Rebecca Patt, SVP Development at Wray Executive Search, chats with James Parks, CEO of Garbanzo Mediterranean Fresh
James Parks is boldly leading the Denver-based company forward with a brand and menu makeover and championing healthy kids’ meals.
What are some initiatives you are championing at the company since you took the helm in December 2015?
I always like to say that business is as easy as P.I.E. But in this case, PIE is an acronym that stands for People, Innovation, and Execution. All the key initiatives I have championed at Garbanzo have come out of this rubric. A really big one was the shift in how the brand expresses itself – in its trade dress/décor, it’s marketing and even its products. Before my time, the brand had been primarily “tongue-in-cheek” and “plastic-ey.” Nothing about the look, feel or brand expression communicated the quality of the food or the effort that went into producing it. We were missing the “love” and the pride that comes with it.
With that in mind, we removed all preservatives from our food and introduced a new prototype last fall in St. Louis, MO. The new look and feel allows guests to enjoy their meal in a more sophisticated environment that better showcases the quality of our food and all (the love) that goes into making it. It lets our guests know that we take making their meal seriously.
The Mediterranean fast-casual segment is on the rise with concepts like yours, Zoe’s Kitchen, Cava, and many small emerging players (check out Baba Nahm when you are in Asheville, NC). What excites you about the segment, and what distinguishes Garbanzo from the others?
What really excites me is also one of the same things that set us apart – We want the world to taste how delicious nutritious can be and feel brighter on the inside. Fueling Americans and our nation’s kids with food that is the perfect balance of delicious AND nutritious. I’m incredibly proud of the meals we serve to every guest, but maybe even more proud of the offerings we have for kids. As a father of four, I take what I serve my kids very seriously. I’d be happy to serve my children meals from our restaurant every day. We have removed all preservatives and any unnecessary ingredients so you can be sure that a meal from Garbanzo is one you know is clean, delicious and good for you.
Last fall, you accepted the challenge from Panera Bread founder Ron Shaich issued to fast food leaders to eat your restaurants’ kids’ meals for a week. You upped the ante and ate the kids’ meals for 30 days straight, and you also donated $1 for every kids’ meal sold at Garbanzo to the Children’s Hospital Colorado. What was this like for you and what were the results?
It was actually easy. I often choose to eat off our kid’s menu when I’m not that hungry, so eating it for 30 days sounded awesome. While we’re not in the business of telling people what we think they should eat or drink, we do want to provide real options and real transparency. We agreed with Ron that too many restaurant brands offer ‘nutritionally empty’ meals to their youngest customers — and to their adult guests too, for that matter. The results were a substantial donation to a pivotal organization advancing children’s health issues and a wake-up call to an industry often entrusted to feeding our youth.
What is your company’s culture like, and what do you look for when recruiting people for your team?
Here at Garbanzo culture is central to all we do. We believe that simple tastes better and honesty is the best policy. We are purpose driven and mission led by our core values that we call P.I.T.A:
PRIDE: We Are Passionate About Our Business and Our Food
INTEGRITY: We Act with Integrity and Show Respect
TEAMWORK: Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
ACCOUNTABILITY: We Are All Accountable
P.I.T.A. acts as the company’s compass – directing everything from our hiring practices and product development to our people development and our relationships with guests. The proof of our foundation is found in our everyday practices our people and our place.
Read any good books lately? Candid answer here please — include guilty pleasures.
Stumbling on Happiness by Dr. Daniel Gilbert
Grinding It Out by Ray Kroc
The Loyal Customer: A Lesson from a Cab Driver by Shep Hyken
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