Singer Cindy Lauper in her 80’s classic single “Girls Just Wanna have Fun” created a mantra for cutting loose and making life a little more fun. For leaders, I would adapt this theme to say “Employees Just Wanna Have Some Fun.” This does not mean that the workplace should be a free for all. Instead, it means that we realize that a lot of work can be repetitious and frankly boring! We can breathe some life into our workplaces with some creativity and intentionality about making work more fun and engaging. Stephen Lundin captured this idea in his bestselling classic Fish! which is a fictional parable based on the real Pike Place Fish Market which is nationally known for its joyful atmosphere and world class customer service.
Local restaurateurs Jeff Good and Dan Blumenthal have created three successful restaurants concepts in Jackson: Bravo! Italian Restaurant & Bar, Broad Street Baking Company, and Sal & Mookie’s New York Pizza & Ice Cream Joint. One of the key elements of their success has been incorporating some “fun” into the workplace. I recently visited with Jeff to learn more about how he and Dan have grown these successful businesses. Jeff and his partner Dan are a great team and case study for creating a good partnership. As Jeff noted, “Dan is very detail oriented and, as the chef of the business, he focuses on ensuring that the guests have a great food experience every time they visit.” Jeff can usually be seen on the floor of the restaurants greeting guests and motivating the staff with his mercurial personality. He is also very visible in the community serving in leadership roles including the Capital City Convention Center Commission, the Fondren Renaissance Foundation, and St. Dominic’s Hospital Advisory Board.
Working in a restaurant is hard, labor intensive work. The hours can be demanding and the stress levels high. Jeff and Dan understand that, and they have chosen to create an empowered and democratic work environment. Jeff noted, “Dan and I encourage our team to speak up and challenge us.” They also try to catch people doing good things and encourage them rather than obsess on catching people making mistakes. Jeff shared, “We are not looking for robots; instead, we want our staff to be individuals in how they do their jobs.” Their approach engages the heart and minds of employees and encourages them to give their best to the job. In his book Drive, author Dan Pink asserts that great employers create an environment where employees can experience autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Jeff and Dan have created that type of atmosphere which is why talented people are drawn to working for them.
Their mantra in the business is “Get to yes!” This empowers front line employees to be creative to solve customer problems. They don’t want anyone to walk away from one of their restaurants unhappy. Jeff acknowledged that the life of an entrepreneur can be challenging. Over the years, they have closed two restaurants and a wholesale operation. He encourages young entrepreneurs to go into business with “their eyes wide open” and to understand it will be harder and require more capital than they probably expect. Jeff encourages prospective entrepreneurs to have a good business partner with complementary skills. He also suggests asking as many questions as you can on the front end. He noted, “You will always have unknown contingencies, but the more you learn and ask then the better prepared you will be.”
Entrepreneurs like Jeff and Dan are the lifeblood of our local economy. The passion that they have for making the community better is what being a civic minded business person is all about. I am sure that their restaurants and influence will be felt in this community for years to come.
Up Close With … Jeff Good
Title: Co-owner: Bravo! Italian Restaurant & Bar, Broad Street Baking Company, and Sal & Mookie’s New York Pizza & Ice Cream Joint
Favorite Books: I enjoy reading Malcolm Gladwell and his books Outliers, Blink, The Tipping Point, and What the Dog Saw.
First Job: “In junior high, I worked as janitor in a print shop. ”
Proudest Moment as a Leader: “When a young line level employee in one of the restaurants stands up for a point and passionately talks about the “way we do things” at our restaurants is a great feeling and reminds me how far we have come.”
Martin Willoughby, a business lawyer in Jackson, is a regular contributing columnist for the Mississippi Business Journal. Willoughby can be reached at email@example.com.
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