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What keeps the nation's fastest growing restaurants awake at night?

Never mind AUVs, ROI or LTOs. We wanted to know what REM sleep is like for CEOs of the Future 50 chains—what percolates up from their subconscious when they drift off to sleep. Then we submitted their recurring dreams to analysis by Dr. David Reiss, a San Diego-based psychiatrist with 30 years of experience in dream interpretation: “A dream is a symbol, so if you get caught up in the symbol you may miss what’s really behind it,” Reiss explains.

Tim McEnery
Founder and CEO of Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurants

Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurants opened seven years ago outside of Chicago, and 2011 sales grew 80% over the previous year. Founder and CEO Tim McEnery has the same stress dream at least once a month: He flashes back to his first job, washing golf balls at a driving range—at age 11. “There’s a machine where you dump a basket of golf balls from the picker into this rack they go in to get cleaned,” McEnery explained. “The golf balls keep coming, and I can’t keep up with washing them.” He suspects he knows why. “There’s an aspect of anxiety in the dream that every restaurant owner has. When you’re laying in bed, it’s that feeling of being totally overwhelmed.”

Dr. David Reiss: “Being overwhelmed by something that’s supposed to clean gives a sense of something that needs to be taken care of. It needs to be attended to, and it may be something from his personal life or the business itself.”

“Here it’s combining something from his past and his present,” says Reiss. “That would be my first question: Is there some unfinished business you have emotionally related to your past work, your current work, something that you feel needs to be cleaned up?”

Eric Ersher
Founder and CEO of Zoup! Fresh Soup Company

Eric Ersher, founder and CEO of Michigan-based franchisor Zoup! Fresh Soup Company, says his ultimate fear is to find new franchisees not conforming to the company’s core philosophy of putting people (and quality) before profits. “Maintaining our culture is the thing I’m the most concerned about as we expand,” Ersher says of the chain that will add a dozen stores to its list of 40 this year. “One of my nightmares is to realize a new franchisee can’t live within our standards or be part of our community. We have core values.”

Dr. David Reiss: “One way of interpreting dreams is to put yourself, the dreamer, in each of the positions of the dream—not just the observer and the subject—but in each of the positions. Is there something you feel you should be doing that keeps you from meeting your own expectations? Or is there a part of you that would like to be more independent and go in a different direction?”

Anthony Bruno
Founder and CEO of Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza

Every restaurant in the Fort Lauderdale-based Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza chain heats pizzas up to 800 degrees. “The key to our success—and our biggest challenge—is consistency as we expand the brand,” explains founder and CEO Anthony Bruno. “My recurring nightmare keeps me up at night: I walk into one of my stores, I take a bite out of my coal-fired pizza, and I realize that it’s not well done.”

Dr. David Reiss: “The idea of an uncooked pizza is a feeling of being unprepared in a very concrete sense that goes to the food not being prepared. But maybe they don’t have the sense of security they should, that they’ve done everything they should, or that the other people contributing haven’t put in all they should. But here he is eating the pizza, as opposed to the customer. In other words, is it as fulfilling as they’d like it be?”

Ron E. Green
Founder and President of Another Broken Egg Cafe

Another Broken Egg Cafe specializes in using high-quality ingredients for its breakfast, lunch and brunch menus. To do it, the restaurants receive produce deliveries practically every day—the source of founder Ron E. Green’s recurring stress dream. “I’m in the front house of the restaurant, and I’m working,” he said, recalling the nightmare. “I get a phone call. Somebody is at the hospital and they got deadly sick from eating at one of our restaurants. I’ll wake up and say ‘Did we check this? Did we get this taken care of? Are we talking to the franchisees about this?’” There is nothing more critical then having well-handled food.”

Dr. David Reiss: “In the dream he’s working rather than managing, so I would use that as a clue to start the line of questioning: Is there something where you feel you should be more hands-on or less hands-on? And the phone call hides who’s providing the news. It may be from your own self or it may be from a specific relationship, business or personal, where there’s some tension.”

Toshi Hayakawa
President of Gyu-Kaku

With 650 locations in Japan, Gyu-Kaku opened its first
do-it-yourself barbeque location in America in West Los Angeles. Now there
are 18 stores here and plans for 56 more by 2015. In president Toshi Hayakawa’s dream, he is flying. “When I dream, I am very
busy, traveling all around the U.S. to visit all of the
Gyu-Kakus in many states.”

Dr. David Reiss: “Always look at both sides of the dream as both the wish and the fear. He’s getting away from home, but he’s taking the business with him. On the flip side, there may be a wish to get further away. Is there a wish to go to different unknown places? There’s the conflict between being away from somewhere that’s familiar and the excitement of doing something new. Excitement and fear are two sides of the same coin.”

Doug Morse
President of Dion’s Pizza

The Albuquerque-based Dion’s Pizza chain includes 17 restaurants throughout the Southwest and saw 7 percent growth over last year. “One nightmare that literally wakes me up at night is that someone, either a Dion’s employee or a customer, becomes hurt. Our employees make us who we are, and our customers are the key to our success,” explains Doug Morse, whose career with Dion’s spans 31 years. “I’m also very aware of when we open and close—we open at 10:30 a.m. and close at 10 p.m.—and, within a few minutes, I know those times without looking at the clock.”

Dr. David Reiss: Reiss says Morse’s biggest fear may be no more than a deep concern for safety  and the wellbeing of the entire enterprise. As for his sense of time: “Even when he’s not consciously thinking about it, he’s on duty, which brings up a whole other issue. Are you getting enough breaks, are you getting enough vacation, are you overly responsible? Or the reverse, are you making yourself more responsible in the dream? It’s a huge responsibility, but are you having enough fun?”

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