Photo Credit: MMPR
Lauren Bailey, CEO and Co-Founder of Upward Projects, is a shining example of how hard work, passion and grit can help you accomplish your dreams. Upward Projects is a collection of restaurant brands including; Postino Wine Cafe, Churn, Federal Pizza, Windsor, and Joyride Taco House.
In this episode, we explore Lauren’s passion for art and design and how she was able to find her calling in the restaurant business. We also take a look at the core operating philosophy of Upward Projects – putting employees first no matter what and why that leads to better results for both the guests they serve and the financial returns for the business.
Lauren also talks about one of the biggest mistakes she’s made, and how she and her team responded to the challenge.This episode also explores the importance of women in leadership – an interesting topic given the late 2017 explosion of sexual harassment claims happening across entertainment, business and politics – Lauren’s infamous ‘cookie monster’ story is one for the ages, and finally, we touch on Lauren’s inaugural Conscious Capitalism experience and the impact it is having on her and the business.
Lauren’s passion and zest for life is undeniable. Enjoy the 48th episode of the Built On Purpose Podcast!
- 3:30 – Lauren discusses her dream of wanting to become an artist
- 6:11 – How she decided on Arizona State University
- 11:45 – Italy’s influence on her life and restaurants
- 13:15 – The impact of summers in Nantucket
- 15:00 – Decides to open her own restaurants, meets Craig DeMarco
- 16:40 – Craig DeMarco’s super powers and the beginning of a partnership
- 19:40 – Don’t settle for something you’re not passionate about
- 21:15 – If she won the lottery and being positive is a choice
- 22:55 – The lack of truth in social media
- 26:00 – “Owning mistakes is the essence of leadership, customer service…and life”
- 27:15 – A Black Friday discount gone wrong
- 32:21 – The value of feedback and the Upwards Projects suggestions email
- 33:34 – Why Upwards Projects has an employees first mindset
- 40:10 – The disruption in the restaurant industry
- 47:00 – The topic of women in leadership
- 50:00 – “Stay in execution mode.”
- 52:00 – Her experience and learnings from Conscious Capitalism CEO Summit
- 56:00 – The “Cookie Monster” Story, don’t talk yourself out of why you deserve a seat at the table
- 1:02:00 – The power of your thought process
- 1:05:00 – Her Burning Man Experience
Website: Upward Projects
Craig DeMarco’s Podcast
Lauren Bailey Podcast Interview
I know you’re a huge Danny Meyer fan, the founder of the Union Square Hospitality Group. There’s a quote that I stumbled upon of his and the quote is, “A great restaurant doesn’t distinguish itself by how few mistakes it makes, but by how well they handle those mistakes.” Given this topic where I’m right now and getting your ass kicked, share with us a mistake that you’ve experienced that any of your family of brands that just kicked your ass and how do you recover from it. What comes to mind? Give me a story, give me something juicy.
Okay. Let me think for a minute. I will tell you that I think that’s absolutely true. And do you know what’s wild it that like when you– There’s really something interesting that happens. People think when you tell others about a mistake you made or something you screwed up or whatever. you think, a lot of people do including myself, you think people are like, “Wow, you’re a terrible leader.” Like, “Wow, you’re a really crappy business owner.” “Wow, you suck.” But that’s actually the opposite of what people think. What they think is, “Man, I cannot believe that you have the courage to talk about this. It’s really interesting. I’m feeling really connected to you right now. I can identify with that.” And this really cool thing happens where people build trust with the person that’s sharing the mistake. I think this is the essence of leadership. I think it’s the essence of customer service. I think it’s the essence of recovery, and more than anything is the essence of life because when someone says, “Yes, me too.” It’s really special.
I just want to add that I think, obviously, Danny is genius. I think that whole theory stretches not only across the restaurant space and customer service and guest service but, in life in general.
Yes. I would agree with you.
Let me give you some juicy stuff we’ve screwed up. Two years ago, we decided that we would sell e-gift cards. We did this three days before. We were going to have this huge sale on Black Friday. I’ve been known from time to time, this is the entrepreneurial conundrum. I’m like, “We should do this in two days. We can make this happen.” I pushed this down the throat of my team. They’re like, “Okay. You’re kind of influential.” They want to kick ass too. They’re like, “Yes, let’s do it.”
We send out this e-blast that we didn’t proof. It was really convoluted about what the discount was. It wasn’t in our favor for what it was. That was the first problem. The second problem was, we had no plan for fulfillment. Then we told everybody that we would get these said gift cards to them in two days. We open up the floodgates with this incredible promotion. I think it was, “Buy $100 and get $40 free if you use this e-service gift card.” We get completely annihilated.
It was one thing after another. It started from not having anyone to fulfill them. Then we were manually entering the numbers wrong. Then we were trying to package them. They were getting the wrong ones or going to the wrong places. Then, the guy that worked with us at the time put the wrong postage amount on them. We finally get them all in the mail. He mailed them. Everyone starts calling three days after we’ve mailed them, “Where is my gift card?”
The mailman comes with literally bins of these thousands of gift cards and brings them all back to us. He’s like, “You guys didn’t put the right postage on this.” I wanted to die. You’re talking about thousands of customers, that we’ve already put out a deal that sounds too good to be true. Now, we’re not getting the gift cards. We also failed to put a field in there with the phone number on it. So, all we had were people’s emails.
I literally wanted to crawl in a hole and not come out. I didn’t know what to do. It was so many people. People were super pissed off. What we did was, we divide them up. We literally sat down and everybody that had any time. It’s Christmas time. It was Thanksgiving week so it’s crazy for the restaurant. We split them all up. We emailed everyone. We said, “We’re sending you this gift card and we’re sending you a hundred-dollar gift card apology.”
In that scenario, going over and above, it was very hard to eat that. It ate up all the profits and then some of– That whole exercise. But it was a huge lesson for me of A, not listening to your team and really running things by them. It was like, “This is great. This is going to be sweet. Let’s just do it. Let’s get it done.” Then also not qualifying systems around something big and not anticipating it going slightly viral and then what to do in recovery. It always sticks out in my memory when people ask me that. Some people will still bring it up. They’re like, “Are you guys going to really mail this, this year?”
We’re just like, “We’ll make it happen.” I told Britney the other day though. We just did the same thing. We have, now, this well-oiled machine around this process. I was like, “Dude, I didn’t even see a gift card this year.” She’s like, “Yes. They’re already gone. We already did it. We automated it.” I was like, “Whoa.”
Do you have any memories come to mind of when you sent out the hundred-dollar gift card, the apology, any specific customer or guest, phone calls, emails, recognizing that you were making good and going over and above to rectify the situation?
Yes, we did. Here’s the other piece I failed to mention was that when we did go back and tap in, the first thing we did was that we fell on the sword. We were like, “We completely screwed this up. If you need these gift cards right away, let us know. We’re going to drive it over to you. If you can wait, then they’re going to come here. Last, we’re going to give you this hundred-dollar gift card for this absolute, total fall apart and screw-up.”
People were just like, “Are you serious?” Some people were like, “No, no. I don’t want you guys to do that.” It was really interesting to watch the different responses. I think that’s a huge part of recovery too. In any facet, is just acknowledging– I tell my team, this is very simple. There’s very easy ways to do this. You acknowledge that you made a mistake. You fix it. Then you do something to make it right. It’s really simple. We all get really tied up in thinking that people want to know why it happened.
There’s a part of people that do but we spend way too much time. Why transitions into excuses rather than “You know what?”, in our restaurant, this is very common, “Your food is taking a really long time. We’re really, really sorry.” They don’t care that our vendor showed up 20 minutes late and we couldn’t unpack the food fast enough to get it prepped or, our dishwasher didn’t show up or someone forgot. They don’t care. They just want their food, really, when you think about it.
We can cut that off at the head and just say, “We are really sorry. We screwed up, we’re going to take care of it and I’m going to be right over here, I’m going to send you guys some guacamole and chips while you’re waiting for your food.” And they’re like, “Oh, okay.” I think that’s the essence of mistakes. You’re going to make mistakes and if you can figure out how to recover from them the quickest and acknowledge it and then move on and learn from it, we try to stay really focused on that.
I know you guys have an email address at Upward Projects that I believe you make available for every one of your employees.
Brian, I’m impressed. Yes, that is the absolutely exactly it. Anybody, you can send something there if you want too.
The main purpose of it it’s for employees but I tell people too. If I’m at one of the restaurants and they’re like, “I have ideas.” I’m like, “Send it here.” So that it goes to our whole team. We wanted there to be a place for people to express themselves without the fear of something happening with their boss or their job. We really value feedback and I think providing people different ways to give it, is really important especially as you scale.
What happened before when we small, when we were one or two restaurants. We would just go in there. I’d talk to people and say, “What do you think about this? What do you think about that? Do you guys like that? Do you not? Do you have any ideas?” Now, as we scale it’s gotten harder obviously do that. It’s still ingrained in our culture by leadership teams but for me it’s important that they all have a direct line to Craig and I too, which I think is super important as well.
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