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Baja Fresh CEO’s big gift after ‘Undercover Boss’

David Kim awards franchise restaurant to general manager

Following his appearance Sunday in “Undercover Boss,” Baja Fresh Mexican Grill chief executive David Kim offered a franchise location in Las Vegas to a general manager he met while on the show.

Kim appeared on this week’s episode of the CBS television series, which features chief executives who don disguises and work anonymously in the ranks of their own companies.

Last week, Kim spoke with NRN about the experience, hinting of a big surprise at the end of the show that he could not yet reveal.

The surprise was the offer of a franchise operation valued at $50,000 given to Jose Manzanarez, a general manager who started with Baja Fresh as a cook after his family moved to the United States from Mexico.

On the show, Manzanarez tells Kim — who was disguised as a goateed video clerk looking for a job at the chain — that he is studying food-and-beverage management in school at night with the hope of owning his own business. Manzanarez gives Kim a particularly difficult time, saying at one point that he wouldn’t hire him.

A clip from the show (story continues below):

Kim also rewarded three other employees because he was touched by their dedicated service to the company.

District manager Carrie McCharness, based in Boise, Idaho, received $5,000 for her business-building ideas and $7,500 for her daughter’s education.

Rami Mohammed Abuelhawa, a general manager from Mesa, Ariz., received $5,000 toward his education and $5,000 for a vacation with his father, as well as a year’s mentoring with Kim.

Anthony Abinuman, a cashier who works in a Cypress, Calif., location, received $15,000 to support his family and another $2,500 for his uncle’s ministry.

Kim, a devout Christian, also revealed on the show his own struggles as he dealt with his father’s battle with an incurable lung disease. Originally from South Korea, Kim said he is a believer in the American dream.

“America is the greatest country on the planet,” Kim said in a statement. “I wanted to give the Baja Fresh family a piece of the American dream I’ve been blessed to experience.

“Giving ignites success,” he continued. “I tell our employees, ‘Don’t follow your dreams — chase them!”

The daily struggles of the rank-and-file is an ongoing theme in “Undercover Boss,” and the episodes typically end with the top executives doling out scholarships, promotions or financial support. Kim’s gift of a franchise location, however, is the biggest in the show’s history, according to press materials.

“I always believed in the benefits of eating well, being active and making contributions to the communities in which we live,” Kim said. “But being a CEO has so much more to do with people than with business. Going undercover merely reminded me of all the reasons I am so passionate about the Baja Fresh family and the guests we serve.”

Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected].

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