Creed Ford III, CEO and chairman of Austin, Texas-based Fired Up Inc., died Friday after suffering a heart attack earlier in the week. He was 66.
Ford had suffered cardiac arrest on a morning walk last Tuesday with his wife, Lynn, family members said.
“Creed had a fun and life-loving personality,” said Norman Abdallah, now CEO of Dallas-based Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group and a former business partner with Ford of Fired Up, on Sunday.
“He had the ability to always forgive and forget quickly while always giving someone many chances,” Abdallah said.
“Creed had a deep dedication and love to his family [Lynn, Creed IV and Harper], our industry and those that worked with him, a deep intelligence that many people witnessed on a daily basis, and his innate ability to think outside the box with a very creative and forward-thinking vision.”
Ford and Abdallah acquired the Johnny Carino’s chain in 1997 and grew it to more than 100 units. The brand now has about 55 casual-dining units nationwide.
Chris Peiterson, now corporate director of food and beverage at New Braunfels, Texas-based Schlitterbahn Waterparks & Resorts and former vice president of culinary development and franchise relations at Johnny Carino’s, said his 16 years ago Carino’s were the “opportunity of a lifetime.”
“He approached all of us, Peiterson recalled Sunday, “with ‘Hey, what would you like to do here?’ [and] ‘What do you think of this?’”
Pieterson added that Ford always sought out opinions.
“We would sit in meetings and be stuck on a topic and he would just sit and listen for a while,” he said. “Then he would speak, and we would all just stare with our mouths wide open as he gave us the answer, which was usually practical, obvious and simple to execute yet he was the only one that saw it.”
Ford worked at the first Chili’s Grill & Bar in Dallas and later served as chief operating officer for the company that became Chili’s parent, Brinker International Inc. He left Brinker in the mid-1990s, bought the Spageddies concepts and turned them into Carino’s. He also founded the Kona Ranch Steakhouse.
Abdallah said he met Ford during his first week of work with Chili’s when he was 24.
“He and [Brinker founder] Norman Brinker had lunch in the Chili’s where I was training. Norman and Creed came back to the kitchen and asked, ‘Who cooked my Monterey Chicken?’” Abdallah recalled. “When I told them I did, Norman asked me my name. When I told him, he said, ‘That’s my name, and you are going places!’ When he walked away, Creed grabbed me and, in his typical easygoing way, told me I would go places if I pushed the envelope in everything I did.”
Ford had a knack for grooming industry leaders, Abadallah said.
“He had a special way of delegating and to allow those around him to make their own decisions which made all of us great leaders in the end,” he said.
Ford’s son, Creed Ford IV, said his father had a passion for was helping the community through the Fired Up Foundation, which was founded in 1997.
The nonprofit foundation has donated more than $2.7 million to to charities and organizations, including American Youthworks, Autism Speaks and CureDuchenne.
“One of his passions was the Fired Up Foundation, and we ask in lieu of flowers for donations to the foundation so we can continue all the hard work he has invested over the past 20 years,” said Creed Ford IV.
Ford said the family would have private family burial ceremony followed by a “Celebration of Life” party on Sept. 29th at the family ranch in Kingsland, Texas.
Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected]
Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless