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 Contemporary 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 obtained the 2021 Silver Plate award from the Worldwide Meals Service Producers Affiliation for profession achievement and group service within the class of fast-casual eating places.

He’s additionally the recipient of a bone marrow transplant for a lethal blood illness referred to as myelofibrosis. One lady in 26 million folks proved to be a genetic match — a then-22-year-old American College scholar 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 will have killed him.

You graduated from Cornell College. What was your main?

My youthful brother and I each (majored in), they referred to as it lodge administration. At Cornell, we had been thought of the knuckleheads. We had been the blokes, “What’s your check, 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 series restaurant? Are you able to do it too shortly?

That’s one of many errors we made, I feel, at Beef ‘O’Brady’s. We grew too quick. We had been doing 50 shops a yr, and what occurs is you begin speeding the places. You choose places, “Effectively, it’s shut sufficient.” The price to construct them received excessive. It was ‘07, ‘08, the economic system was booming, and the development prices jumped up. So we offered the corporate in ‘08 and when the economic system turned, loads of shops closed.

There’s two totally different sorts of eating places. There’s firms 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 form of what I do now. We franchise. We promote a franchise mannequin they usually pay a payment — normally proper now $30,000 — to form of get the rights to open a retailer. We discover the situation, negotiate the lease. We assist them design it; we assist them construct it. We prepare them, we offer a gap unit assist workforce, after which we offer ongoing assist.

What’s the important thing to creating them successful?

The important thing for me is an effective owner-operator. For those who’re not a very good owner-operator, I can’t assure that you simply’re going to generate income. You need to be a very good businessperson, take excellent care of your prospects, run a clear restaurant, be sure the meals’s good — top quality and clear and recent. You’ve received to be on high of your recreation.

Nick Vojnovic, president of the Little Greek Contemporary Grill chain, obtained 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?

Appropriate. In 10 years, we had one retailer shut. … We’ve had a number of promote. However, usually, if you happen to’re not good, we discover somebody to purchase you out. Generally some folks simply aren’t lower out for the enterprise.

How are you influenced by the employee and provide scarcity?

Proper now, you’ll be able to’t get workers, you’ll be able to’t get meals. I simply received a cellphone name: Our shops in Dallas, they’re out of baklava. They’ve to attend two weeks for one more 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 fellows who make our pita bread mentioned, “Nick, we will make pita bread. We have now the bag, however we don’t have the little clip that goes on the bag.” … Little issues damage the entire deal. For those who don’t have the clip, you’ll be able to’t do it.

Are eating places going to have to boost salaries?

Sure. … We have now to go that on. Our revenue margins are 15 p.c on a very good day. … Normally 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 go that on simply to have the ability to hold them open. … I feel, 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 had been making earlier than. You’re not making more cash, you’re simply attempting to maintain up.

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

And I received picked, and impulsively they mentioned, “We will’t use you.” I mentioned, “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 along with your blood.’’ … As an alternative of being oval, like regular blood cells, mine had been teardrop-shaped with slightly level, so that they wouldn’t final as lengthy. However my bone marrow might sustain. Effectively, over the subsequent 15 years the bone marrow began sporting down, and that’s (when) my pink counts … they began happening. And so I went in there, and the gal says you’ve received one to 3 years to dwell.

Ah, horrible.

And (they) mentioned, 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 price.

After which Caroline Gómez got here into the image.

They mentioned it’s a must to wait a yr to fulfill her, as a result of if you happen to die, we don’t need her to be disillusioned. … Most individuals don’t make it by the primary yr. … Caroline Gómez saved my life.

Do you keep up a correspondence?

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

And also you’re feeling good?

Apart from taking eight drugs 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’m going to the seashore each evening to catch the sundown, to be glad about one other day. … Sundown Seashore, each evening 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.

For those who’re desirous about being a bone marrow donor, go to bethematchfoundation.org.

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