Hourly to Owner: Joe Piro Bets on his Work Ethic and Salata
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Hourly to Owner: Joe Piro Bets on his Work Ethic and Salata

Hourly to Owner: Joe Piro Bets on his Work Ethic and Salata

Veteran multi-unit franchisee Joe Piro says he was a Burger King operator on the hunt for an innovative opportunity to develop and grow when he “fell in love with Salata.”

“I was looking for something fresh and new that wasn’t going to be a fad and was going to be sustainable,” says Piro, a Salata Salad Kitchen franchisee since 2012. “Eating healthy is something that is going to be around forever.”

Piro eventually swapped out burgers for salads, selling his fast-food restaurants to focus on expanding with Salata. These days, Piro stands as the largest franchisee of the fast-casual chain, operating 15 made-to-order salad kitchens across Houston and College Station, Texas, and Lake Charles, Louisiana, with six more locations planned for his hometown Houston area. Piro also partnered with his daughter to invest in Face Foundrié, a rapidly emerging express facial bar concept.

A self-described “ops guy” with 36 years of franchise experience, Piro learned the value of a strong work ethic early. At 17, he was a fresh-faced high school graduate and drummer in a band trying to figure out his life path when he took a summer job at Burger King. Piro never looked back, swiftly moving up from an hourly employee into management and up the operations ladder to eventually become the operating partner of his own Burger King stores in the Houston market.

“If we could teach people how to work hard in life, they will get ahead,” Piro says. “Whatever your job is, just be the best at it. Be better than everybody else, and you will get ahead.”

Piro pours the same type of commitment into his family’s passion project to build a better life for children in a small, impoverished village in Honduras, his wife’s home country. The project started as a labor of love by his wife and mother-in-law to collect clothes, school supplies, and backpacks.

“One night, I woke up in the middle of the night thinking, ‘Why don’t we just build a facility?’” Piro says.

What followed was the construction of an enclosed community kitchen with a covered area for seating. Funds are sent monthly to cover the cost of food cooked to serve 75 to 100 kids twice a week. Plans include a park and playground equipment so kids can eat, play, and just be kids.

More expansion is also on the way for Piro’s burgeoning portfolio. With no exit plan in sight, Piro remains focused on achieving his current goal of filling out the Houston market with his two brands. “As long as sales remain strong, and I can continue to build, I don’t see the point in stopping,” he says. “When you love what you do, it’s not really work. It’s just what you do.”

Name: Joe Piro
Title: President/Franchisee
Company: Supreme Greens Franchise Group
No. of units: 21 Salata Salad Kitchen, 3 Face Foundrié
Age: 65
Family: Wife; 2 kids; 1 grandchild
Years in franchising: 36

PERSONAL

First job: Hourly employee at Burger King at age 17.

Formative influences/events: Roger Swift, the Burger King franchisee I worked for, was inspirational to me. His work ethic was amazing. At that time, I remember saying that I wanted to be that guy one day.

Key accomplishments: The American Dream! I worked my way up from a summer job out of high school as a Burger King hourly employee to multi-unit management and eventually a partner before selling out and becoming a Burger King franchisee on my own. Becoming the largest Salata franchisee. Most of all, building a free-standing kitchen where we cook, feed, and clothe poor children in Honduras.

Biggest current challenge: Finding dedicated employees and management after Covid-19.

Next big goal: To fill out the Houston market with both Salata and Face Foundrié. To turn our kitchen in Honduras into a park where the kids can not only eat, but have fun as well.

First turning point in your career: Selling out of my partnership and becoming a Burger King franchisee on my own. That was a big step. There were no more partners and no one to make it a success but me.

Best business decision: To join Salata as a franchisee.

Hardest lesson learned: Not to make decisions based on emotions.

Work week: These days about 45 hours.

Exercise/workout: Three times a week.

Best advice you ever got: I found the best advice in a quote: “If it is to be, it’s up to me.”

What’s your passion in business? I love that my business allows me to help people in many ways. Giving back is very important to me. Teach people to be the best at whatever we do at all levels. If you are a dishwasher, be the best dishwasher you can be. It doesn’t matter what your job is. Be the best at it. You don’t need a college degree to work harder than the next person.

How do you balance life and work? Making time for family is the most important part of that balance. I try to include my wife and kids in almost everything that I do.

Guilty pleasure: I love my red wine.

Favorite book: I don’t have the patience to sit and read much.

Favorite movie: “Top Gun.”

What do most people not know about you? I grew up surfing and playing the drums in San Diego.

What did you want to be when you grew up? As a kid, I wanted to be a dentist. I guess that counts as my first failure.

Last vacation: Belize. I have a home there, and I am building some condos with a development group, so I try to go often.

Person you’d most like to have lunch with: Paul McCartney.

MANAGEMENT

Business philosophy: If you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward. I keep a framed poster in my conference room that is a quote by Martin Luther King Jr.: “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.”

Management method or style: The old “KISS” method: Keep It Simple Stupid.

Greatest challenge: Finding people with the same level of dedication as I had when I started. The opportunities are endless. People just need to realize that.

How do others describe you? Demanding and firm but fair and easy to get along with if you’re doing your job.

Have you ever been in a mentor-mentee relationship? What did you learn? Yes. When I was a manager, I took many others under my wing and taught them all that I could. To this day, I have people I managed many years ago who stay in touch with me and have shown gratitude for what they learned from me. Most people will excel when you take the time to invest in them.

How you give your team room to innovate and experiment: If you want your team to grow, you must give them room to innovate and experiment. Sometimes, it’s painful to watch, but it’s necessary for their development.

How close are you to operations? I am an ops guy. I grew up in restaurant operations. It’s in my blood and hard to let it go, but to grow the business, I have had to turn it over to my director of operations, Iris Campos. I still stay involved in operations but on a much broader scale.

What are the two most important things you rely on from your franchisor? An unimpeded supply chain of safe and quality products and every program they put forward needs to be thought through and take customer service and satisfaction into account.

What you need from vendors: Vendors play such an important role in our food safety and quality. They don’t often get the credit they deserve.

Have you changed your marketing strategy in response to the economy? How? Since Covid, we have expanded our delivery methods and increased our off-premise business.

How is social media affecting your business? Social media is a great way to reach many people. Personally, I love the homegrown posts that are created by our fan base.

How do you hire and fire? I leave that up to my director of operations. I have found over the years that if I am the one who hires and they don’t work out, then they like to blame me. They should take ownership of their own decisions in hiring people.

How do you train and retain? Training is the easy part. Retention is an age-old problem in our industry. Promoting from within has been the most effective way for us to keep our employees happy and give them plenty of opportunities to move up within our organization.

How do you deal with problem employees? They are challenges but can be opportunities as well. Many problem employees can be turned around if their managers communicate the problems with them. I don’t believe that many employees come to work wanting to be a problem.

Fastest way into your doghouse: I have no patience for laziness. The restaurant business is high intensity. It is not a place for laziness.

BOTTOM LINE

Annual revenue: Projected 2024 revenue should top $30 million.

2024 goals: I have three new Salata locations on the books to open in early 2024 along with two Face Foundrié locations.

Growth meter: How do you measure your growth? I measure growth in year-over-year same-store sales.

Vision meter: Where do you want to be in five years? 10 years? If you had asked me this question five or 10 years ago, I would not have expected to be anywhere close to where I am today. So, I think I will pass on this question, other than to include more time on the beach in Belize.

Do you have brands in different segments? Why/why not? Salata in the fast-casual segment and Face Foundrié in the salon/spa segment.

How is the economy in your region(s) affecting you, your employees, your customers? Inflation is definitely having an impact on our customers. They are starting to spend less, and that includes eating out. People are trying to stretch their dollars as much as possible.

What are the best sources for capital expansion? I found that local and regional banks are good sources of capital. Having a good personal relationship with your banker is an important factor in obtaining capital for expansion.

How are you handling rising employee costs (payroll, minimum wage, healthcare, etc.)? This is a serious problem in our industry. As all of our costs continue to increase, we end up absorbing much of that. We simply cannot continue to raise our prices to compensate for all the increases in our costs.

What kind of exit strategy do you have in place? I don’t have an exit strategy at this point. As long as sales remain strong, and I can continue to build, I don’t see the point in stopping. When you love what you do, it’s not really work. It’s just what you do.

Published: March 15th, 2024

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