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The Sitdown, Part 2: Famous Dave’s CEO Ed Rensi gets down to business

When I was with McDonald’s, they had 32,000 restaurants, but we only ran one restaurant 32,000 times. You’ve just got to migrate everything out.

Consumers are fickle. They’re more educated about food today than they’ve ever been. When I was a kid growing up, you had Julia Child, James Beard and my mom — those were the three celebrity chefs in my life. Today you’ve got 25, 30 celebrity chefs in Chicago.

Food is about entertainment.

When you have your own money [in] the cash register, you behave differently. When you’re just an employee and you go home at 6 or 7 o’clock at night, you don’t think about the business anymore.

In business, people have annual performance reviews. And I say, “When people fail it’s the boss’s fault, not the employee’s fault.” If you’re telling your people every day how they’re doing, if you’re encouraging them every day, it shouldn’t be surprise at the end of the year if they’re well thought of. So when I see somebody doing something really good, I give ‘em a slap on the back and say, “Hey, good job, well done, keep it up.” But if somebody’s doing something wrong, I tell ‘em.

My attitude about the restaurant industry is [if] you hire a dish washer, you better have a program in place so that dishwasher can be the CEO in 35 years. If you’re a dishwasher and you’re in that job six months, you’re gonna leave. I don’t want permanent dishwashers.

I’ll tell you what, if you have fire in your belly, you die. I don’t believe in those euphemisms. My attitude is: you are who you are. You were raised by your parents and you’ve got certain values.

When I interview people, I start off with the same question: “Tell me about yourself. Start with where you were born.” Because the way people were raised and where they were raised and who their parents were has probably the biggest impact on them as anything.

The young man who’s raised by a Marine Corps career officer is different than the young man who’s raised by a career pastor. You just have different values, you have different beliefs, you have different behaviors, you have a different focus.

I’ve found out over the years that the only way you motivate anybody is you’ve gotta figure out what they want to do with the rest of their life. Because there are so many people out there who never think in terms of a strategic plan for themselves. They take life a day at a time.

Tell ‘em what you expect, and then inspect what you tell them you expect and make sure they’re doing what you expect. If you don’t tell them what you expect and you don’t inspect it, they’re going to wander around. And people that are wandering around without purpose are never going to be successful.

If you don’t care where you’re going, any way you go gets you there.

Related: The Sitdown: Ed Rensi on restaurants, race cars and rebelling