BusinessThe luckiest man within the restaurant enterprise is from...

The luckiest man within the restaurant enterprise is from Tarpon Springs

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Nick Vojnovic grows chain eating places. The previous president of Beef ‘O’Brady’s is now president of Little Greek Recent Grill and in addition Inexperienced Market Cafe. In 10 years, he expanded Little Greek from 4 eating places in two states to 44 in six states. He acquired the 2021 Silver Plate award from the Worldwide Meals Service Producers Affiliation for profession achievement and neighborhood service within the class of fast-casual eating places.

He’s additionally the recipient of a bone marrow transplant for a lethal blood illness known as myelofibrosis. One lady in 26 million individuals proved to be a genetic match — a then-22-year-old American College pupil named Caroline Gómez. Her donation gave him a 60 p.c probability of surviving. It will likely be 5 years in January.

“I’m a fortunate man,’’ he says.

Vojnovic, 62, of Tarpon Springs, talked with the Tampa Bay Instances concerning the chain restaurant enterprise and the illness that may have killed him.

You graduated from Cornell College. What was your main?

My youthful brother and I each (majored in), they known as it lodge administration. At Cornell, we have been thought of the knuckleheads. We have been the fellows, “What’s your take a look at, methods to set a desk?” We actually can be strolling up the hill with chef coats. We weren’t very well-respected at Cornell College.

What are the dangers of increasing a sequence restaurant? Are you able to do it too rapidly?

That’s one of many errors we made, I believe, at Beef ‘O’Brady’s. We grew too quick. We have been doing 50 shops a yr, and what occurs is you begin dashing the areas. You decide areas, “Effectively, it’s shut sufficient.” The associated fee to construct them obtained excessive. It was ‘07, ‘08, the financial system was booming, and the development prices jumped up. So we offered the corporate in ‘08 and when the financial system turned, lots of shops closed.

There’s two totally different sorts of eating places. There’s corporations like Outback that open all their very own eating places. They personal them, they signal leases, they construct them. After which most restaurant chains are franchises — Taco Bell and McDonald’s and all that. That’s sort of what I do now. We franchise. We promote a franchise mannequin they usually pay a payment — normally proper now $30,000 — to sort of get the rights to open a retailer. We discover the placement, negotiate the lease. We assist them design it; we assist them construct it. We practice them, we offer a gap unit assist group, after which we offer ongoing assist.

What’s the important thing to creating them successful?

The important thing for me is an efficient owner-operator. When you’re not a very good owner-operator, I can’t assure that you just’re going to earn cash. It’s a must to be a very good businessperson, take excellent care of your clients, run a clear restaurant, be sure that the meals’s good — prime quality and clear and contemporary. You’ve obtained to be on high of your recreation.

Nick Vojnovic, president of the Little Greek Recent Grill chain, acquired a bone marrow transplant in 2017. [ Photo: Courtesy of Little Greek Fresh Grill ]
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If a franchisee isn’t doing properly, it tarnishes the picture of the entire chain, doesn’t it?

Right. In 10 years, we had one retailer shut. … We’ve had a number of promote. However, typically, in the event you’re not good, we discover somebody to purchase you out. Generally some individuals simply aren’t lower out for the enterprise.

How are you influenced by the employee and provide scarcity?

Proper now, you possibly can’t get workers, you possibly can’t get meals. I simply obtained a cellphone name: Our shops in Dallas, they’re out of baklava. They’ve to attend two weeks for an additional order of baklava as a result of it’s coming from Tarpon Springs from Hellas Bakery. That’s by no means occurred. In 10 years we’ve by no means had a scarcity like that. … The blokes who make our pita bread stated, “Nick, we are able to make pita bread. We’ve the bag, however we don’t have the little clip that goes on the bag.” … Little issues smash the entire deal. When you don’t have the clip, you possibly can’t do it.

Are eating places going to have to boost salaries?

Sure. … We’ve to cross that on. Our revenue margins are 15 p.c on a very good day. … Often within the restaurant enterprise your wages are 30 p.c of your prices. So if each meals and labor go up, we’ve got to cross that on simply to have the ability to hold them open. … I believe, simply speaking to my trade pals, you’re going to see restaurant (costs) go up 10 p.c. That’s simply to even attempt to sustain with what we have been making earlier than. You’re not making extra money, you’re simply making an attempt to maintain up.

You came upon about your blood illness once you signed as much as donate bone marrow for a kid with leukemia, you say.

And I obtained picked, and impulsively they stated, “We are able to’t use you.” I stated, “What do you imply, I’m wholesome as an ox. I’ve by no means been in a hospital a day in my life.” “One thing’s incorrect together with your blood.’’ … As a substitute of being oval, like regular blood cells, mine have been teardrop-shaped with a bit of level, so that they wouldn’t final as lengthy. However my bone marrow may sustain. Effectively, over the subsequent 15 years the bone marrow began sporting down, and that’s (when) my pink counts … they began taking place. And so I went in there, and the gal says you’ve obtained one to 3 years to reside.

Ah, horrible.

And (they) stated, properly, the one good factor is you’re a very good candidate to get a stem cell transplant, nevertheless it’s a 60/40 p.c survival fee.

After which Caroline Gómez got here into the image.

They stated it’s a must to wait a yr to fulfill her, as a result of in the event you die, we don’t need her to be upset. … Most individuals don’t make it by way of the primary yr. … Caroline Gómez saved my life.

Do you communicate?

Yeah. I’m hoping to get invited to her marriage ceremony. She lives up in D.C. My daughter obtained married final yr they usually got here down for the marriage.

And also you’re feeling good?

Other than taking eight capsules a day, I’d not know I used to be sick. I’m within the high 10 p.c of the sufferers. I’m a fortunate man.

So I am going to the seaside each night time to catch the sundown, to be pleased about one other day. … Sundown Seaside, each night time if the climate is nice, and I do an hour stroll and I sit down on the identical bench and I watch the solar go down. As I at all times inform my pals … it’s a very good day to be alive.

When you’re excited by being a bone marrow donor, go to bethematchfoundation.org.

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