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Robert Lee, CEO of Coolgreens, on how he's been handling the pandemic as a business owner and new father.

Coolgreens CEO Robert Lee on how the next generation of entrepreneurs can learn from the coronavirus pandemic

The healthful restaurant chain used this opportunity to create a new, smaller-footprint unit and its first drive-thru

Coolgreens, the healthful lifestyle brand based out of Oklahoma City, operated throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and functioned as a small brand, something CEO Robert Lee considers a bonus when navigating changing regulations.

Robert Lee not only founded Coolgreens in 2012, and operates it as CEO, but he also owns 12 hair salons, the majority of which are in Los Angeles. Lee also welcomed his first child into the world in November 2019, so he’s navigating this pandemic as an entrepreneur behind businesses in multiple verticals while learning the ropes of fatherhood. 

As a response to the initial outbreak of COVID-19, Coolgreens decided to make an entirely new business plan moving forward, unaware of how long this could affect traditional business.

The chain is currently developing a concept that is more efficient at about 50% to 75% smaller than the current unit size. The chain’s first drive-thru is in the works as well. The brand hopes to start the permitting and construction phase of these new locations by the end of 2020. They were already working on it, but it’s all the more important now to accelerate that option. 

robert-lee-coolgreens.jpgPersonally, Lee has been struggling with how to be a hands-on boss when that becomes impossible:

“It’s been tough. I’m a hands-on entrepreneur, so it’s a challenging transition from always talking with my GMs, personally developing the team and of course interacting with guests, to the being mostly virtual in my experiences. 

The business ebbs and flows; we’ve seen times where year-over-year sales are actually better and then we’ll see it decline with no explanation as to why either event occurred. There are major expenses in trying to keep business open in the new normal. Part of the challenge is determining how we navigate that with partners, landlords and the suppliers we work with on a daily basis who are also feeling the impact from the pandemic. For now, we’re hunkering down and trying to stay as lean as possible. 

Everyone was hoping that once states and dining room reopened, we would simply just pivot to social distancing. Now that we’re here, it’s hard to plan ahead and really know what to do next.  On the plus side, people aren’t going to stop eating. Restaurants won’t die. You’re going to see more drive-thru, more convenience, more off-premise locations. There is apprehension in being social, but restaurants will have to get back to the basics of safety and customer service.  We may even see some growth from investors who realize the smart money realizes there might be some good real estate opportunities this fall. No one is running out or super enthusiastic about spending money, but there are some who are watching and waiting to make a move. 

Every generation goes through challenge. How we’re able to grow, adapt and learn from it will be the lessons we take with us as people and entrepreneurs years from now.”

This is part of our Stories from the Front Lines series.

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