In 1993, Tony DiSilvestro and his wife, Cynthia, opened Ynot Pizza and Italian Cuisine in Virginia Beach. “We were 24 years old and doing it all,” DiSilvestro recalls, operating a store with little more than hope, previous experience and used equipment.
Within the first year, DiSilvestro had a revelation. Neither he nor his wife could maintain the breakneck pace. He promoted one of his delivery drivers, an entrepreneurial young man with promise and a responsible nature, to manager, asking the newly installed leader to motivate employees, enforce store policy, and learn all areas of the business.
“In the beginning, it was tough to let go, tough to let someone else close the store and make decisions, but … I had to trust,” says DiSilvestro, who still didn’t take a full day off until the store’s fifth year.
The decision to hire a manager was central to Ynot’s success then and now.
In 1996, the DiSilvestros opened a second location. In 2010, they opened a third. A fourth spot opened earlier this year. All locations have a general manager who oversees a team of operational managers (driver manager, server manager, counter manager, bar manager, and so on) and up to 80 staff members.
“These managers are in the trenches every day and their presence has freed me up to do big- picture thinking,” says DiSilvestro, who holds weekly meetings with his managerial team.
For many independent pizzeria owners, DiSilvestro’s early plight is a familiar one. The owner- operator model, though invigorating to some, can leave one wearied and absent the gusto to pursue new opportunities, a reality making a managerial hire an important — even critical — step as the business seeks growth and prosperity.
“As an owner-operator, you just can’t work all the hours,” says Adam Goldberg, who opened his first of five Fresh Brothers in southern California in June 2008. “If the business was going to go where we wanted it to go, we knew we’d have to bring someone into the store to give the daily tasks undivided attention.”
When hiring a manager, many owners insist on previous restaurant experience. Goldberg’s first managerial hire was a longtime server. Subsequent managers at Fresh Brothers have come from other front- and back- of-the-house positions at chains and independents. Jill Mather of Trifecta Management Group, a California- based agency that helps restaurant concepts maximize their operational efficiencies, sees benefits in experience on both fronts.
“Those from the independent climate often have a spirit of entrepreneurship and self-guided work history, while applicants from a corporate structure have experience reporting and responding to a higher up. The challenge is to then figure out what and who fits with your business,” says Mather, who recommends creating hypothetical scenarios and asking managerial applicants for their response.
Mather will also assess the longevity of one’s employment in previous positions. In Mather’s world, “job hoppers” lose points.
“You’re putting a lot of investment and responsibility into this individual’s hands,” she says. “You want to know that they’ll plug away at the work.”
DiSilvestro hires most of his managers from within, which not only allows him the opportunity to learn their character and show them growth opportunities in the business, but also grounds them in the Ynot system and culture.
Hiring from within “allows managers to learn in our trenches and understand what we’re about,” DiSilvestro says. While the owner will handle big-picture issues and financial decisions, the manager directs the operation’s daily tasks, being visible to both guests and team members throughout the shift to troubleshoot, lend a hand where necessary, coach staff, and promote restaurant opportunities, such as parties, fundraising, or catering.
Managers at Ynot, who can receive 401k contributions as well as health care, must be focused on details, treat others with respect, have a rapport with fellow staff members, and motivate the restaurant team. DiSilvestro leans on his various operational managers, most overseeing eight to 10 employees, to manage labor costs, uniform discipline, policy upkeep, and provide hands-on training for team members. He then wants the general manager to be a hands-on, jack-of-all- trades type able to jump in or delegate responsibility as needed.
“They’re cutting pizzas, walking the floor and filling beverages,” DiSilvestro says of his GMs. “When the store’s on fire, you need someone who can fill any position.”
Mather wants a manager to embrace what she terms the Four Fs: first, to demonstrate skills and communicate to team members what needs to be accomplished; firm, by enforcing rules and protocols without exceptions; fair, in treating team members as equals and not playing favorites; and flexible, in understanding the uniqueness of individual situations and respecting the lives and responsibilities staff have outside of the restaurant.
“You want managers to feel as if that restaurant is their own when they’re on duty,” says Mather. “You want them to share in your vision.”
Adds Goldberg, whose new managerial hires endure several weeks of training and a 90-day probationary period: “They need to know our heart, mind and temperament as well as they know our product. It needs to be a good fit because we’re going to lean on them to do the right thing.” u
Chicago-based writer Daniel P. Smith has covered business issues and best practices for a variety of trade publications, newspapers, and magazines.
WHAT TYPE OF MANAGER DO YOU NEED?
The general manager is a direct extension of the owner and, quite often, the key cog in a restaurant’s development. An excellent communicator and motivator, the GM is eager to train staff members and develop talent. Needing to write checks and maintain the restaurant’s numbers, the GM also possesses financial knowledge.
Operational managers oversee specific areas of the restaurant. A kitchen manager, for instance, is often a culinary-trained individual who understands quality standards and performs the hands-on kitchen work, including training and directing back-of-the-house staff. The kitchen manager monitors inventory, examines margins and handles the kitchen’s immediate and long-term tasks.
Similarly, operational managers in other areas of the pizzeria environment, such as the bar, delivery and customer service, possess the narrow job description, frontline experience, and know-how to direct employees in their specific area with complete focus and attention. Depending on the restaurant’s structure, operational managers report to the GM or owner.