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Taco John’s Operator Sees Her Role as a Calling

Plenty of restaurant operators gripe about young workers, with their constant demands for more money and better conditions despite their alleged lack of work ethic.

Then there’s Tamra Kennedy, who owns nine Taco John’s restaurants in Minnesota and Iowa. She views her role as an employer as a calling, and shared her refreshing philosophy at the Faegre Baker Daniels Franchise Summit in Minneapolis earlier this month.

“We teach young people how to enter the workforce,” Kennedy said, adding she believes she’s “in the development business. I turn out superstars in the community,” who know how to greet people properly and take care of their needs. “I want them to say, ‘I learned this at this restaurant.’”

Kennedy is hardly a pushover. “We employ a secret shopper service,” she said, which is required by her franchisor. The shopper visited one of her restaurants recently, and words like “indifferent” were used to describe one employee. “I let that person go three hours later,” she said. “We have to enforce the highest level of what I believe.”

One of her core values, Kennedy said, is achieving results through competition, and she posts performance measures every day, by day part. “We publish names, first through last,” she said. Some contests are for individuals and some for teams. “I have a team going to a Twins game,” she said, the winner of a recent contest.

Although Kennedy faces many challenges, and she doesn’t say it’s easy to operate restaurants or develop people, she does see tangible results from her efforts.

“The average tenure of my fast-food GM is 12 years,” Kennedy said, a notable length of time in her industry. “I pay them more than others. We take them to Mexico,” and other places for training and development, and fun. “We call them bonding trips and we try to keep them all out of jail.”

And one final thing: She doesn’t touch technology, because she’s terrible at it compared with her young staffers. “I learned a long time ago not to talk about tech,” she said, including with her son who has now joined her operation. He used to tease her relentlessly about her tech shortcomings. “We put together teams of young people to teach it,” such as when they get a new point-of-sale system.

Cheers to Kennedy and other operators who prefer fresh ideas to generic complaints.

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