America's Next Great Fall Guy

June 29, 2011 | by Don Fox

After just a single month of operation, "America's Next Great Restaurant" winner Jamawn Woods shuttered two of the three "Soul Daddy" locations that debuted the day after his victory was proclaimed on the NBC reality series. The closure of the NYC and Los Angeles locations leaves him with a single unit operating at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn.

The producers of the show announced up front that the winner would open the locations in these predetermined cities. The "lucky" restaurateur would receive financial backing to pull off this daunting mission (the actual level of commitment of resources is not known). But even if the level of resources consisted of a bottomless well of financial and human capital, any experienced multi-unit restaurant professional knows exactly how tough a challenge this was going to be. And thus it comes as no surprise that the venture has been such a significant failure (not withstanding whatever level of success the remaining unit may be achieving).

I could list dozens of flaws in the business plan, but that is not the point of this blog. The real story is how Jamawn Woods was, in essence, taken advantage of for the purpose of theater. I don't know who came up with the concept of simultaneously launching three geographically dispersed restaurants, but I would hate to think it was the brainchild of any experienced players from the restaurant industry. To the producers, it may have seemed to be a good hook to generate interest in the show. But I would have hoped that, at the very least, the experienced judges involved in the production would have injected enough common business sense to defeat the idea. That obviously did not happen, and I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall listening to the debate surrounding the idea.

Perhaps, within the context of the profit and loss statements of the television show, the loss of the investment made in the two failed locations is relatively meaningless. In the end, after all, one has to assume that this was about producing a successful television show, NOT the production of a successful restaurant concept. But caught in the middle of this is Jamawn Woods, who was chasing a dream to be a successful restaurateur.

I don't know the details of the business arrangement or whether or not Woods has any of his own money at risk in the venture (Frankly, I was surprised to see that he remained so actively involved in the opening of the concepts; one would have assumed that the "investors" would have brought in a seasoned, professional management team from within the industry to pull this off). But from what has been written so far, the impression has been created that Woods has been left holding the bag, trying desperately to salvage something out of this disaster. If his investors provided him with such little working capital that two of the three locations could not weather more than a single month of operation, then his remaining location must be on a very narrow ledge.

For those of us in the industry, what we are eager to know is the real story behind the rollout of the concept. That is where the real drama resides. Perhaps when the smoke of "Soul Daddy" clears, Woods will tell his story, which will be the real lesson of value for all those who think the restaurant industry is fertile ground for overnight success

Topics: Operations Management

Don Fox / Don Fox has 30+ years experience in the restaurant industry. He joined Firehouse Subs in 2003 as director of Franchise Compliance, and was promoted to the position of CEO in 2009.

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