Eat, Lead, Love
Shauna Smith is in the food for love.
She is the co-founder and President of Four Foods Group, a restaurant investment and management company in Lehi, and the walls of her headquarters are brimming with motivational mantras. Sayings like:
“Around here it’s feast or feast.”
“Good things come to those who hustle.”
“Our failures make us great.”
And our personal favorite: “Food for thought had better be edible.”
But Shauna’s favorite words to live by are these: “Food is love.”
“I’m a Southern girl with Southern hospitality,” says Shauna, who was born in Alabama. “The love of food is in my bones.”
It’s also on the receipts.
Four Foods Group does more than $190 million in annual revenue, and has reached more than $1 billion in total sales since its inception. They’ve catapulted a variety of brands to delicious growth — Kneaders, Swig, Mo’Bettahs, R&R Barbeque and Little Ceasers — and have employed thousands upon thousands of dedicated team members. Shauna co-founded the company with her husband, Andrew Smith, who serves as CEO. And their 5,000+ employees are always at the top of the menu.
“Much of my leadership comes from a place of love. It doesn’t mean I’m always running around telling people I love them,” Shauna laughs, “but it does mean every decision we make comes from a desire to spread love through good food. Love always wins.”
The Hunger Games
The goal wasn’t always a restaurant empire. Shauna and Andrew originally opened a Kneaders franchise in 2008 because, well, they were hungry.
“We moved into the Highland area, and at that time there were practically no services,” she says. “We love to eat and go out, and the gas station food just wasn’t going to cut it.”
At the time, Andrew had sold his company AxisPointe and was looking to exit the tech world. Shauna had been a stay-at-home mom to their two boys as well as Andrew’s trusted sounding board throughout his career.
It was time was for the couple to sandwich their strengths.
Their first Kneaders store thrived. Shauna donned a hair net and apron, wiped down tables and learned the ins and outs of running a restaurant. She was a natural. She was a leader. And she and Andrew were unstoppable. The Smiths went on to open 50+ Kneaders locations, as well as branching out to partner with the aforementioned brands — which led to an eventual 170+ stores.
“We want to serve people good food, but the mission quickly turned into creating job opportunities,” Shauna says.
The Future Is Food
“Our future will look similar — but with some jet fuel,” Shauna says. “If you’re not growing, you’re dying.”
FFG is indeed alive and growing. It’s graced the Inc. 5000 eight times and our own UV50 nine times. It recently sold its locations for Little Caesars and Kneaders, and will be adding two to three new brands this year.
When FFG sets out to acquire new brands, there are four things they look for: 1. Great humans. 2. Great food. 3. Great reputation. 4. Great financial metrics.
“It’s not all touchy feely,” Shauna says. “The brand has to make financial sense for us to move forward. It starts with the gut feeling — then it goes to data.”
(Edible) Food For Thought
The restaurant scene is constantly pivoting with food trends and technology to consider — but Shauna isn’t afraid of change.
“In our industry, the second you learn something you have to be ready to change it,” she says. “We’ll have our company values forever — but we can change with the best of them.”
One thing that has definitely changed for Shauna? The hair net.
“I still wish I could do the dishes sometimes,” Shauna says. “But they won’t let me.”
On The Up + Up: 3 Leadership Lessons From Shauna Smith
- Listen Up. “It’s OK to change your mind. My values are steady and immovable, but my mind gets changed all the time from listening to the amazing humans I work with. The biggest lesson of leading is learning how to listen.”
- Positivity Up. “Seeking out the positive is imperative — both in people and situations. That doesn’t mean there can’t be hard times or difficult moments. Powerful positivity is a matter of addressing the negative — but not living there.”
- Example Up. “I have always wanted to be a leader who is relatable. I went from a supportive wife and stay-at-home mom to running a business i didn’t know anything about. I am walking proof that you can do anything you put your mind to. We all want to do good work, so just be an example of the good. Be kind. be mindful. be respectful. Let’s be the leaders our employees deserve.”
Get In The Game
“I am lucky to have wonderful relationships with both men and women in the workplace. Half of our workforce is women — and every company benefits from having a variety of perspectives and backgrounds at the table. Of course our business community can do better when it comes to how it treats and values women. But my advice is to get in the game. Too often the spectators are the ones with the loudest, most negative voices. get in the arena and help us improve it from the inside. let’s do the work together with an abundance of respect. when we know better, we do better.”
— Shauna Smith