Executive Chat with Rebecca Patt
Featuring Tamala Fowler, CEO of Belief Brand Partners, the franchisor of This is It! Southern Kitchen
In 1983, Butch Anthony and his wife founded This Is It! BBQ & Seafood in Atlanta. In 2016, Belief Brands Partners, LLC was formed to be the franchisor of This Is It! under a renewing 50-year licensing agreement. The fast-casual Southern kitchen concept has 11 locations and growing. Tamala has an executive background focused operations and franchising with over 20 years at Olive Garden, Friday’s, Dickey’s, and Gigi’s Cupcakes. She joined This is It in September 2019.
What inspired you to join This Is It?
Meeting the founder. Mr. Anthony is a dedicated professional just like his parents before him. His mother and father worked together, owning and operating a successful diner in Tampa, Florida in the 1950’s- a time when there were not many Black owned businesses in the area. When he then opened his own restaurants in Atlanta over 35 years ago, he was following in their footsteps and in everything he did, he did the very best he could- to honor them. The first time we met he told me his dream was to see his restaurants grow outside of Atlanta and let people from all over the country experience his food. I couldn’t resist. I want more than anything to help him make that dream come true.
Tell us what makes the concept special?
Hands down…. the product. Our space (foodservice) is so crowded already, it’s not often you come across something unique. Most of the time we resign ourselves to making execution the only way to differentiate ourselves. Everyone in your category- Italian, Tex-Mex, Steak, etc., has basically the same food on their menu; and so, it’s really about who can produce it well and do your best to deliver great customer service on top of that. When I tasted the food at This is It- it was familiar but not from restaurants. This is the way your grandma cooks, and there are not that many people doing that in the commercial space. It takes one person a full day to make the potato salad and macaroni and cheese. All day!
What is your background in the restaurant business?
Right out of school, I worked at Darden- one of the giants in the restaurant industry. Unlike most independently owned restaurants that operate more informally, Darden, Brinker, Bloomin’ Brands, and other large groups must be very structured in order to execute with consistency and safety at hundreds of restaurants simultaneously. They operate with very exact procedures, processes, standards and have complex system in place to ensure compliance. It felt like the Army to a first-time manager. Looking back, I am so grateful to have started my career at one of the large operators. I learned so much that I have carried with me to smaller brands such as This Is It. Having the ability to be creative and nimble in a small company like This Is It, while incorporating the discipline and systems burned into my brain at Olive Garden and later Friday’s, I feel like I got the best of both worlds!
What are the growth plans for This Is It? Any other exciting initiatives underway with the company?
We plan to open 10 units in 2020 and then ramp up expansion quickly after that.
Initially we want to focus on the South and Southeast. I think that it’s important we develop strategically rather than opportunistically when launching the brand. We will need to visit the new units frequently to maintain standards and support franchisees; plus, there are some very practical matters such as efficiency in distribution that make focusing on one section of the US advantageous. When you want to grow- it’s tempting to approve new units anyplace in the country where you get interest. You can get excited when you see store count going up. But how are you really going to support that store in Portland when you’re in Atlanta and have no units in between?
What is your one of your biggest passions outside the restaurant business?
I love to travel. I’ve done significant travel, both domestic and International, in my work for over 20 years so you would think it would get old, but it never does. So, when I take time off, I still hit the road. What I’ve learned is that every single corner of our country particularly has something very special to offer, whether its regional food, an amazing landscape, or local art. I love New York City and I love Boise- differently of course, but just as much.
Rebecca Patt specializes in retained executive search for the restaurant industry with Wray Executive Search. Need to hire an ace executive for your team? Email her at email@example.com.
If you enjoyed this article, please subscribe to Wray Executive Search Executive Connection. Our monthly publication includes industry news, executive movements and thought-provoking articles.