Featuring Sanjiv Razdan, president of Americas & India at The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, and founder, chairman, and CEO of GLEAM Network
Sanjiv Razdan is a global restaurant and hospitality industry leader and innovator and a passionate champion for helping others grow and advance in the industry. He joined The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf this past spring, and he continues to lead the GLEAM Network, a non-profit organization he founded in 2020 to promote leadership development for underserved restaurant and foodservice industry professionals through mentorship and other learning and development programs. The GLEAM programs offer support to those at every level of their career, from hospitality and culinary students to emerging leaders and executives. Sanjiv’s executive background in the restaurant business includes roles at Sweetgreen, Applebee’s, and Yum! Brands, in the US, Europe, and India. He graduated from the University of Mumbai with a degree in Physics and started his career in restaurant management in India with ITC Hotels.
How’s your new job as president going at The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf?
The new job is incredible. I have always been excited about the coffee space from the outside. I’ve been a student of Howard Schultz and read his books and been fascinated by what he created at Starbucks, so the opportunity enter the coffee industry with an iconic brand like The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf has just been perfect for me. We have investors that are backing the brand to create the foundation for growth. We’ve not even scratched the surface, but knock-on wood, it’s off to a great start for the last five months, and I am loving the opportunity.
What’s the biggest learning curve for you in your new role?
The first thing was that I started this role in the middle of the pandemic without physically meeting anyone from the new company. It was quite surreal to go through the whole interview process remotely and learn about a new brand, company, people, and culture remotely. Our global home office is based out of Singapore. I am learning to navigate the relationship-building process through Zoom, which is fascinating. The other learning is understanding that the coffee business is somewhat different from generic food service.
I think one of the things that I’ve been pleasantly surprised with is that coffee attracts a very creative, artsy, bohemian personality, especially in our stores with the baristas who enjoy the space. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know what makes this business tick, learning both from our baristas and from consumers of our brand, learning what it is that they’re looking for from the coffee occasion or when they come to Coffee Bean. What I’ve learned is that this is their little escape from their daily routine. You know, people may or may not be able to afford the time or the dollars to take vacations, but they can indulge themselves in a wonderful warm or chilled cup of something at Coffee Bean, and it becomes your indulgence and little escape and opportunity to treat yourself right. That’s been something insightful to learn, and now I’m in the middle of building our foundation of digital platforms and infrastructure and assembling top talent.
How have you been helping to adapt the brand through the disruption of the pandemic?
I think the pandemic essentially did two things: one was that it fundamentally changed consumer behavior. The way we responded to that was to drastically improve our digital presence and remove friction or reduce friction so consumers could better access us digitally, such as through our ‘ordering ahead’ feature . The second thing we’ve done is ramped up delivery because consumers are working from home. They are having their coffee and caffeine fix at home instead of grabbing their coffees on their way to work. That behavior has shifted, so we introduced delivery through two of the significant aggregators, and we’re just about to start with the third one. That’s been a huge building block for revenue growth.
The third thing that we’ve done is to refresh our food offering. We’re finding that consumers are buying a lot more food, once again at home. When they order their beverage, they’re looking for something to snack on or a meal substitute, whether it’s breakfast or other food offerings. We’ve refreshed and elevated our food offering to make sure that meets their consumer needs. We created a new online ordering platform. We’ve also been investing more behind our loyalty program.
On an employee facing standpoint, I think what we’ve clearly done is become much more thoughtful in terms of team member safety, as have a lot of others, making sure that our team members feel safe and comfortable and that it’s an appropriate environment for them during work.
Last but certainly not the least, we’ve been exploring and investing behind emerging technologies for coffee and tea that help in terms of improving efficiencies throughout our stores and being able to sell faster. A lot of our business is coming through the drive-thru channel, and drive thru, as you know, is all about speed and convenience. We want to make sure that we are able to provide craft coffee beverages at the speed and convenience that are consumers are looking for. On the backend, we’ve been looking at piloting different kinds of technologies that allow us to do that.
What is the footprint of the stores you’re responsible for in the Americas and India, and what are the plans to grow?
We’ve have about 225 locations in the US. It’s a business that is half company-owned, and the other half is franchised. We have a significant amount of presence in non-traditional locations, such as airports and college campuses. For the US, which is going to be a very significant growth engine for us, the plan is to grow through both company-owned and franchise-led growth. We want to penetrate the markets or the cities that we are already present in and then every year, enter certain new markets as well, and grow the footprint. Outside the US, we have presence in South America, Panama, and Paraguay, and we will continue to work with our franchisees there to strengthen those businesses. We have a presence in India as well, which is, again, highly under-penetrated for our brand and a tremendous amount of whitespace. I’m excited to unlock that broad opportunity as well. The coffee category is growing, and the brand is growing. Now, we’ve got tailwind, and I can’t wait to see what we’re able to accomplish in the next year or two.
Untapping the enormous potential that this iconic global brand has through growth and giving our guests a seamless omnichannel experience. I also think we have a great opportunity right now to build a fabulous culture, and I love the whole notion of getting a team around a fresh vision and making sure that we’ve got the A team to build a culture, nurture the culture and put into place great franchisee relationships that allow us to grow, so that’s what I’m very pumped about.
The team continues to march forward, and the mentoring program has really become quite well-known in the industry now, which we feel proud of. We’re getting ready to launch our fourth cohort. We now have employed technology around mentoring. We now use matching technology that allows us to match mentors with mentees in the most effective way so we can scale the mentoring program. Also, we are continuing to work with University of Central Florida’s Rosen College of Hospitality for a student mentoring program, and we’ve collaborated with Auguste Escoffier, a culinary school, on our mentoring program.
The new program that we’re piloting is called the “CAP” or the Career Advancement Program, targeted towards providing soft skill and mindset orientation to women and BIPOC communities who are hourly-paid frontline team members in our industry. The objective of this program is to help them get ready to transition from hourly team members into supervisory and management roles. Often women and the BIPOC community get overlooked for these roles. They’re not even noticed by their employers. This is about giving them the soft skill development that allows them to get noticed, provides them with what they need to assert themselves and then to get on to that career development track where they can get onto their employer’s skill-based training programs that will allow them to grow. It’s an eight-week program delivered virtually in an instructor-led format. We are now in pilot phase and it will be exciting to see where that goes and the impact we can make.
Do you have an anecdote you could share that’s a rewarding story of GLEAM mentoring?
Probably the most heartening thing about GLEAM has been the testimonials we get from our mentees. For some of these people, it has been life altering. Two of these stories spring to mind. One of them was from a mentee, an African American female, who had been overlooked in her own organization for career advancement and was really wanting to get mentored by someone who would help her navigate her career better. So, because of this mentorship that she received, what she told us was, “I am being noticed.” When she said that, it gave me goose bumps because it’s a very simple but a very powerful thing. She was getting noticed in her place of work, and her organization started investing in her. Career opportunities were presented to her, whereas previously she felt like when she sat in a meeting room or with her peers, she had this sense of not being seen.
Another story at a different end of the spectrum comes from a student mentee that we had at the UCF Rosen School of Hospitality in the Orlando area. Most of these students work in the industry and are undergoing a four-year program to get a bachelor’s in restaurant management. The industry being as hard as it is, they were really, really struggling just in terms of basic employment, staying connected, and thinking about their career and future. We had a student mentee who was able to transition from being a junior-level supervisor in a local restaurant to getting a multi-unit manager role in a national chicken chain, and he did that because he got the mentorship that helped him understand how he should present himself, brush up his resume, how to apply, and how to navigate the recruitment process. This mentor also helped him to make certain connections. He’s been quite vocal and public about the support that he had. Those kinds of stories where you know you’re making a difference in someone’s life, like those two, just stay with me as have so many others.
How can people find out more about GLEAM, and what kind of volunteer support do you most need?
Gleamnetwork.net is the best place to find out what’s happening at GLEAM. It’s also the appropriate place to volunteer for anybody that wants to volunteer their time for GLEAM. We’re looking for instructional designers to help us create some of our broad content. We’re looking for IT professionals, all IT professionals, and specifically if someone’s got a background in information security, we are wanting to up our game there. So, if somebody wants to give up their time on that, we’d be very grateful. We’re looking for people who appreciate our mission and would want to potentially donate or put us in touch with folks who might be able to give us a grant, because we either provide our services at no charge or extremely low charge of just offsetting the administrative fee. And of course, we want to expand our network of mentors and mentees, so if you want to be a mentor, that’s where you would sign up on our website. If you want to be a mentee, looking for a mentor, you will also go sign up on the website Gleamnetwork.net.
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