| by Cherryh Cansler
HuHot franchisee proves life goes on after Olympics end

Jay Warick, a bronze medalist in Taekwondo at the 1988 Olympics, has used his passion for training and hard work to build a successful career in the restaurant business.

Many Americans were probably sad to see the Olympics come to an end this weekend, but the athletes who have just finished their last Olympic runs are probably also a bit nervous about their futures. That wasn't the case, however, for Jay Warwick, who won a bronze medal in taekwondo in the 1988 Olympics. Unlike many athletes whose full-time gigs are training for the games, Warwick also worked a day job.  He was the area manager for Godfathers Pizza franchisees, Dan and Linda Vap, who would go on to open HuHot Mongolian Grill.

"During that time period, the Vaps were kind enough to allow me the time I needed to train and travel to competition," Warwick said in an interview with FastCasual. "Pursuing my Olympic dream was my goal, but I also needed to work to support my family. The Vap's support was invaluable in my athletic success."

After the Olympics, Warwick moved on from restaurants to a career in sports. He owned a taekwondo club and then eventually took on the secretary general role for USA Taekwondo. He also worked at the U.S. Olympic Committee in the high performance division as a director of sports partnerships.

"In that role, my objective was to work with national sports federations to help them achieve success in international competition, with the ultimate goal of winning the medal count at the Olympic Games," he said. "For an Olympic athlete and sports enthusiast, it was a dream job.

"Essentially, I worked closely with administrators, coaches and athletes to find ways to support their training and competition in preparation for a maximum result at the Games. It was drilling down as deep as possible in every aspect of sports including every aspect of physical preparation, strength and conditioning, sports psychology, nutrition, kinesiology, individual strategy and tactics for actual competition, competition calendars, etcetera."

Warwick, who now lives in Monument, Colorado, hopped back into the restaurant game in 2009, as a multi-unit HuHot franchisee.

"I essentially applied what I had done at the USOC and as an athlete to HuHot restaurants," he said. "It's always a truism that the execution of basics is a key to success in just about anything. Breaking down those basic practices into smaller elements and focusing on how to find improvements in them can be the difference between winning a medal or hitting your profit and sales targets."

Warwick found that his Olympic experience was the perfect training for a successful career in the restaurant industry.

"Athletes need to have the courage to set audacious goals (like becoming an Olympic or World Champion) and have the discipline and singlemindedness to pursue them. Wake up every single day, live it and own your dreams," he said. "The same is true in a business environment. The discipline I gained from my days as an international athlete have served me well in a business environment. Business and athletics are very similar, it is critical to keep key priorities in front of you and be fanatical in managing your time. 

"I will also mention that the difference between winning and losing at the highest levels in sports is a matter of fractions. I feel the same is true for business and I love looking for those fractions everyday in our restaurants.

The 60-year-old former Olympian has  — yet again —  found himself in a transition mode. He has recently stepped away from day-to-day operations of his restaurants to join HuHot's leadership team as "brand ambassador." He's  helping with marketing strategy as well as new store development. 

"Not only has Jay been successful in developing, opening and operating multiple HuHot locations in Colorado but he's such a passionate advocate of our brand," said HuHot COO Jeff Martin. "His energy is infectious and we know that having that kind of person on our team will continue to keep us focus on the strength of our brand's core and continue to keep us all on fire about growing HuHot across the country. His passion for people, motivating, training, inspiring and motivating people is impressive."

The locations that HuHot purchased from Warwick were mostly above average unit volume, said Martin, and took the company portfolio from 14 locations to 20 overnight.  

"The Colorado locations have all done a tremendous job at keeping the stores' cost of goods below national average and given the challenges of the labor market, we're pleased where these locations are at," he said.

Warwick's new role will be vital in helping to grow the HuHot brand, which now has nearly 70 units.

"He has always been an important member of the HuHot family," he said. "His HuHot 'spirit' has assisted us in so many ways with franchise sales, pilot testing, expansion of our brand awareness and providing talent to the organization.  You don't take a 'Brand Ambassador' like that lightly, and we're delighted to be able to retain his services and bring him fully into the company fold.  His knowledge of and passion for HuHot was just too tempting for us to pass it up."

Topics: Franchising & Growth

Cherryh Cansler

Before joining Networld Media Group as director of Editorial, where she oversees Networld Media Group's nine B2B publications, Cherryh Cansler served as Content Specialist at Barkley ad agency in Kansas City. Throughout her 17-year career as a journalist, she's written about a variety of topics, ranging from the restaurant industry and technology to health and fitness. Her byline has appeared in a number of newspapers, magazines and websites, including Forbes, The Kansas City Star and American Fitness magazine. She also serves as the managing editor for FastCasual.com.

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