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Nation's Restaurant News 2023 Power List Sammie Flippen Noodles & Company
Sammie Flippen joined Noodles & Company in 2012 after working at Wendy’s for four years.

Sammie Flippen translates her passion for helping people into running a successful Noodles & Company restaurant

The Colorado Springs, Colo. general manager is her employees’ biggest fan

To give an idea of Sammie Flippen’s instinct for compassion and hospitality, the upper management of Noodles & Company have her tell the story of Grandma Lou.

It happened last March on a snowy Friday in Colorado Springs, Colo., at the Noodles where Flippen is the general manager.

“I typically work all day Friday just so I can see both ends of the revenue and have a finger on the pulse with operations. It’s one of the busiest days of the week,” Flippen said.

Typically she leaves at around 8 p.m., but she was still there at 8:30 and the phone rang. An elderly woman wanted to place an order, which isn’t something that Noodles & Company does over the phone anymore. You have to go through a directory tree or order online. Flippen explained that to her.

“She got real quiet and when she started talking you could hear a little bit of emotion,” Flippen said. “She said, ‘I’m 77 years old. I’m really hungry. I haven’t eaten all day. I need help.’”

So Flippen went on to place her order, but it turns out that Grandma Lou was in the rather remote town of Sierra Vista — in Arizona. The closest Noodles was some 60 miles away and wouldn’t deliver.

After 45 minutes of searching, Flippen found a Papa John’s that would deliver via Uber Eats. She placed the order and, rather than allow Grandma Lou to give her credit card number to a stranger over the phone in another state, Flippen just paid for it herself.

The two remain friends to this day.

When asked why she went through the trouble, Flippen said, “If someone says they need help, you help them.”

“Sammie just embodies our culture and our core values around caring for the team members, being very passionate about delivering great food, showing pride in who we are and just a love for life,” said Sue Petersen, Noodles’ executive vice president of inclusion, diversity, and people. “She does so many things giving back to the community and making our team members and guests feel just a little bit better than when they walked through the door.”

Zell Henderson, regional director of operations, agrees.

“We can teach anyone how to use tools and be a manager. You can’t teach someone how to be a great human, how to be decent, how to be loving and caring, and Sammie just checks all of those boxes when it comes to understanding how to take care of people and the business at the same time,” he said.

She does that while running one of the highest-volume restaurants in the 460-unit chain.

“So not only does she have the ability to connect with the team, but [also handles] managing the operational metrics and the performance of her restaurant,” Petersen said.

Flippen joined Noodles in 2012 after working at Wendy’s for four years. Wendy’s district manager left to join Noodles & Company and soon called Flippen.

“She said ‘Listen. This place is different. Trust me, come see me. I promise I’m not going to let you down,’” Flippen said. She started a week and a half later and has been there ever since.

Flippen started at Wendy’s at age 16 and said she has always enjoyed working in restaurants.

“I have a huge passion for serving people — with food, of course, but just in general,” she said. “I love watching people grow, I love being part of that growth process, and just being that neighbor. The industry we’re in, conveniently enough, is a lot of that.”

When she was promoted to general manager, it wasn’t immediately easy, she said.

“It took a really long time for me to find that footing of drawing the line between being a friend versus being a leader and having those uncomfortable conversations sometimes and not letting things slip … all at the same time finding the right people for the right position,” she said. “But once I found that groove it was so much easier and so many things changed for us and for me.”

Now she has employees who have been with her for seven years or more, and she’s their biggest fan.

Flippen said it’s important to be consistent and emotionally stable as a leader. She also works to understand and uplift her team members.

“I try to find out who they are,” she said. “And when they do something great, I encourage them. … I’m the biggest fan of clapping and cheering when someone learns to toss that sauté pan. I love it, and I call them out on it. I show them they’re doing great.”

She also makes sure that she takes the time to discuss their goals.

“One-on-ones are so critical,” she said. “And it’s not an in-passing thing. You sit down and give them the floor. It’s super-impactful and makes a huge difference, and you have a finger on the pulse of where they want to go, and you can help them with that journey. It’s so cool.”

It’s about to get more cool for Flippen: She was just promoted to training general manager for new restaurant openings, traveling the country to train more team members.

Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected]

TAGS: Fast Casual
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