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Nation's Restaurant News 2023 Power List Elmer Martinez Hurricane Wings
Elmer Martinez had several restaurant jobs before landing at Hurricane Grill & Wings.

Elmer Martinez emphasizes culture and character at Hurricane Grill & Wings

The restaurant general manager worked his way up from kitchen manager

What started as a way to help his parents eventually became a career for Elmer Martinez. The 38-year-old general manager for Hurricane Grill & Wings moved to the U.S. when he was 10 years old and entered the restaurant industry when he was 16, bussing tables during a time of financial hardship for his family.

Martinez had several restaurant jobs before landing at Hurricane Grill & Wings, jobs that taught him exactly how to run both the front and back of the house along with P&L, food cost, liquor cost, and labor.

Martinez’s wife began at Hurricane Grill & Wings before he did. When applying for the job, he didn’t want his future boss to know they were married because he wanted the job on his own merits.

He got the gig after bonding with franchisee Dave Witker during the interview process.

I remember my first interview with the owner Dave Witker, we both finished each other's sentences, and we had the same goals and expectations,” he wrote in an e-mail. “I started as a kitchen manager, but from day one I knew I was going to take over as GM.”

Martinez’s most recent story of changing a customer’s mind comes in the form of a server issue. The customers had left because their server was too busy to help them in the time they allotted. Martinez raced out to the parking lot to stop them and ask for one more chance. He sat them in a section with his best server and told them to take care of the customers. And they did.

“I really believe that you can teach anyone the restaurant business, but you can't teach the culture and the character,” said Mike Elrod, director of strategic operations for Hurricane Grill & Wings. “You can't grow a person as an individual and make them better if they don't have it inside of him.”

And Martinez had it inside of him. He began at Hurricane Grill & Wings as a kitchen manager within four months of the restaurant opening. He was later promoted to general manager alongside two others. The others were soon fired after challenging Martinez’s skills, and he has been the only general manager ever since.

Volume at his location in Cape Coral, Fla., has risen annually from $1.9 million to $4.2 million thanks in no small part to Martinez and his actions as general manager. The volume is double all but one Hurricane Grill & Wings in the system.

“Elmer is one of the best-proven leaders I've seen in the last 30 years,” said Elrod. “He's taken a restaurant and doubled the sales since he's been there; he started in the back of the house, worked his way out to the front of the house, [and] worked his way up to running a restaurant as a general manager.”

Contact Holly Petre at [email protected] 

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