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The Power List
Nation's Restaurant News 2023 Power List Stephanie Rodriguez WaBa Grill
Stephanie Rodriguez is all about the WaBa Grill team and what they can do — for better or worse.

Stephanie Rodriguez is never done learning at WaBa Grill

The restaurant general manager’s value lies in her potential

Stephanie Rodriguez started at the bottom of the pecking order at WaBa Grill almost nine years ago, but in the space of about four years she worked her way up to become general manager and hasn’t looked back.

Rodriguez is all about the team and what they can do — for better or worse. Mainly, she wants them to feel at home at work rather than feeling as though they are slogging to work.

“I always want them to feel comfortable, feel like this is a place to be,” she said. “I like to come to work. And my team likes to come to work.”

That environment is fostered by Rodriguez, who treats her employees like family. She knows she may be the only one caring for these people and wants to do it right. “I have a lot of team members who haven't had parent examples,” she said.

The North Hollywood, Calif., location where Rodriguez works has the lowest turnover rate of any WaBa Grill and a 4.8-star rating on Google. That high ranking, she said, stems from her always ensuring guests are satisfied before leaving. 

That includes knowing guests' orders once they’ve been in the store once or twice, which makes the guests happy and come back again and again. She also walks new customers through the ordering process and the whole menu, taking them item by item to determine what they want and how to best pair ingredients.

She also provides those customers with a 10% off coupon so they’ll come back.

Rodriguez had a customer come in from New Jersey who arrived at the store straight from the plane because he’d heard about that location specifically; whether it was via Google or friends, Rodriguez didn’t know, but he told her he simply had to visit that exact location right off the plane.

“It's very nice to hear that people that are not even from here want to come here and they hear about our location,” she said.

Some of the other things that make Rodriguez a great manager include her generosity, her communication skills and her passion.

“I am very talkative,” she said. “I like to always communicate about everything. Every little, small thing to me is important.”

“Stephanie is genuinely passionate about the business. She treats the business like it's her own and acts like an owner,” said Romik Nazarian, one of WaBa Grill’s senior franchise business consultants.And I always say the rarest quality to find in employees, and managers especially, is somebody who treats the restaurant like they're the owner. She has that gift; she has that quality.”

Rodriguez’s store is so trusted, Nazarian said, that it’s one of the stores where the company tests new menu items and products.

“I know we're going to get honest feedback [because] it's going to be done the right way,” he said.

“It feels good to know that they trust me and that they don't have to worry much,” Rodriguez added. “That tells me that I'm doing my job right, that I'm doing something good.”

That is key for the ownership and executive team at WaBa Grill and has allowed the North Hollywood location to become a flagship for the brand. Nazarian said the team knows Rodriguez’s unit is run the way a WaBa Grill is supposed to be run.

Rodriguez’s value isn’t in her ability alone; it’s also in her potential. She described herself as a constant learner, noting that when she helps train other general managers, she tries to learn something from them as well.

“One of the biggest qualities for any leader is learning on a day-to-day basis, because we're never done learning,” Nazarian added. “And Stephanie isn't the same person she was a week ago, let alone a year ago or two years ago. She's constantly learning. She's constantly teaching, she's constantly leaning on her team for help. And they lean on her, which is a true communal unit.”

Contact Holly Petre at [email protected]

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