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The most successful restaurant exec you've never heard of

As CEO and president of Good Times Restaurants, Boyd Hoback oversees a two-concept public company with wide-open expansion prospects and little of the financial trauma deviling higher-profile operations. Good Times Burgers & Frozen Custard has been one of the few QSRs to see traffic grow, with same-store sales for the quarter ended Sept. 26 rising by 3.9%. Rarer, full-service concept Bad Daddy’s Burger Bar bucked casual dining’s malaise to post a 1.4% rise.

 Yet, the spotlight has missed Hoback, even when he made moves that presaged what would establish CEOs of bigger operations as industry oracles.

It was Hoback, the one-time busboy, whom principals of full-service burger chain Round the Corner tapped to head a convenience-driven spinoff. The idea: a QSR serving burgers of a quality associated with full service, but with moderate prices. It was essentially the rationale for the better-burger fast casuals that would follow.

Hoback would steer Good Times through the Great Recession, which walloped the brand. But Hoback and his team forged ahead with a bet that the public would embrace a burger made with additive-free beef from ranches that used no hormones.

The move became a point of distinction. “We look at what the big guys can’t and won’t do,” Hoback says. “The supply chain wasn’t there for the big guys to go to all-natural.” 

Years later, looking to diversify, Hoback took a peek behind the curtain of a full-service burger restaurant by Dennis Thompson, co-creator of Lone Star Steakhouse, Fox & Hounds and Bailey’s, that was getting attention in the Carolinas. Hoback saw a differentiated concept with high volumes (it averages about $2.7 million in annual unit sales), healthy margins (now at about 20%) and a modest footprint. Casual dining was tanking, but Bad Daddy’s presented strong unit economics.

Good Times acquired 48% of Bad Daddy’s, and, after liking what it saw, bought the other 52% for $21 million.

Hoback emphasizes maintaining two distinct cultures. A QSR chain like Good Times “is really a lot of little factories. We’re really process-driven,” says Hoback. “Bad Daddy’s, on the other hand, is a very hospitality-driven experience. It’s an hour visit.” 

Operationally, there’s a challenge to not let things get wobbly, particularly at the unit level. Hoback says the guiding principle is “fun and firm”—“fun at the unit level, but with firm boundaries and expectations in place.”

The approach echoes what Hoback says is his business philosophy: “Our bottom line is process-driven, our top line is people-driven.” 

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