A Passion for Pleasing People: Schmidt Family Restaurants Succeed With Steady Growth

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Even after 40 years in the restaurant business, Scott Schmidt doesn’t feel like he goes to work every day. He lives by the motto, “Find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”

Scott Schmidt is head of the Schmidt Family Restaurant Group in Portsmouth, Ohio, owner of 19 restaurants in three states, including 14 Wendy’s restaurants, four Buffalo Wild Wings, and a LaRosa’s Pizzeria franchise.

Schmidt-thumbnail-picScott Schmidt has brought up his two sons in the business to feel the same way. The oldest, Aaron, worked in the family’s restaurants until 2005 when he started a UPS store franchise. Meanwhile, as vice president of operations, Justin “Juice” has taken over day-to-day operations of the company from his father.

“The one thing all three of us have in common is that none of us have a job,” Scott says. “We all have a passion for what we do.”

The roots of passion run deep. Back in 1975, Scott was a young father recently laid off from the second shift at Osco Industries, painting houses and tending bar to make ends meet. A friend suggested he apply for a job at a new fast-food restaurant called Wendy’s, going in on Scioto Trail. Scott Schmidt started off as a co-manager when the store opened July 29, 1975.

He became general manager three months later and by 1980 was director of operations for the local franchisee that had three stores in Ohio and 10 in Pensacola, Florida. In 1986, another franchisee became owner, and the family moved to Zanesville, Ohio, for about a year when the boys were young.

In 1988, Scott had the chance to purchase two Portsmouth stores and become the franchise owner. At the time, he felt ready because he was so well versed in the operations of the store. But, being the owner carries a greater level of risk.

“Once you own the stores yourself and no one else is paying the bills and you don’t get to spend someone else’s money, that’s the risky part of it,” Scott says.

Both boys were raised in the business. Juice remembers toasting buns and standing on a milk crate to reach the counter. His reward was making his own sandwich. He began earning a pay check at about 17 years old, and worked summers while going to college. After graduation, he became a general manager of the store where his father started. Aaron started off in the stores as well before striking out on his own with the UPS store franchise. Passion is the key for him as well.

“While the UPS store is obviously different because everyone has to eat, but not everyone has to ship packages, it’s the same concept as the restaurants: if you do it right and you’re nice, customers will come back,” Aaron says.

Through the years, the family got to know Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas, famous for his folksy commercials, who passed away in 2002. Scott workedclosely with Thomas on Wendy’s franchise committees and the two became close friends. The sons remember their first meeting with the avuncular founder at a company conference.

“Dad told us he knew Dave, and Dave was talking to a group of people and Dad didn’t want to bother him,” Juice recalls. “We weren’t sure if the stories were true. Then Dave stopped what he was doing and shouted ‘Hi, Scott Schmidt’ from across the room, came over and gave him a hug. Then Dave said, ‘You must be Aaron and Juice; I’ve heard so much about you.’ Well, we thought our dad was the coolest guy ever after that!”

Juice’s decision to stay with the family restaurant business was a pretty simple one. “Dad started in 1975, I was born in 1979, this is the only thing that’s ever put food on our plate and clothes on our back. This is what I know.”

While father and son don’t always agree on everything, there’s one guiding principle on which they do agree. “I have to win some and he has to win some, but we always settle on what’s best for the company,” Juice says.

The family decided to expand from Wendy’s with the Buffalo Wild Wings franchises in 2004 and plans to open a second location in Pikeville, Kentucky. They take a cautious approach to growth.

“We grow when we’ve built up our bench strength with the great people who work for us, and only when we’re ready for the next opportunity do we take the next step,” Scott says. “We don’t get in a hurry.”

The company had one misfire – opening their own restaurant, a concept that didn’t survive. “It didn’t fit with how we run the rest of our restaurants,” Juice says. The drive to succeed helps them overcome setbacks and focus on what they do well.

“No matter what franchise or industry you get into, if you don’t have passion for what you’re doing, you’re set up to fail,” Juice says. “Too many people jump into something just because they think it’s a moneymaker. We know firsthand you can’t run a quality business if you don’t love what you do.”

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Gary Wollenhaupt