Give a bunch of people who make their living in the competitive foodservice industry a task, and they will surpass it.
For proof, look no further than The Highland Hotel Tuesday night in Dallas, where attendees at this year's Restaurant Franchising and Innovation Summit rolled up their sleeves and participated in a Spreading Party led by keynote speaker, Jeff Sinelli, founder and CEO of Which Wich. He tasked the attendees with making 10,000 peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches in an hour for homeless people in Dallas. They answered the call, ending the night with 10,201 sandwiches.
Sinelli, who founded Genghis Grill several years ago and launched Which Wich in 2004, kicked off the event with a keynote that detailed 10 integral lessons that he has learned throughout his career. Central amongst those keys to success was the idea that businesses can actually do well, by also doing good.
One of the main ways Which Wich lives that mission is via Project PB&J, the chain's charitable arm that fights hunger by donating two of the fruit-and-nut sandwiches for each sandwich sold in Which Wich stores.
As you might imagine, that's quite a few, so the chain often puts on "spreading parties," enlisting volunteers to create the concoctions in bulk. On this particular night, the challenge was to see if a roomful of restaurant execs could lay it on thick enough to create 10,000 sandwiches in the span of an hour. That's a whole lot of bread, nut butter and grape jelly, but this was a confident crowd.
They separated into groups of 10 or 12 each and stationed themselves at rows of tall tables laden with jars of peanut butter, jelly and bread. And then they were off with vinyl-gloved hands wielding lots of long spoons and spatulas, all powered by more than a little enthusiasm for the great cause.
As they buttered and plopped and squished together sandwiches, many participants took time to share some of the things they found most motivating and valuable from Sinelli's kick-off talk for this year's summit.
Cherryh Cansler, editor of FastCasual, and Jeff Sinelli, CEO of Which Wich, announce that this year's Summit attendees made 10,201 PB&J sandwiches for the Dallas homeless.
"I think he was showing that it's really all about kind of listening and not being afraid to take a chance and not being afraid to learn from past experience," said Carving Board CEO David Adir. "You have to not be afraid to take action. I'm a very hands-on owner and I work shifts at the restaurant because that helps me keep the pulse of the restaurant and keeps me in the know."
Adir connected with a central theme in Sinelli's talk and life — fearlessness. He repeatedly talked about how restaurateurs must remain unafraid of their dreams and their execution, then take the solid actions needed to move them forward.
In Sinelli's case, a lot of those dreams and actions have revolved around the lessons he learned during his less-than-privileged upbringing in a Detroit neighborhood full of Polish immigrants, including his grandparents. They worked incredibly hard, and their stories — along with Sinelli's past history — registered strongly with many event participants.
"I really liked how he showed going back to your roots and knowing what you want to do with your life is important," said Marco's Franchise Development Director Paula Pietrzak. "Like we do a lot in our communities, but I think we might even be able to do a lot more globally."
For Daine Thomas, the CFO of Jamaican QSR, Juici Beef, the real ignition switch went on during the parts of Sinelli's address that showed how truly far a business operator can go with a real "can-do" attitude.
"I think it really is about creating your own luck and just never giving up even when emotions have you really feeling down. You have to remember that there will always be an opportunity to rise again," Thomas said.
And sometimes, rising again means going out of your comfort zone and daring to "dazzle" them or at at least "bull shit them enough" until you both believe it, Sinelli told the gathering. That was the point that hit closest to home for DW's Subs owner, Demetra Mclean. As she wrapped up her table's proliferation of sandwiches, she said, "I definitely believe you have to dazzle them — that was fantastic and very true. And then there's that you have to do everything with love and you do. I do everything with love. Everything."
Register here for the Restaurant Franchising & Innovation Summit, July 18-20 in London. The 2018 RFIS will be in April in Louisville.
Award-winning veteran print and broadcast journalist, Shelly Whitehead, has spent most of the last 30 years reporting for TV and newspapers, including the former Kentucky and Cincinnati Post and a number of network news affiliates nationally. She brings her cumulative experience as a multimedia storyteller and video producer to the web-based pages of Pizzamarketplace.com and QSRweb.com after a lifelong “love affair” with reporting the stories behind the businesses that make our world go ‘round. Ms. Whitehead is driven to find and share news of the many professional passions people take to work with them every day in the pizza and quick-service restaurant industry. She is particularly interested in the growing role of sustainable agriculture and nutrition in food service worldwide and is always ready to move on great story ideas and news tips.