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 referred to as myelofibrosis. One girl 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 is going to be 5 years in January.

“I’m a fortunate man,’’ he says.

Vojnovic, 62, of Tarpon Springs, talked with the Tampa Bay Occasions in regards to the chain restaurant enterprise and the illness that might 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-about the knuckleheads. We had been the fellows, “What’s your check, how you can set a desk?” We actually could 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 rapidly?

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 12 months, and what occurs is you begin dashing the areas. You decide areas, “Properly, it’s shut sufficient.” The fee to construct them bought excessive. It was ‘07, ‘08, the financial system was booming, and the development prices jumped up. So we bought the corporate in ‘08 and when the financial system turned, quite a lot of shops closed.

There’s two completely 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 type of what I do now. We franchise. We promote a franchise mannequin and so they pay a price — normally proper now $30,000 — to type 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 practice them, we offer a gap unit help workforce, after which we offer ongoing help.

What’s the important thing to creating them a hit?

The important thing for me is an efficient owner-operator. When you’re not an excellent owner-operator, I can’t assure that you just’re going to generate profits. It’s important to be an excellent businessperson, take excellent care of your prospects, run a clear restaurant, be certain the meals’s good — top quality and clear and contemporary. You’ve bought to be on prime 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 effectively, 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, typically, for those who’re not good, we discover somebody to purchase you out. Typically some folks simply aren’t minimize out for the enterprise.

How are you influenced by the employee and provide scarcity?

Proper now, you may’t get staff, you may’t get meals. I simply bought 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 fellows who make our pita bread stated, “Nick, we will make pita bread. Now we have the bag, however we don’t have the little clip that goes on the bag.” … Little issues destroy the entire deal. When you don’t have the clip, you may’t do it.

Are eating places going to have to lift salaries?

Sure. … Now we have to go that on. Our revenue margins are 15 p.c on an excellent day. … Often within the restaurant enterprise your wages are 30 p.c of your prices. So if each meals and labor go up, we now have to go that on simply to have the ability to maintain them open. … I feel, simply speaking to my business buddies, 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 extra money, you’re simply making an attempt to maintain up.

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

And I bought picked, and rapidly they stated, “We will’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 fallacious along with your blood.’’ … As a substitute of being oval, like regular blood cells, mine had been teardrop-shaped with a little bit level, in order that they wouldn’t final as lengthy. However my bone marrow might sustain. Properly, over the subsequent 15 years the bone marrow began carrying down, and that’s (when) my pink counts … they began happening. And so I went in there, and the gal says you’ve bought one to 3 years to reside.

Ah, horrible.

And (they) stated, effectively, the one good factor is you’re an excellent candidate to get a stem cell transplant, however it’s a 60/40 p.c survival charge.

After which Caroline Gómez got here into the image.

They stated you need to wait a 12 months to satisfy her, as a result of for those who die, we don’t need her to be upset. … Most individuals don’t make it via the primary 12 months. … 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 bought married final 12 months and so they got here down for the marriage.

And also you’re feeling good?

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

So I’m going to the seaside each evening to catch the sundown, to be grateful for one other day. … Sundown Seashore, each evening if the climate is sweet, and I do an hour stroll and I sit down on the identical bench and I watch the solar go down. As I all the time inform my buddies … it’s an excellent day to be alive.

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

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