Cameron Mitchell evolved from a dishwasher to a restaurant founder who now runs more than 60 restaurants. His new book, “Yes is the Answer! What is the Question?” explores his winning culture. And the excerpt below is a powerful insight on putting associates first.
I’m thrilled to welcome Cameron, founder of Cameron Mitchell Restaurants, to Thermostat Cultures Live in Columbus on Nov. 5. We’ve sold out the past two years and expect to sell out again. Snag one of our few tickets left now for an intimate conversation with Cameron and others at www.thermostatcultureslive.com.
We put our associates first out of genuine concern for our people, not to manipulate them into working harder or better for us. Our culture puts them first because this is purely how we want to treat them and how we want to value them. In doing so, we attain incredible results.
Our company is built by its people and for its people. CMR is their home and their family. Associates stay for five, ten, fifteen, twenty, even twenty-five years, as proven by our turnover rates, which are historically well below national restaurant averages. If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times in meetings, at leadership roundtables, and at other events: People feel they’re part of a family at CMR and enjoy coming to work. In 2017, we had only 5 percent turnover of management personnel and 48 percent turnover of hourly associates. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the industry turnover rate is closer to 35 percent for management and 80 percent for hourly associates.
Even when people must move on, they often do so with affection and gratitude. I have received hundreds of letters over the years from associates who have left us to pursue other endeavors, thanking the company and me for providing them a home and great place to work while they were pursuing their goals outside the restaurant industry.
We have so many “associates come first” stories. One of my favorites is about Valerie, our sous chef in Beverly Hills. David Miller and I were making one of our biannual visits to the restaurant for our president’s roundtable meeting, when we sit down and talk with groups of associates and individually with each manager. During out meeting, Valerie told me her younger sister back home in Detroit was gravely ill with cancer. Valerie had transferred to Beverly Hills from Detroit to help with the new restaurant. I asked if she was going to spend some time with her sister soon. She said she’d be going there for Thanksgiving. At the time of this conversation, it was August. “Why are you waiting so long?” I asked. She told me she couldn’t afford plane tickets, and didn’t have vacation time.
“You do now,” I said. “The company will pay for your round-trip airfare, and once a month you can combine your weekly two days off with a couple of personal or vacation days. That way, you’ll get four days in a row off to go and visit your sister each month, from now through the end of the year. You were already planning on paying for your airfare Thanksgiving week, so that is on you, and the company will take care of the rest.”
She was blown away. The best part was that she was able to see her sister many more times before she passed away far too young.
On a different note, I can’t resist sharing my “urinal story,” which occurred—yes, you guessed it—when I was standing at a urinal in one of our restaurants. Our sous chef, Joe, walked in and stood next to me. Joe is a big, lovable guy who looks like a disheveled teddy bear. I knew he was married with two kids, and since spring break was near, I asked if he had vacation plans for his family.
“We really wanted to go to Disney World with the kids, but we looked into it, and couldn’t afford it,” he said. “It is so expensive with hotel, airfare, food, park tickets, and spending money.”
I told him to go home and tell his family that they’d be going to Disney World. I’d use my Southwest miles and Marriott points to take care of his airfare and hotel.
“After that, you cover the park tickets and spending money.”
Joe almost fell over and asked incredulously, “Are you serious?”
“Absolutely,” I said.
There are many, many other stories like this about taking care of our people, including: the chef who needed every other weekend off because of child custody (of course, we made this happen); the servers who worked all night on a large party, only to be stiffed (of course, we helped them out); and the funds raised from associates across the country for their fellow associates at Ocean Prime Naples, which was closed for ten days in 2017 after Hurricane Irma (each associate received nearly $800). The list goes on and one. There are countless “associates come first” stories form the past twenty-five years.
Join Cameron Mitchell on Friday, Nov. 8, at Thermostat Cultures Live in Columbus, Ohio. Tickets can be purchased at www.thermostatcultureslive.com.