Starting a restaurant brand as a food truck has some surprising benefits, Mike Lenard, founder of Washington, D.C.-based fast-casual fusion brand TaKorean Taco Grill said. Coming from the mentality of operating a food business out of a very small space, there is no front or back of house and you’re really forced to have an all-hands-on-deck mentality.
This operational approach naturally translated to how Lenard operates restaurants after TaKorean began opening brick and mortar locations a decade ago. The result? A workplace where employees feel more fulfilled learning different skills, smoother operational efficiency, and an environment where someone can take a sick day without the whole place falling apart.
“We have an environment of cross training where everybody does everything, which allows you to operate at a multitude of different volumes,” Lenard said. “It allows us to scale up and down really quickly. […] Obviously different people gravitate more toward certain skill sets. But everybody's trained on how to wash dishes, prep, serve on the line, and everyone has some familiarity with the grill.”
This makes it easier on managers who are scheduling employees and can move people around more easily. Lenard says that they can even divide the day into segments for workers, where they’re washing dishes for a couple of hours, then switch to the grill, and then to customer-facing positions all in one shift. This approach helps with turnover rates because TaKorean can be respectful of employees’ time, and you can even factor in breaks during slow times, or get the dishwasher out to help on the line when it’s extra busy.
“We come in about 8:00, and everybody helps to do prep and get the restaurant open, get the first batches of rice going, execute catering orders, and then that same opening team will help with the lunch rush,” Lenard said. “Then […] the next team comes in around 4:00 and [does the dinner shift]. You’re rotating breaks, giving people time to eat, and utilizing all of the same employees for each of the tasks.”
Lenard said that this operational simplicity is attractive to potential franchisees who want to know that they’ll be able to execute even when staffing is light. TaKorean launched its franchising program in Aug. 2022, and although they have not signed their first franchisee, they have had a lot of conversations about finding the right fit and want to start off with between three to five different partners. When they do open new stores, TaKorean will be building back up again after losing two of their four stores over the last few years due to real estate and pandemic-related challenges. Before they look to get back to growth mode, Lenard wants to be sure that the location and people are a good fit.
“We want to make sure that franchisees feel extremely supported and that our program is as tight as it can be,” he said. “Then we’d like to scale nationally, but I don't like to get too caught up in benchmarks. It has to be a little bit of an organic process and the most important thing for us is that we don't grow so fast that we lose that quality.”
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