John C. Metz dies at age 83

Though much of his career was spent in the noncommercial sector, he proved an outstanding franchisee of TGI Friday' and Ruth's Chris.
John C. Metz / Photo courtesy of Metz Culinary Management

John C. Metz, a longtime TGI Fridays franchisee and National Restaurant Association director, died Tuesday at age 83.

The cause of death was not revealed.

Metz had been a standout leader in the industry for more than 50 years, most of it spent on the so-called noncommercial side of the business.

Returning to civilian life in 1967 after working as a cook in the Army, the twenty-something saw a need for third parties that could run the high-volume feeding operations of workplaces, healthcare facilities and other institutions. He started a company called Custom Management Corp. to provide soup-to-nuts management of the kitchens and dining rooms on a contractual basis.

Custom Management grew significantly, differentiating itself through the caliber of its food and top executives’ accessibility to clients along the Mid-Atlantic seaboard. Many of its largest competitors had lost some of their responsiveness as they hunted for ways to cut costs for themselves and their accounts. Custom’s intense focus on working with customers helped it expand into a major player in the contract-management business, but with an emphasis on quality.

The caliber of its operations drew the attention of Morrison, the parent of a namesake cafeteria chain and the Ruby Tuesday casual-dining chain. The conglomerate also ran a sizable foodservice management business with a strong presence in healthcare. Morrison bought Custom Management in 1987, making Metz the contractor’s CEO.

After the company restructured in the late 1980s and early '90s, Metz decided to branch on his own into restaurant operations. He became a franchisee of TGI Fridays, then one of the dominant players in the casual market. At the time of his death, he was operating nine Fridays units and a Ruth’s Chris Steak House.

But he couldn’t part with the noncommercial segment. In 1994, he started a management company called Metz Culinary Management, focusing on healthcare, education and business-and-industry accounts. It would grow into one of the business’ largest regional players.

A few years later, he would co-found a second contract feeder, Sterling Culinary Management, in collaboration with his son, John. Jr. It is based in Atlanta, with a focus on the lower Atlantic seaboard.

The elder Metz’s son Jeff would rise to become CEO and president of Metz Culinary Management. Jeff’s sister Maureen became executive vice president.

“Even in light of his many accomplishments, Dad was always humble and down-to-earth,” Maureen Metz said in a statement, “He was a mentor, friend, and role model to so many, and his legacy will continue to inspire and guide us.”

 “We are comforted by the knowledge that his spirit will live on in the company he created and in the hearts of all who knew him,” said Jeff Metz.  “We will honor his memory and life’s work by continuing to uphold the values he held dear and working together to build on the foundation that he laid.”

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