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Staying out of the way

Today, our company is opening its 37th Hardee’s Restaurant.  Located on Capital Circle in Tallahassee, Florida it is a beautiful store sitting up on a hill overlooking 52,000 cars that pass by the site each day.      
You would assume after 33 years of building restaurants, this opening would be a piece of cake.   However, it has been by far the most challenging location we have ever built.  For almost three years we have fought almost every challenge imaginable. Only today, when I bought my first biscuit did I know for sure that we were open.
This article is not intended to be an advertisement for Hardee’s or a pat on the back for our company.  While I am very proud of finally getting this restaurant open, it is really the demonstration of teamwork that brings the smile to my face.   
Behind every good man stands a great woman, a saying I believe to be true, certainly in my case. But behind every great company is a team.  Sometimes, that team is small.  In our case, that team now includes almost 1,300 employees.
I am often asked about the biggest change I have seen in my 33 years in the restaurant business.  People is always the first thing that comes to mind, both employees and customers.  
We often had more than 400 people apply for openings at a new restaurant in the early years. They were happy to move off the farm and work in a place with air conditioning.   Today, you hope to have 100 people apply for openings in a new location.  
 All brands ebb and flow over the years.  Just ask Chipotle or even McDonalds.  My brother and I both took out second mortgages on our homes at one time to invest in remodels.  We were really reinvesting in the people who work for us and they did not let us down.
Along the way, we had some incredible people join our team.  Many moved to Donalsonville and Southwest Georgia and became solid citizens in their communities.   Others settled in one of the 40 counties where we are developing in Georgia, Florida and Alabama. Almost all have been solid contributors to the long-term growth and success of our company.  
As I visited Tallahassee over the past few days and watched the intense training for the opening of the restaurant, I found myself pulling weeds in the straw around the many trees planted on site.  Each day, I would work until the heat overcame me, which as you know is not very long this time of year.
Why was I pulling weeds?  The answer is pretty simple.   There is absolutely nothing for me to do.  Our Training, Operations, Facilities and Marketing teams are all on top of their game. I just pull the weeds, stand back and watch.
Today, as I finally ate my first biscuit, I was proud of the cashier that smiled at me. I was proud of the new biscuit maker that is working hard to make each one perfect.  I was proud of all the smiling faces despite the nervousness of opening day.
My job is to plant the seed for a new restaurant.   I identify a site, gain the necessary approvals, work through the permitting and facilitate the financing.   After that, I watch as that seed sprouts and blossoms into an operating restaurant.   
If my brother, Ernest, and I ever did one thing right in our business lives, it was to hire really good people, give them the tools to succeed, and then get out of their way.  That is why I am pulling weeds on opening day.  I am just staying out of the way.
Dan Ponder can be reached at

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