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UV50 Fastest-Growing Companies: No. 16 Four Foods Group

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LOVE IS SERVED Four Foods Group was founded by Andrew and Shauna Smith. The couple has worked tirelessly to grow their restaurant development company — and they wouldn’t want to do it anywhere else. “We live in the food capital,” Andrew says. “Restaurants in Utah Valley are innovative and smart. Food is love. And we’re all just trying to spread the love.”

LOVE IS SERVED
Four Foods Group was founded by Andrew and Shauna Smith. The couple has worked tirelessly to grow their restaurant development company — and they wouldn’t want to do it anywhere else. “We live in the food capital,” Andrew says. “Restaurants in Utah Valley are innovative and smart. Food is love. And we’re all just trying to spread the love.”

Talk about a well-balanced company. Four Foods Groups, which is a former UV50 Startup to Watch and perennial Fastest-Growing Company, is a restaurant development wonderland. With dashes of leadership, systems and generosity, the $79-million company took a beloved local brand like Kneaders and turned it into an empire. FFG is now accepting new brands, which means the company will be on the UV50 menu for years to come.


Four Foods Group growthI had just sold my third tech company. I was burned out on tech and wanting a change. So I looked at the restaurant business. All you hear about restaurants is how they’re super risky and you can’t make money. I wanted to know why restaurants fail, and I narrowed it down to two reasons: One, the food isn’t good. Or two, there’s poor financial oversight and operation. As an experienced entrepreneur, I knew those wouldn’t be a problem for me. I know how to take something from nothing to growth.

Shauna and I were huge fans of Kneaders. We ate there all the time, so we approached them about being one of our brands. We ultimately decided to work with them exclusively. We wanted to prove our models were solid. So we built the systems, invested millions, and got to work. Last week, we opened up our 53rd store.

Our biggest switch? Change the way people think. We want everyone at our restaurants to wake up thinking like a business owner. If it fails? It’s on all of us. If it succeeds? It’s on all of us. We give our store operators equity in the business — which is unheard of. But we’ve got this pie, and why would we want to keep the pie? We want to share the pie. That’s the winning formula.

There were so many naysayers. Everyone was looking at us like we were crazy. But there’s this quote we love: “If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid.” It’s so much more rewarding to put money in other people’s bank accounts. We rejoice in giving dividends.

Even better, everyone has put their heart and souls into the business. Everyone has grown within, even at the store level. We have managers and store operators telling the sandwich makers that they were once in their shoes.

“Nothing should be beneath you as a leader. People quit  their bosses; they don’t quit their jobs.” —Andrew Smith, Four Foods Group founder 

We’re now accepting new brands. We want to help other restaurants grow and expand. You can take any kind of restaurant and plug it into our platform. You don’t have to have the resources to hire millions of people. We can help you build it into a legacy.

We’ve grown so fast that we continually feel like we’re running an entirely new company. Every time you hit a new benchmark — $25 million, $50 million, $75 million — you have to reinvent yourself, recreate job duties, and readjust expectations. It’s a challenge, but a good challenge. Our next goal is $250 million. And we almost feel like a startup again. We have a renewed vigor.

Work never sleeps. Shauna and I are 100 percent partners. We work 80- to 100-hour weeks, and everything is business. Our life is business. Our kids’ life is business. People ask us how you grow to be such a big company? It’s because there’s no line between the work and the personal.

We also make out a lot. (laughs) That helps. And we always try to find the logic in the situation. In marriage you can get emotional. We keep things logical and level-headed. And we respect the hell out of each other. We have different strengths so there’s zero need for micromanagement.

We love leaders who can rally the troops — and leaders who can work side-by-side with employees. Nothing should be beneath you. We have no use for clipboard leaders. People quit their bosses; they don’t quit their jobs. At FFG we’re thrilled to have less than 5 percent attrition. People don’t leave!

Restaurants appear very romantic. But in reality, they can suck the life out of you. It’s a fickle industry, and you can’t be asleep at the wheel for even a day. But even though it’s a competitive world, we love the camaraderie between restaurant owners. There’s not one restaurant brand in Utah where we don’t know the owners. We want to see every restaurant succeed. We know you can’t eat at our restaurant every day. There’s room for all of us. And when a restaurant fails? We’re not happy about it. It gives us a pit in our stomach.

We love Utah Valley. The caliber of people here is unparalleled. And in a lot of ways, even though our business community has grown like crazy, it feels tighter and more collaborative than ever. All us business owners are rooting for each other. You get out of this valley — even just head north, and that’s not the case. Utah Valley is very unique that way. We’re not a small town, but we have a small-town feel.

This will be our last company. We will keep taking on new brands, incubate them, accelerate them, and then turn them into legacy brands. We want to help restaurant owners realize the dream of seeing their restaurants scattered all over the U.S.

We proved we can do this with Kneaders. Now let’s do it again and again, shall we?

See all the 2016 Fastest-Growing Companies HERE, and all the 2016 UV50 winners HERE.

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