Position: President and COO
Company: Walk-On’s Enterprises
Family: Wife, Michelle, and two children: Clay (15) and Savannah (13)
Hometown: Virginia Beach, Virginia
Education: Bachelor’s degree in technical writing/English from the University of Florida
In the news:
Coming off a year in which sales expanded by 82%, Walk-On’s is expecting even greater growth this year. Taylor says the company is on track to double its size in 2019, during which it projects opening 17 franchise locations by year-end while awarding 25 more as it strategically expands its nationwide footprint.
What was your very first job, how old were you and what was the biggest takeaway from the experience?
Bussing tables and washing dishes at the Roma Lodge at age 13. I learned that you had to move fast in the food service business—and that I loved making cash tips. I also learned to appreciate earning my own money and saving to buy things I wanted.
What time do you typically get up on a workday, and what’s your ideal morning routine to get it off to a great start?
I typically wake up around 5 a.m. I like to walk in the morning to clear my head and try to get in a little workout before everyone gets up at 6 a.m. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been the breakfast cook. I make breakfast every morning for the family, I enjoy to cook, so omelets, pancakes, etc. on a Tuesday morning are normal.
Since joining Walk-On’s in 2011, you’ve been a part of an executive team that has overseen tremendous growth—and the company expects to double its size in 2019. What’s the strategy for sustainable growth as Walk-On’s expands its national footprint?
First off, we have assembled an amazing team to support our growth. We typically will hire individuals for positions ahead of the need to make sure there’s time for great training and immersion in our culture. For Walk-On’s, culture is key. We have paced our growth to allow for our founder and I to be able to participate and attend each new restaurant opening. We want to grow the right way, which means focusing on great openings and not trying to go to fast.
What are the key traits you look for in a Walk-On’s franchisee?
We look for franchise partners with business experience, not necessarily restaurant experience. We require that each location has an equity Operating Partner in place for the day-to-day operations. Our franchise partners must understand and embrace our brand and culture as part of our approval process.
The Walk-On’s menu has a pretty distinctive Louisiana flair. Does that ever make opening restaurants in other states a challenge, and if so, how do you address that?
We really believe that Louisiana cuisine and culture work very well across the country. That being said, only about 25% of our menu is truly Louisiana items. Our scratch kitchen and focus on food quality will always separate us from other brands as we grow across the country. As we have opened in markets outside of Louisiana, we see the sales of “Louisiana” items like fried alligator or duck and andouille gumbo selling at a higher percentage than locations in Louisiana.
You worked for several smaller companies (Last In Concepts, Beef ‘O’ Brady’s, and Shells Seafood Restaurant) during their growth phases before joining Walk-On’s. What are some of the lessons you learned in those roles that you’re able to apply to your current role at Walk-On’s?
I believe you have to stick with what you’re great at and don’t try to be everything to everyone—you will lose your way and your point of differentiation. One of the biggest lessons I learned was to pace your growth. Make sure you can open new locations great every time—and if you can’t, don’t open them. There is always pressure to grow a company but our vision at Walk-On’s is to always open the right way, at the right pace, with the right partners.
What’s something about your job that might surprise people?
I personally visit every new site and attend every new restaurant opening. And after all of these years, I still love our cheese fries.
What’s a leadership skill you’ve learned the hard way?
Early in my career, I wanted to know and be able to perform every aspect of the operations from training to menu, operations and marketing. Having the knowledge and training your own replacement are the biggest points for great leaders. When there were only six or seven us of in our office, I wore many hats. I am happy now that we have assembled an incredible team, on which I mostly get to listen and give feedback when needed. I would put our team up against any in our industry.
What are some of your hobbies or favorite things to do in your free time?
I enjoy travel and spending time with my family. We love to visit new places and my kids have traveled Europe, the Caribbean and the U.S. more than most people do in a lifetime. I also truly enjoy just being outdoors, whether it’s boating, fishing or just working around the yard.
You’re taking me out to a business lunch in Baton Rouge. Aside from Walk-On’s, where are you most likely to take me and what do you recommend I order?
We’ve gotta go to Phil’s Oyster Bar and see the owner Jordan Piazza. He’s always a great hosts and we’d dine on some of their famous meatballs, a cup of gumbo and some grilled oysters.
What’s one of the best vacations you’ve ever taken, and what’s the next vacation you’re hoping to take?
Probably my favorite vacation was going to Hawaii with my wife, kids and my parents and my mother-in-law. If was the first time we had all vacationed together and spent an incredible week just exploring Oahu.
What kind of vehicle do you drive and what do you think it says about your personality?
I drive an Audi Q5. I guess it might say I’m kinda sporty and like quality things? The reality is that Audi’s are just great cars and I’ve had several that performed great with very little maintenance.
What’s one of the smartest purchases you’ve ever made? What’s one of the dumbest?
No one would ever say this … we purchased a timeshare in Hawaii 14 years ago. Yes, they’re expensive. Yes, the fees are crazy. But it has allowed—and forced—our family to travel and see the world by trading our timeshare.
Can you name someone who has had a great impact on you as a leader, or someone who has been a mentor to you in your life or career? How have they changed your outlook?
I’ve had the opportunity to work with some amazing leaders over my career and believe that I have learned something from each that has molded me into the leader I am today. I worked with David Head when he was the CEO for Shells Seafood where he really taught me the importance of decisiveness and decision making. I worked with Chuck Winship, CEO at Beef O Brady’s, where I learned the importance of building a strong team around you for effectiveness. And now working with Brandon Landry as the founder and CEO of Walk-On’s, I have really seen humility not normally found with a founder. The desire to win in everything we do means you have to be willing to change things as needed to make them better without bias.
What is something you are absolutely determined to do in life?
I have always wanted to teach at a university when I retire from the restaurant business so pursuing and achieving a doctorate degree is on my list to get done in the next 10 years.