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Inside Track: Nothing is casual about Floyd’s passion for restaurant industry
Meritage’s director of chef-casual dining has traveled the country turning operations into the best eateries they can be.
Joe Floyd likes a challenging restaurant guest.
Floyd, the new director of chef-casual dining at Meritage Hospitality Group, picked a career in restaurants when he was 15 because he wanted, in part, the challenge of making people happy every day.
“You either have it or you don’t,” Floyd said of interacting with guests. “If you’re challenged by a difficult guest, you’ll have a difficult time in this career. I draw a level of gratitude: I like a challenging guest.
“If I can make them happy, that’s hospitality, and I feel like I’ve done my job.”
Floyd joined Meritage this month, at a time when the company is on a strong growth track with more than 160 Wendy’s restaurants and a half-dozen “chef-casual” restaurants, including one in the works at Arena Place in downtown Grand Rapids called The Wheelhouse.
Meritage hopes to reach a total of 300 restaurants in the next five years, and while most will be Wendy’s locations, the company also sees strong growth potential in its chef-casual concepts and expects that side of the business to grow, as well.
That growth potential is what led Floyd to Meritage — that and the strong leadership qualities Meritage CEO Robert Schermer and CFO and COO Gary Rose possess.
“The draw started with the leadership. Bob and Gary are two dynamic people, and they have a clear vision for where they’re headed. They know where they’re going and have the growth vehicle to do it,” Floyd said.
“To me, everything about it is exciting, and I want to be a part of it.”
Floyd had a vision of his future career early on, and it’s taken him across the country.
While a teenager in Chico, California, Floyd had a friend who worked in the kitchen at Bidwell Manor Country Club. Working at Bidwell Manor looked appealing to Floyd, who was hired at the golf club part time when he was old enough, at 15.
“It looked attractive to me,” he said. “We worked in the restaurant, and every Monday we could play golf for free.”
Bidwell Manor wasn’t a large country club, Floyd said, but it allowed him to work his way through school — first high school and then college at California State University, Chico — also known as Chico State.
He started as a dishwasher, moved up to prep cook, then sous chef, and then to the front of the house. By the time he left Bidwell Manor just before he turned 25, Floyd was the food and beverage director.
“Again, this wasn’t a big country club, but to me it was something huge: It was my first real opportunity in management and allowed me to lead men and women to a single goal,” he said.
“I had a very good boss, Gary Keenan, who understood employees. He’s someone I take a lot from, someone I wanted to emulate.”
Those early years at Bidwell Manor showed Floyd what the restaurant world was all about, and the industry drew him in.
“It was about that collective group of people all coming together — so many personalities. It was great to pull them together and motivate them to have the same goals,” Floyd said.
“It is a challenge, but once you do it and do it well, it’s really fun. Now, I feel like I can communicate and negotiate with almost anyone because you meet every type of human being in the restaurant business.”
When a former general manager of Bidwell Manor got a job at a country club in Atlanta, he suggested that Floyd move to Atlanta with him.
Floyd began working as the head of the 755 Club at Turner Field, the restaurant named after baseball legend Hank Aaron in the home of Major League Baseball’s Atlanta Braves.
The 755 Club operations were managed by Aramark, a global food services company that provided many training opportunities for Floyd.
Floyd said during the baseball season, he managed non-game-day events at the club, and during the offseason he would take classes to expand his knowledge of the various management aspects of the industry, such as accounting.
Following his stint at Turner Field, he went to work for the Oceanaire Seafood Room in Atlanta, a 1930s and 1940s themed supper club that flew in fresh fish daily. The menu would change every day depending on what fish came in, giving Floyd an interesting new experience.
“Much like a steakhouse, a butcher had to cut fish, and there were steakhouse portions of fish,” he said. “People who had satellite phones — from the Yukon River in Alaska, for example — would call us and say, ‘The river opened; what do you want?’
“We would order and the fish would be delivered and cut and on a plate within 48 hours.”
Most of Floyd’s career moves were the result of following a former boss or, in the case of the Oceanaire, being recruited for the job. That was until he heard Smith & Wollensky Steakhouses were looking for a general manager in Boston. He applied, was hired and moved to Boston.
Six months later, Floyd was the director of operations for the nationwide steakhouse chain with some locations bringing in $10 million a year.
There he managed eight general managers and more than 350 employees. He wanted to be the type of leader he had looked up to as a young employee — not the type who comes in, doesn’t do much and doesn’t earn the respect of employees.
“You don’t get to know all of them, but you work with them,” Floyd said. “They should see me working. You need their respect, and it’s not through words — it’s through deeds. So I was really pounding the pavement, showing them I have the same work ethic like them, a family like they do, and that we’re all in this together.”
Prior to his hiring at Meritage, Floyd was the director of operations at Florida’s Caledon Concept Partners. He moved from Tampa to Grand Rapids this month and is in the process of evaluating and getting to know the chef casual restaurants within the Meritage portfolio.
“My first goal is to get in and know the restaurants and teams of the casual side of the company,” Floyd said. “More importantly, I really want to work on improving the operations and trying to implement the business plan we have and get ready for growth.”
He has held positions with a variety of companies across the country in the 20 or so years since he left Bidwell Manor, but he said he could see himself staying with Meritage, and in Grand Rapids, for awhile.
“I want to assist this company to grow to as many restaurants as we can manage. To me, that’s exciting. More restaurants and more responsibilities is really what I want to do. But whether it’s 20 restaurants or one, the goal is the same: be the best restaurant you can. … That’s what I’m passionate about. If we do that 30 times over, that’s fantastic.”