In the early 2000s, Tina Howell was living in Dallas, recently divorced, running a home healthcare business and caring for three children. She wanted to move back to her hometown of Miami but couldn’t imagine leaving behind one of her favorite treats: lemon pepper chicken wings from Wingstop, a local chain. So before moving, she applied to be the Dallas-based brand’s first franchisee in Dade County, Fla. And the company said yes.
Today she has two Wingstop restaurants in Florida that bring in more than $1.2 million and two more on the way, and she still owns that healthcare business in Dallas. She attributes her success to determination, perseverance and a positive attitude. That’s why, now that she’s the boss, she hires what she calls “unhireable” employees at her restaurants -- people with spotty employment histories and difficult backgrounds, whom many others would never give a chance. She wants to teach them a lesson: “If one part of your life doesn’t work out, go on to the next,” she says. “I stayed positive, and it worked out for me.”
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Why do you take such chances when hiring employees?
There are a lot of underprivileged kids and young adults who have made mistakes here in South Florida. Unfortunately, once you get that one blemish, you’re unqualified to get a job because it’s on your record. But a lot of those people can be mentored and molded, and they become very loyal.
What’s your favorite success story?
I ran through a ton of general managers at my first store. Then I saw potential in one of my cooks. He had the work ethic, but he was close to unemployable because of his criminal record. I mentored him, and, fast-forward 14 years, he’s now general manager of all my restaurants.
What’s your management philosophy?
I like to say we’re not easy, but we’re simple. I focus on customer service, cleanliness and producing a quality product. Make your processes very simple, and do it over and over.
I tell them that customers expect fries to be hot. If the fries in the bag are not hot, you remake the fries. The bathroom is indicative of how clean the kitchen is, so keep it clean. It doesn’t matter if a customer is paying $2 or $100, you greet them and smile -- simple stuff, right? But getting it right can be hard.
You were already running a business. Why did you buy a franchise, too?
I got in early with Wingstop to diversify my business holdings. At the time they had 91 stores [they now have more than 900], but that was proof enough to me that the concept worked. Then I found the learning curve was much easier than going it alone, thanks to the support of other franchisees and corporate. And I love the food!