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    Workstream | 17 min read

    The Future of QSR Technology - A Webinar with Blaze Pizza's Former CEO

    In this week's weekly Workstream webinar, we are joined for a fireside chat with Jim Mizes, a QSR executive with a history of leading consistent, accelerated growth of multi-unit retail, food, and service concepts through strategy, execution, communication, cultural alignment and systems.

    The conversation revolved around how the QSR industry has been impacted over the years, and how hiring has changed. With a “pay it forward” mentality, Jim has a proven track record of financial and operational turnaround of multiple businesses, including Blaze Pizza and more!

    Read on for the full transcript:

    Lydia: Hi all, thanks for tuning in to Workstream's Wednesday webinar. Today, we're joined for a fireside chat with Jim Mizes. Jim has a very long and amazing career in the QSR industry, he's held leadership positions at Pepsi, Taco bell, he had his bagel years at Einstein Noah, most recently he was the CEO of Blaze pizza, he's also held leadership roles at Starbucks. Jim, why don't you tell us about your career and and your evolution of the businesses that you worked with.

    Jim Mizes' Career Journey

    (00:35 - 02:25)

    Jim: Thanks for having me. I think my career has been highlighted by servant leadership and learning very early in my career that great leaders support others and help them be their very best. I learned that being an offensive lineman in high school and college and understanding that great quarterbacks and great running backs are that because they have an offensive line that clears the way for them. That's really been at the foundation of my career when I moved from big companies to running and leading six startups. What I realized is growth is about creating a culture for people as well as a work environment for people where they can be successful and you do that by removing barriers just like offensive lineman, knock down the defensive guys to enable the real talented people to be their very best. I built my career after six years or so at Taco Bell and a large organization helping companies grow starting with Noah's Bagels where we grew from basically eight restaurants to 120 restaurants in three years. Then Jamba, I joined when there were about 40 restaurants to 450 in six years then I took a little detour and went into the health club business for seven years, growing a health club company and came back to restaurants for a short period of time at Starbucks helping them buy evolution fresh which is the juice company. The capstone to my career was Blaze Pizza from two restaurants to 340 restaurants in six years. So in all those, what they have in common is really how do you help entrepreneurs grow by putting in place a culture and systems and processes where good people can become great at what they do.

    Recommended Processes for Businesses

    (02:26 - 04:23)

    Lydia: Yeah I think that that's something we could all learn a lot about. What are the top processes do you recommend companies implement?

    Jim: Sure well it always comes down to tech and talent. Even way back 25 years ago, it was about how do you blend technology with the talent you have and the scale that for each phase of growth. It's no different than if you have a child right there are certain things you teach a toddler and then you teach them more when they're five-year-olds and they moved into Junior High and High School. You wouldn't teach an eight-year-old how to drive a car. The same thing goes for a startup organization. So early on, they need basic systems in terms of how do we replicate and scale our growth, what are those things that we have to be excellent at in terms of growth and that's usually training and processes that enable people to replicate the experience you're trying to have over and over. It might be reward systems as well that you need to put in place and certainly up front you need a culture, you need an understanding of who you are, what is your why and how do you communicate that and most importantly how do you behavioralize that so that people are inspired to come to work everyday. So those are the fundamental things and it's no different than teaching a child early on and i don't mean to mean that a young company is like a child but there are stages of growth for organizations just as there are for children and that you expose them to those new pieces as they're able to handle it. As companies grow then they need to take on greater technology as an example to enable people to be even more successful and to then understand the differences between sites and how do you then consistently deliver that and that comes through technology as well as the people systems that you have to try and develop.

    Technology Evolution With Artificial Intelligence

    (04:24 - 08:15)

    Lydia: Yeah. Technology is a very interesting thing. You've written several articles about how you believe artificial intelligence is the next wave of technology. I would love to just dig into that more from how you think the digital to the AI evolution is going.

    Jim: Sure, I'm going to go back just a little bit before I've always said technology falls in the restaurant business into. I used to say three buckets. I've added a fourth now. So the first bucket is in-store technology and so that's everything from your POS system to your payroll systems etc, and how people clock in and clock out, your cost of goods systems etc. That's the fundamental of the restaurant. And then there's above store technology so if you're an organization that's growing, you need to be able to pull all that information and begin to process as well as to complete your P&Ls etc. The third wave which started really about 10 years ago is obviously consumer-facing technology and how restaurants communicate with their guests and loyalists etc and that of course led to apps and loyalty programs and most importantly, in the last five years digital and delivery and then in the past eight months everything about the pandemic where third-party delivery and curbside pickup became even more important. In the interim, we've been gathering information about our customers and so the next wave the fourth wave is really artificial intelligence. How do I take that information about all of our guests and the surrounding communities and then have targeted messaging. Artificial intelligence is not in machine learning is not really this martian thing where we're going to control the world and too much control but it's really meeting the consumer where he or she is and creating the experiences for them so that they will be more engaged and the brand will be more relevant to guests. This is the next wave and it's very interesting to watch which companies are investing in it heavily and going after it and which ones are going to sit on the sidelines and let others lead the way and then hopefully they will follow when it's proven. But I throw out to you that look at the companies in the pandemic who were already ahead. They actually accelerated their lead during this pandemic and those who jumped onboard thank goodness are now catching up but they're still behind those that were leading the way before.

    Lydia: And what companies are those that are leading this especially with the AI side of things?

    Jim: I think from the very beginning, you've had Domino's leading the way, Starbucks, Chipotle to name a few and now there are more and more who I think are seeing that they have to get involved. The real challenges with technology is which technology company do you go with in order to expedite it and do I really need data scientists and data analysts or is there some kind of technology that will help with that.

    Lydia: Got it. AI does have that scary thing as you alluded to, what are you seeing the reaction with business owners franchise owners when you talk to them about how they need to start thinking about AI and the future of technology?

    Jim: Well, I think it really comes down to the leadership of the organization. Most franchisees take the lead from their franchisor with respect to something as big an investment as that and so, it's really about the leadership at the franchisor level now for some large franchisees and there are some large franchises that are actually bigger than franchisors because they have multiple brands they of course are leading the way with that. I think they're saying that it's a way to become almost more intimate with their customers to really understand their customers. And in today's world, especially now, it's about meeting the guest where he or she wants to be met not where you would like to meet them so it's a whole new world.

    Ghost Kitchens

    (08:16 - 09:39)

    Lydia: I think yeah and speaking of a whole new world, what are your thoughts on ghost kitchens? They've really popped up a lot during the pandemic, do you think they're here to stay?

    Jim: I definitely think they're here to stay. I think that they offer convenience, they offer accessibility and I think what's the unknown today is really, which brands does it work best for and which brands does it not work best for? Is it really large brands who can create another point of access which I believe is really the answer or is it smaller brands and there are some that are really having great success with it and others that are not so still to be seen. But I also will say this, when we're through all this and people are able to go back out and feel comfortable doing so and trust that it's safe, in the pandemic of 1918 etc, there's a reason why the roaring 20s were called the roaring 20s. People were waiting to get outside and do things again and i think we're going to have that in the roaring 20s of 2020 in 2021, 22, 23 when this was over and that there will be an awful lot of return back to movie theaters and to concerts and to restaurants and to travel etc. It'll be interesting to see how those kitchens evolve with that roaring 20s that will be coming.

    Important Business Values

    (13:22 - 15:23)

    Lydia: As you work with companies and I know right now you're consulting with companies, what are some of the values that you think are very important for business owners to adopt and have even like individual words that you think have been really useful to have as something that helps lead other people.

    Jim: Sure and there's so many of them but I'll just rattle off a few that I think are really important but it really starts with the the leadership's why and the leadership's value that the leadership team and their values and what's important to them. But in all, you can say it many different ways but there's always going to be something about trust and play fair, there's always going to be something about listening to the voice of the customer, there's always going to be something about team, there's always going to be something about accountability and results and and let's do what we say integrity which is what that is and getting that done. There should always be something about listening to the voice of the of the employees which was team again as I said that and so it comes down to really the semantics and the words and the actions of the leadership team as to what's important to them and then most importantly how they behavioralize them because we all know words on the paper exactly that but when people see that you walk the talk and that you lead by example and reinforce those values through your actions, then everyone's on board. I think today most importantly, it's really about listening to others and understanding that the best ideas are not the leadership teams. They're listening to your guests and your employees to understand what's really important.

    Consulting Businesses

    (15:24 - 16:55)

    Lydia: Yeah, really great advice and often forgotten. I think there's a lot of just so much focus on the day-to-day and the constantly changing world that it's sometimes hard for business owners to step back and think about that and think about where are they getting their information insights. What types of companies are you working with right now and how are you consulting and working with them?

    Jim: In this next phase of my life is really about paying it forward, really focused on young companies, young entrepreneurs generally speaking who have what I think are unique concepts and unique positioning and then helping them to scale and grow and hopefully avoiding some of the mistakes I made early on in my career. It's really my way to pay it forward, it's much more rewarding to me than as much as I love the importance of non-profits and making a difference in that world, it doesn't move fast enough for me. What I love about startups is that it's about testing the waters, it's about taking a direction and if it's wrong the good news is you can change and I think that's what makes startups so much fun. I'm helping a couple restaurant companies, couple of CPG companies and a couple technology companies to really build out their their team their infrastructure and how they go-to-market.

    Evaluating Franchise Investments

    (19:05 - 21:05)

    Lydia: You've worked with a lot of companies that have a franchise business model and especially with Blaze, really doubling down on that, Workstream serves a lot of franchise business owners. Sometimes they are just starting out or they're expanding into different brands where they have several different brands that they're going, how do you advise franchise owners to think about what's a good opportunity for them and how to evaluate different restaurants as to whether or not they should invest in this franchise?

    Jim: Yeah so a couple of things first. I think as a franchisee, you have to follow your passion and so there are a lot of franchise models that are out there. As an example, I love restaurants, so I would be happy to do that but there are franchise hair salons not my passion and something I would even consider. So I think it starts with what's your passion, what do you really love to do because as a franchisee you've already identified you want to have your own business and you like being your own boss so to speak. You've identified that you want to follow a successful process and so it comes down to what is it that you love once you have that. Then I think you have to do two things, understand the franchisor and their team, and how successful they are, and how they work with and support their franchisees and then go talk to the friend the existing franchisees of that business and understand, is the franchisor truly supporting and what are the unit level economics and can I be successful at it and what are the keys to success? There's an item 19 in the FDD that's good but you should also talk to existing franchisees and have them tell you how they're doing and understand all that and great franchises will give, they give you that information, great franchisees will share that information with the prospect and you could be coming in, you can be an informed decision maker versus just a passionate decision maker. I think being informed and passionate is the key.

    Q&A

    1. We'd love to hear your thoughts on contactless hiring? What do you think about hiring via video interviews? At Workstream, we've thought a lot about it with everything going on we've seen a huge change to how people are hiring they're doing a lot more with the video interviews, do you think that that's here to stay and do you think that even if it's just temporary everyone should be adopting it or should they still be doing the in-person interviews?

    • Well, I think this is where technology really makes a difference. It's the right thing to do right now because there are still folks in situations where you wouldn't want to be together but you can do it virtually like this and get to know someone. So I applaud what Workstream is doing with even some video introductions so that employers can learn about candidates and so I think that's great. I think there's nothing better than in person, we all as humans we're all into building a relationship and seeing each other and learning about each other and it's better face to face but if that's not comfortable for some folks today. This is the next best and so I think the more we can nurture this and develop it, it's always going to be a tool that is going to be a great screening device in the future.

    2. Alexa, Siri, Google help, are these what you think of as face-to-face point-of-sale systems now?

    • Jim: I think there are some companies today that are actually using voice activated questions and then searching through all your databases at companies and giving you the answer. Just as I think where AI is going for business is this, just as we're all comfortable with asking Siri or Alexa a question and getting an answer and they pull it from different sources there is a time where it's happening right now, where you will be able to ask your database for your business about what's going on in your business not type it in, ask the question and with machine learning and language understanding then give you your answer just like that so just imagine how wonderful that will be for businesses when google for business is essentially available to all. It's coming.
    • Lydia: I think that's definitely exciting especially with each teams at businesses seem siloed in terms of which data you're looking at and then it's difficult to get that across to other teams we sort of have to be explaining like what things mean and how we look at them so if you could just do that where it's taking NLP natural language processing and and making it so that anyone can ask a question and have somebody explain it to them, save me a lot of time I'd be all for that
    • Jim: It's here, it's on the verge, I should say right now and the thing is how do you democratize data. I think that's really what we're going after when organizations right now have to have data scientists and all these analytics people that's wonderful. But the world was so much better when you could ask Google questions and get the answer and so it's really democratizing the accumulation of information and then putting it into a format where everyone can understand it and have access to it and that's where we're headed. It's here now.

    3. I love the pay it forward mentality. What would you recommend in your own business to promote equality and create opportunities for advancement?

    • I would say the most important thing is to find your leaders who understand that their role is to serve others and to develop others because it's multiplicative. If you create other leaders, it's multiplicative if you just create people who love to follow it's additive and you can have all these different people who love to follow you but your company's going to grow so much faster when leaders understand they're there to serve and to provide and create the environment where all the people on the team can be their very best. I'll never forget the story many years ago at another company, their development process was all about understanding the weaknesses of people and as a very young business guy, I didn't agree with that. I said why do you want to identify people's weaknesses, why don't you play their strengths and if you look over the past 20 years all the books that have been written about great teams and putting people in their role where they are at their very best because they found their zone of genius they perform at their very best. Why would you want to ask the best violinist to pick up and learn how to play the trumpet? Why would you ask a ballet dancer to all of a sudden give it up and go into modern jazz? They've chosen their passion and they're awesome at it now. If you can create a team of people where they are passionate about what they do and the company they work with and they can be at their very best, I promise you, you'll have the world's best team.

    4. How hard is it to keep the customer experience when franchising is the goal and franchisors do not control the experience? How much do franchisers control the customer experience?

    • Jim: I'm going to give someone this question probably an alternative way to think about things. All things being equal, if I'm a company based in California where I live, and I'm opening up in Atlanta Georgia. If I'm company owned, I've got to take a multi-unit manager or somebody from my operations that are in the midwest or the west and move them out to Atlanta where they don't know anybody and have them hire people and create a team in there. I would argue that if I could find a great franchisee in Atlanta, a Wendy's franchisee and in a Five Guys franchisee, you pick the business and have that and get them excited about my brand and then have them take their team where they've already been successful where they're plugged into the community and build our restaurant company in Atlanta that I have as good a chance if not better chance for them to be successful provided I find the right franchisee. So I as a franchisor, I influence the experience for the guests at that franchisee location by number one finding great franchisees. If I'm in the restaurant business, I don't want to hire a rookie who's never run a restaurant. I'm going to find somebody who's already running restaurants in that community. I'm going to give them systems where they can be successful. I'm going to provide them feedback through feedback loops of either mystery shoppers or all the Yelp and Google responses that come in everyday, feed that back to them so they can respond, and I'm going to hold them accountable for delivering the brand that's at a standard that we set for the organization. When you do all that and you start it out right to begin with, I think you actually have a better chance for quality consistency and control across the organization than if I was a fast-growing corporate owned concept.
    • Lydia: Yeah, I think you make a lot of great points. We hear from franchise business owners just the different ways that they've gone above and beyond to ensure the customer experience is good. I love the example from one of the Jack-in-the-box owners who says that he orders food through the drive-thrus just to hear the experience that everyone's getting before they know it's him. That's something that we've heard from multiple franchisees where they talk about just being the mystery shopper themselves and then thinking how can they create different ways for advancement and learning for their employees. Workstream works with a lot of Chick-fil-As and we've seen a lot of different custom manuals that they've created for their employees that go beyond what corporate offers because they really want to ensure the customer experience is even better with a company that already is known for their customer experience is already impressive.

    5. Many organizations are in various stages, from startup to hyper growth. In regards to franchisees, where in your opinion is the biggest disconnect to the franchisor some franchisees do well and others struggle.

    • I know that great franchise organizations really specialize in a few things. They specialize in over communicating and by the way, you can't really over communicate. But they specialize in over communicating in a couple of areas in terms of the vision and the values of the organization and whatever is the are the systems processes and communication vehicles to make sure everyone is aligned number one. And number two, a great franchisor working with their franchisees knows that the key to their relationship is profitability at the unit level for the franchisee. It's not about the franchisor it's about the franchisee and so when franchisees are making money and successful because the brand is building awareness and building loyalty etc, and understanding their customers, coming back to artificial intelligence etc, helping that franchisee be more successful then everyone is happy. Brands that are just trying to sell a franchise because they collect some cash and then basically leave the franchisee to do his or her thing, is not a group you want to be a part of and more and more franchisors are becoming better and better at this entire collaborative process and working together to really enhance the success of the brand through the franchisees because let's face it, it really is through the work of the franchisees at the local level and the heroes in the restaurants who make it happen that enable and tell the story of whether that brand is successful or not. 

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    Lydia Fayal

    Lydia Fayal Hall is Head of Marketing at Workstream. She previously held leadership roles at OneSignal and Chalkup, acquired by Microsoft. Lydia has written for publications including The Wall Street Journal and Forbes. She is an alum of UPenn, Johns Hopkins, and YCombinator IK12. Originally from Stonington, CT, Lydia now resides in San Francisco, CA with her Australian Shepherd, Indy.

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