Wisconsin Winner: Qdoba's largest franchisee adds Dave's Hot Chicken
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Wisconsin Winner: Qdoba's largest franchisee adds Dave's Hot Chicken

Wisconsin Winner: Qdoba's largest franchisee adds Dave's Hot Chicken

Name: Ron Stokes

Title: President, COO

Company: Roaring Fork Restaurant Group and MR Chicken 

No. of units: 58 Qdoba, 1 Dave’s Hot Chicken

Age: 63

Family: Spouse, 2 children, 5 grandchildren

Years in franchising: 30 

Years in current position: 17

You might say Ron Stokes is hot for chicken... Dave’s Hot Chicken, that is. Stokes is the president and COO of Milwaukee-based Roaring Fork Restaurant Group, the largest Qdoba franchisee in the U.S. His company operates 58 of the fast-casual Mexican restaurants in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Iowa. This past December, Roaring Fork diversified its holdings by signing a 14-unit development deal with Dave’s Hot Chicken. His first location opened in February in the Milwaukee area, and he’s on track to open the other 13 locations across Southeast Wisconsin over the next 6 years.

  “The Nashville hot chicken category is huge right now, and Dave’s is on the forefront of it,” says the 63-year-old. “We are excited to bring the brand to Wisconsin.”

  Stokes has been in franchising for three decades and with Roaring Fork since 2005. He’s played a key role in opening nearly 50 of the company’s Qdoba locations. “We were first to market here in Wisconsin, and that gave us a significant foothold,” he says.

  He’s gained corporate restaurant management and executive experience along the way. At Pizza Hut, he was a leader in their training department and on the forefront of helping the brand develop their emerging markets. He also served as president and partner at R.T.M., a large Arby’s franchisee in the Northwest. 

  Before joining Roaring Fork, Stokes was the owner and founder of Personalized Management, a recruiting company specializing in retail and restaurant management and helping companies across the country develop strong leadership teams.

  “We are at our best when we surround ourselves with talented bright people who share our values,” he says. “The most interesting people to me are those who are growing, learning, and living life to the fullest.” 

  Stokes is focused on the development of their Dave’s Hot Chicken locations right now and likes to keep tabs on his new business venture. “Currently I am in our first Dave’s Hot Chicken six days a week,” he says.

  At an age where many are cashing in and retiring, Stokes, who also serves as the chairman of the Qdoba Franchisee Association, shows no signs of slowing down and says he will remain focused on growing Dave’s Hot Chicken and Qdoba locations. 

  He says the key to his success can be found in the simple philosophy, “Grow your team, grow your business, and invest heavily in both.”

PERSONAL

First job: Working the local paper route.

Formative influences/events: At a young age, my parents told me that I could do anything I wanted to do. I believed them, and it’s been a driving force for me ever since.

Key accomplishments: There are many, but growing the Qdoba brand in Wisconsin and becoming the largest franchisee in the system is definitely up there.

Biggest current challenge: Staffing, hiring, and retention are currently the biggest challenges we are facing.

Next big goal: Growing the Dave’s Hot Chicken brand throughout Wisconsin.

First turning point in your career: My first job beyond store-level was in the training department with Pizza Hut. This helped me learned how to speak in public.

Best business decision: Most recently, investing in the Dave’s Hot Chicken brand. I’m very excited to grow this brand throughout Wisconsin.

Hardest lesson learned: I owned a recruiting company and we grew too fast too soon. It was a valuable lesson in how to properly scale a business.

Work week: Whatever it takes.

Exercise/workout: My current routine is 10,000 steps a day along with lifting weights three to four times a week.

Best advice you ever got: Live life on a what to, choose to, like to, and love to basis.

What’s your passion in business? I love helping people win and succeed.

How do you balance life and work? Prioritization and planning. Calendar management is key to maintaining balance.

Guilty pleasure: Pizza.

Favorite book: As a Man Thinketh by James Allen.

Favorite movie: “Groundhog Day.”

What do most people not know about you? I love sentimental movies.

Pet peeve: Walking by mistakes.

What did you want to be when you grew up? Baseball player.

Last vacation: Las Vegas.

Person I’d most like to have lunch with: Michael Jordan.

MANAGEMENT

Business philosophy: Grow your team and grow your business. Invest heavily in both so that you can set them up for success.

Management method or style: I prefer a participative approach. Hire top talent and let them go do what they do best.

Greatest challenge: Staffing for success.

How do others describe you? I would describe myself as driven and focused.

One thing I’m looking to do better: I’m always trying to become a better listener.

How I give my team room to innovate and experiment: Asking them questions and giving people the room to make mistakes.

How close are you to operations? Close enough to know where my strengths and vulnerabilities are. Currently I am at our first Dave’s Hot Chicken six days a week.

What are the two most important things you rely on from your franchisor? Supply chain management and technology enhancements.

What I need from vendors: Dependability.

Have you changed your marketing strategy in response to the economy? How? Yes, we have become more focused on digital marketing.

How is social media affecting your business? It is everything. Right now, we’re growing our first Dave’s Hot Chicken location 100% through social media.

How do you hire and fire? Hire slow and fire when not a culture fit. People fire themselves.

How do you train and retain? It is always an ongoing process with us.

How do you deal with problem employees? Coach up or out.

Fastest way into my doghouse: Being dishonest with me.

COVID-19

How did Covid-19 affect your business? Delivery and online ordering have become much more of a focus. There is far less in-store dining.

How have you responded? Fortunately, we are with franchisors that made the right moves early to adapt to the changing environment.

What changes do you think will be permanent? Delivery is here to stay in a much bigger way than ever before.

BOTTOM LINE

Annual revenue: Private.

2022 goals: Continue to grow our two brands, Qdoba and Dave’s Hot Chicken.

Growth meter: How do you measure your growth? Sales, profit, and people.

What are you doing to take care of your employees? Yearlong incentive programs, ongoing recognition programs, great bonuses, and driving hard to create work/life balance.

How are you handling rising employee costs (payroll, minimum wage, healthcare, etc.)? We have had to be more aggressive with pricing than we have been in the past.

Published: May 6th, 2022

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