to speak. But ultimately, if you’re really focused on your passion, you really do what you love with life. That’s a contagious thing. People want to support that. People want to lift you up. People want to promote you and push you forward and help get you the things you need to succeed. Ultimately, that’s the story.

Anthony Codispoti 48:30

So where you were March 17, 2020, you thought you were about to take off on this great idea. COVID hits shuts everything down. The finance people, they pull out of the deal. You’re left with nothing. You had wound down your other company. Okay, now fast forward as if this recording, we’re about four years later. You’re in a great spot. You were the great brand with a great trajectory. I want to hear about some of this in between part, especially the first weeks, the days and weeks after this just tragic thing happened. I mean, talk about the rug being pulled out from you. How do you come around to pick yourself up and take those next steps? What are those first days and weeks look like for you?

Troy Hooper 49:18

Well, you know, the first month, you think it’s all gonna just come back around. And then you get to month two, and you’re like, uh oh. And then month three, you’re like, when are we ever getting out of this? So, literally staring out the window, right? So, I actually, believe it or not, I got real active on the Internet, right? Where. Where was it possible to interact and communicate with people? And at the time, it was funny. I was in a mindset of wanting to help. Like, I knew restaurants were about to be in trouble and what were they going to do? And I was really inspired to see people turning their restaurants into farmers markets, essentially, right, the local bodega, things like this. And so I just started spending a lot of time on the phone and on the Internet, LinkedIn, interacting with my cohorts, colleagues, peers, mentors, people in the industry, really trying to think about and look at, well, what is this going to change? Like, what is now going to be different if and when restaurants start to reopen? What is going to be different? Like, literally, do we all have to have kiosks? Do we have to have QR codes? So really started, I went into learning mode. I really started learning about technologies, about what people are building, started talking to contemporaries about new industry models and thinking about, when this door reopens, what are we going to have to change about our concept? Because we were fully in belief that that check was still coming. We were still going to launch our. I mean, for at least six or nine months, we were just clinging on to the. To the faith that this thing was coming back around, and we were going to just go right back to where we were on March 17. So I’ll be honest with you, a little bit of not delusion, but just prayers and hopes.

Anthony Codispoti 50:55

There was some hope there.

Troy Hooper 50:56

Yeah, there was hope. So long on to that for a good six months or so, at least. My wife was pregnant with our first child, and so that was a huge consideration. Luckily, she was employed in such a way she was not going to be losing her job before load, et cetera. So we had that stability, we had that consistency. And then we had a son. And quite frankly, we had a son. And I became mister mom for people over 45 years old. The references to a movie that I think, was it Tom Hanks or Keating? But anyway, Michael Keaton. Yeah, it was Michael Keating. Yeah. And anyway, Mister mom. And that was my focus. Right. So, honestly, I spent about six to nine more months really only focused on being a stay at home dad so that my wife could continue to be the breadwinner, supporter, etcetera. And fortunately, we were in this position to be able to maintain that. But along the way, to be honest with you, I found an app called Clubhouse. I love making pizza and pizza. So I got on the pizza club on Clubhouse. I then found people like Chip close and Monte Silva and eventually Sean Walshef. This community was coming together, growing, being closer knit. People were sharing the struggles, talking about what next, looking for opportunities, looking for ways to pivot. A lot of people took the opportunity to begin their own businesses. If the rugs pulled out from under you in this thing, you thought was so incredibly stable. This job, right business that you owned or you had, a lot of people were like, uh uh, I’m done. I’m going a different direction. So a lot of people were talking together about what that looks like and how to, how to solve those things. And so community was being built in a way that, that put me in a position to share my experiences, share my expertise, share my knowledge, share what I’ve, how I’ve done, what I’ve done to at that time have done very well. And it just blossomed. And by the mid 2021, late 2021, our book was full, our consulting practice. I was back to work. I was helping emerging brands get back on their feet, retool their concept, refine their concept, create new concepts, develop the plan and the infrastructure strategy and the budget and all that that goes along with growing a brand. So we were helping brands with their plan to grow really started. The phone started ringing from private equity and venture capital firms that they had made investments that they needed help with and on and on and on. It just snowballed. It just organically happened from building a strong relationship inside of an amazing community of people in this industry. The word was on the street. People called Troy and the team for advice. We gave it all away for free unless there was a scenario where it made sense that we could bring all of our tools to the table and get involved in something. And we got involved in a couple of projects. A couple of them were very short lived, that they ran out of money, they took bad money, they had a shake up at the board. This just kept kind of fitting and starting, and then all of a sudden, we were ready. And pepper lunch called, and we were able to sort of juggle quite a bit both sides of that for a while. And luckily, some of our projects were on their back end of their engagement when pepper lunch called. So we were really able to pivot and take a real big bite off of this apple, so to speak, and really focus deeply on this opportunity.

Anthony Codispoti 54:34

So I want to focus on this a little bit because I think there’s a lot of great lessons for people here, whether they’re business owners who’ve just, in one way or another, had the rug pulled out from them in a way like you just described, or they’re not business owners, but, you know, they worked for a company, and now their employment opportunity has changed. You know, they’re looking for something new, and they’re not sure where it’s going to come from. And I don’t know what I don’t know what to do. I’m, you know, looking for jobs here. I’m posting on LinkedIn. I’m on indeed. Or as a business owner, like, you know, I’m doing Google Ads, I’m doing Facebook ads. Like, you know, how can I make things happen? And I think, you know, there’s some inspiration to be drawn from what you shared here. And tell me if you think this summary is accurate. You know, what you did was 1ft in front of the other. What is something I can do? You focused on building your network. You focused on providing value and giving first. And it sounds like the rest kind of took care of itself.

Troy Hooper 55:34

Give without expectation. If you have something to give, give without expectation. If you have a dream, no matter what that is, doesn’t matter if it’s a business or a title or a second home or a first home, whatever your dream is, tell everyone. When you share what your hopes, dreams and desires in this world are, and you do that freely and comfortably and confidently. The passion associated with the tone and energy that comes out of your face is infectious and inviting. And if you tell enough people, people will want to get on that ride with you. They will ask to join that journey. And that’s exactly what happened. I came up with an idea of this concept called nourish. We wanted to have a micro food hall in a very small, modular format. We could plop anywhere in the world for 300 at the time, 350k. Now it’s a lot more. But, um. And. And we wanted to bring clean, healthy food that was delicious and delectable and not just salad and not tofu and not just salmon to the world at scale, at speed, et cetera. I told enough people what the vision of this idea was, that the right kind of people said, hey, I can help with that. I. I know people. I know money. I know I’ve done things like this before. I want to be a part of that journey. How can I help you? Right? And so my advice to everyone is, give what you have without expectation. The ROI on that is immeasurable. You cannot imagine the factor of return on that time and that energy that you give out, it just will come back to you in absolute goodwill, karma, universe, whatever you want to call it. The second is, tell everybody what you’re trying to do, why you’re trying to do it, why it matters, what you’re trying to solve, what it means to you, who you’re trying to help, because that is an infectious magnet phrase I kind of got coined or something. I don’t know. People said, I came up with was be the magnet, not the billboard. Don’t just put up sign that says Kiwi restaurant partners. We help emerging brands scale at speed while improving quality. That’s an advertisement. Be a magnet. Tell people why you’re trying to help emerging brand founders because you’ve seen so many of them get screwed over in this franchising world. You’ve seen them struggle and lose the money they had put aside, which was not enough and didn’t have enough time. But you’ve seen people struggle and you have the map. Like, why stand in a field and watch a bunch of people wander around lost when you can tell them how to get from where they are to where they want to go? If you have the map, you have the formula, you have the answer to the test, just give it to them. And if you do that, the gratitude will pour in and the results of that will be the right kind of people in your sphere, in your community, in your world. And the great benefits of that cannot be manufactured. You cannot will success into being. It has to come because you’re doing the right things for the right reasons with the right people.

Anthony Codispoti 58:58

You know, and I think an important thing that you talked about there was share your dream with everyone. But this is a hard thing for a lot of people, right? Like to reach out and ask for help and, you know, you feel like you’re bothering people and you’re self promoting and does that come across as selfish or annoying? And what advice would you have for people that are kind of in that mindset? Or maybe they’re just like, it’s just hard for me, like I’m, I’m an introvert. It’s not easy for me to reach out to people. What coaching could you give there.

Troy Hooper 59:33

When you put it on the Internet? There is no direct relationship yet built, right? So point being, you don’t have to go to the networking event, the pitch night pitch competition. You don’t have to go to the conference and force yourself to walk up to people in person. And you certainly don’t have to get on camera. You don’t have to be on a podcast visually, you can be on a podcast audibly. You don’t have to point the camera at yourself and create the content that is going to be the discovery engine for people to find out what you’re all about and what you’re interested in. You can do this. Write a blog, contribute in writing an article in a trade publication. You can put thoughts on LinkedIn without words, pictures, video or anything. There’s many ways for you to share your knowledge, experience, passions and interests. And by showing the whole part of you, as we’ve talked about, with you putting up a picture of my arm with an iv or me standing, you know, crying in a luxury lounge, God forbid, you know, at LAX because my kid was upset I was leaving, like, just be a whole human being and put it out there and put it out there in tiny little bites. What do you know that other people don’t know? What do you have an opinion or a perspective on that is yours and others may benefit from hearing it and being validated by it. Just put it out. Just what are you thinking about? What are you working on? What are you trying to achieve? Put those phrases, pictures, memes, video, audio clips, whatever, out on the Internet in those environments like LinkedIn for business or trade publications, or speaking on a panel at a conference, whatever that is, get your voice out there. Somebody wants to hear it. And it’s going to, going to 1000% going to be the difference in you achieving your goals at the highest possible level, faster, with the least resistance, period. End of story. I am telling you, I’ve been 48 years on this planet. I’ve been in business in one way or another for myself for. Since I was 16 and a half, 17 years old. I’ve been an academic, I’ve been an employee. I’ve been a lot of things. And nothing has ever been the clearest unlock to success, the clearest, fastest path and least resistant path to where I wanted to get to, than interacting with a community of like minded people that are trying to do the same thing. Because the, the amplified energy, the amplified effort that that will bring will get you further, faster and to where you want to go in the next step and the next hurdle and the next goal will all come much, much easier and much, much faster if you pour in to a community that is supportive like that.

Anthony Codispoti 1:02:44

So people listening to this, Troy, they may say, well, Troy, that’s great for you. I mean, you had this innovative concept, nourish. You had something interesting to go out and talk about that would capture people’s attention also, they may be saying, hey, this was easy for you. You found this network of people who were also interested in this healthy food space in the same way that you were. But, hey, I’m the owner of a marketing agency, you know, and I trying to grow my business, and I don’t know where to find that community. And I, you know, I do a great job with the service I provide, but it’s not so novel or innovative. Like, I can’t do what you did. What do you say to that?

Troy Hooper 1:03:29

I don’t care what you do. I don’t care if you want to look, just go on TikTok, for God’s sakes, go on TikTok. Shop and watch videos for 20 to 30 minutes. There’s not a niche on this planet that there isn’t a buyer for it. And at the end of the story, thank God for something like TikTok to show us that. But I am blown away every day at what people are able to do. You know, there are. There are avatars or what are called NPC’s. Non. Oh, hell, I don’t know. I’m not a gamer. But NPC’s are the people inside of games that are not controlled. They’re computer controlled. Right. They’re essentially mindless people.

Anthony Codispoti 1:04:10

Non player character.

Troy Hooper 1:04:11

Non player character, right. There’s a niche on TikTok of people going live as characters and interacting with people as, like, people who love gaming and, you know, let’s call it anime or manga or. Or just sort of this virtual world, you know, or fantasy world type. You know, people that are into cosplay and, you know, Comic Con and those kinds. That’s a massive organization of humans around the world. And there are people on the Internet who get paid through tips, through contributions to their venmo or their patreon or whatever, by playing these characters on LinkedIn live 6 hours a day. If somebody can make a living doing that, I don’t care what business you’re in or interested in what product. You want to write a book, you want to write an ebook, you want to sell paper mache flowers on the Internet, there is something for everyone. And my front porch is proof of that because Amazon arrives at my door just about every day because my wife finds all of these things. So the reality is, is there is a community for everybody. And don’t, by the way, don’t only stay in your genre. A marketer of real estate services, right. Niche. Can learn from other kinds of marketers, from other kinds of business owners. You can unlock and do something very different in your niche by observing what people have done in other industries and niches. So cross pollinate marketers need to be in rooms with non marketers and with business owners and with executives of corporations and like, and. And vendors. You know, some of the best knowledge out there are vendors, people that you hire, contractors or people you buy products from or people your business interacts. Your company, your company you work for interacts with those vendors they go to a lot of businesses like yours. They see a lot of employees like you. They have outside perspective. That’s all I’m saying. Get out of your bubble and get some external observation and perspective on whatever it is you’re doing, whatever message you’re trying to convey, whatever goal you have for yourself, professionally, personally. Otherwise, if you do that, you will see more, hear more, experience more, achieve more, ultimately, look easy. Not easy for me. You said, oh, Troy, well, it’s easier for you. Tens of thousands of hours of my time for free, giving out advice, asking questions. Well, wait a minute. This is what I would tell somebody to do. But how did you do it? Because I don’t know it all. I don’t know what I don’t know. And I’m extremely curious. So I spend an ungodly amount of time listening and observing and asking questions of all kinds of operators, entrepreneurs, founders, franchisors, franchisees, vendors. How did you start that restaurant tech company? Where did you come from? Why did you pick this genre? Most people’s story is not linear, right? Most people that started this thing, doing this thing now, it’s not. What. I’m a former super yacht captain. I was a chef, I was a corporate. This is just the short story. I was a procter and gamble head, national head of sales, 326 salespeople under me. I was a superyacht captain. I’m certified in every manner of scuba diving instructor level on the planet. There’s nothing like. There’s nothing I haven’t done, tried, tasted, checked out, looked into, thought about doing, thought about being in my life. Right? Very curious person. And so at the end of the day, like you said, 1ft in front of the other, and if tomorrow you decide you don’t want to continue down that path, pull out a machete and start whacking at the weeds and create a whole new path.

Anthony Codispoti 1:08:22

Troy, any specific books, mentors or experiences that have helped to shape your professional career or you personally?

Troy Hooper 1:08:32

Yes. I’m not a huge reader. I do listen to more audiobooks than I read, but there’s a handful. Look, I started, and this is a little outdated. They wouldn’t be happy to hear me say this, but for some people it’s still very applicable. I got very lucky at 26 years old and found the seven habits of highly effective people by Stephen Covey. That was a great foundational building block for me. I’m a huge follower of Gary Vaynerchuk, observer listener, and really, his content between 2016 and 2019, I think is really focused on developing yourself and your passions and your business and your entrepreneurial journey, if that’s what you’re into. I think if you are trying to be a better leader. Gary wrote a book last year called the twelve and a half, which is really about the Eq. I dropped it, I tried to reach for it. It’s about the EQ of leadership. And so understanding that no matter what business you’re in, the people business, no matter what employee or employees you have in or around or above or below or side by side, to you, everybody’s a human being. And we need to really think about each human as a human being individually. That’s a thesis I’ve always had and believed in in my turnaround business, particularly so twelve and a half by Gary Vaynerchuk will godara unreasonable hospitality is one of the most inspiring books. I think he’s one of the most inspiring speakers out there as well. I just saw him at Mertech recently. So I love unreasonable hospitality. No matter what industry you’re in, you can learn a lesson from unreasonable hospitality. There’s some classics, I think a few people, everybody should read good to great. You know, I think that’s. I think that’s a really obvious one that if you haven’t gotten into, and again, you can read these things, listen to them on YouTube, audiobook them, whatever. But I definitely think there’s. I’m always curious. I always want to learn. Don’t do a lot through reading because it just takes a lot of time. And I’m not really fast reader, but I do try to consume the content of these lessons wherever I can.

Anthony Codispoti 1:10:42

Right. I just have one more question for you, but before I ask it, I want to point people to the best way to get in touch with you. What’s the best way for people to reach out? Either they’re just inspired by your story, they want to ask you some questions, or perhaps they’re interested in the franchise opportunity that we talked about at the beginning of the episode.

Troy Hooper 1:11:01

I am super easy to find on LinkedIn. It’s a little funny because it’s J. Troyhooper. I have one of those long names, so J. Troy Hooper. But if you just look for Troy Hooper pepper lunch part. Troy Hooper Kiwi on the Internet, you’re gonna find me. I do a number of podcasts on a regular basis. I’m readily available, but find me on LinkedIn. DM me there. Connect with me if you can. Yep, that’s the one. Pretty easy to find. I have the same headshot everywhere on the planet for like the last five years, I think I kind of still look like that guy, a little heavier than that guy, but, you know, easy to find, easy to connect with, easy to reach out to. If you’re at any restaurant, conference, convention, expo, summit, et cetera, franchising related also, I will probably be there in person at everyone this year. So easy, please, please just come up and grab my attention. Love to say hi, and always, always curious about what are people working on? What are they struggling with? And if I don’t have the answer, maybe I know somebody who does. Can I make a connection? Can I make an introduction? Can I point you in the right direction on something you’re working on? So, that’s just my way of going about the planet.

Anthony Codispoti 1:12:12

That’s great. Super accessible. Okay, so last question for you, Troy. How do you see your industry, the fast, casual space, evolving in the next five years? What do you think are the big changes that are coming?

Troy Hooper 1:12:23

Yeah, we’re going to see a lot more automation and robotics AI in the drive through. I would say that most people in the restaurant industry don’t know what I’m about to say directly, and therefore, 99% of consumers don’t know. But there’s almost a million drive throughs in the United States that the human you’re speaking to is either not in the building, if they’re a real human that you’re at, or they’re actually an AI. And that has actually been a great, great innovation for drive thru speed has improved accuracy of your order has gone way up, average spend has gone way up, because AI will make that suggestion all the time, will make that upgrade, or that upsize, or that add on item suggestion. That, coupled with display itself, is really interesting. We’re gonna see a lot more of that kind of thing. AI in relation to. Within five years, we will not be pulling credit cards out of our wallets anymore. You probably won’t be carrying a credit card. There’s companies that are working together in collaboration, from a menu display to an ordering display that also recognizes you through a camera. So facial recognition for payment and loyalty recognition is. And customized menu display, customized item suggestions is coming in the next three to five years. Robotics continues to grow. Production is catching up to the demand for many of the robotics. So we’re going to see a lot more robotics around cleaning the stores and retail and restaurants, and a lot more around production. Like the Fry station. Chipotle’s rolling out the same product that flips burgers, that makes fries Chippy, flippy, whatever they call it, the same robot from Bisa Robotics, we’re seeing vending explode. So again, all automation, computers, robotics, AI, it’s both to help improve and enhance the experience of the customer, also improve and enhance the bottom line and the business productivity of the business, but also offset this labor challenge, which is not going to get any easier. The reality is a 16 year old today is not interested in working in a fast food restaurant. Most of the time, if they have access to a computer or smartphone, they probably can make more per week on the Internet trying and testing and playing with ideas than they will in your fast food restaurant, except for California, because we went to dollar 22 days ago, so you can still make a decent living at dollar 20 an hour here in California. But our costs are going up dramatically. That is really the future of QSR fast casual, and that is accelerating. It’s been something that’s been brewing and testing and tried and trying to find its way and trying to find its footing for a number of years now, but it’s really hitting, and it’s starting to hit scale, and scale equals economies of scale financially to make things more affordable, more readily available. And as that happens, it becomes a no brainer to engage with these solutions. So, going to see a lot more of that.

Anthony Codispoti 1:15:30

Are any of these innovations things that you think pepper lunch is going to benefit from? Because you don’t have the drive through concept right, and you don’t have all the food prep that a lot of other places do where you would benefit from the robotics?

Troy Hooper 1:15:43

Yeah. We’re actively testing a semi automated, what we, what’s called a rotating kettle walk. It’s a iron walk or iron cylinder on a programmable base that we can program for speed, time, and temperature. And so we are actually going into R and D project now to see if that production methodology will allow us to be more efficient on our to go, what we call off premise business. So when you order to go right now at pepper lunch, we actually have to mix and cook your food for you on the iron plate. Takes an employee out of the mix for a little too long, and so we’re trying to move that to a semi automated space 100%. I think voice AI ordering for us on your phone, on your Alexa or type device, at home, in your car, and at the kiosk in the store. I think voice ordering using the same technologies these drive thrus are using is something we will look into, adapt, and adopt over time as they become more readily available in the store. So, yeah, we’re always being curious looking. You know, we go to national restaurant association. Every year, with one purpose. As a learning exercise, we take our entire global leadership team this year, and we go simply to learn, what are you doing? What do you have? How could that benefit our business, our customer, our employee? So we put in the time to make sure we know what’s brewing, what’s out there, what’s growing, what are people doing? I’m talking to my peers all the time as well. What are you trying? What are you testing? How did that go? How’s that impacting your business? How is that helping your employees or your customers? So, you know, again, back to community. The more we talk, the more we talk about our successes, our failures, our challenges, how things are going, the better all of us are going to be, to be resilient and be able to continue to survive.

Anthony Codispoti 1:17:29

Roy Hooper from pepper lunch restaurants, thanks so much for sharing your story today.

Troy Hooper 1:17:34

Thanks for having me, Anthony. It’s been a pleasure.

Anthony Codispoti 1:17:36

That’s a wrap on another episode of the Inspired Stories podcast. Thanks for learning with us today. 


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