Gratitude | July

By | 2019-06-28T11:58:20-05:00 July 2019|Blog, Words from Russell|

For July, I am profiling another special person who has made a significant impact on my life & success — my franchise partner and best friend, Mr. Joel Perkins.

Joel supervising a remodel at “The Original” in 1998

I firmly believe if you want to be the best at something, then you must go out and find the best who are already doing it, mimic them, while simultaneously applying your own unique point of differences. Fortunately for me, in this situation, I didn’t have to go very far to find one of the best restaurant chains in America, located right here in Houston, I am referencing Pappas Restaurants®. Because I have always admired their high level of standards and operations, I always told myself if I had any chance of being anything like them as a restaurant operator, then I had two choices: 1) work for them and learn everything I possibly can or 2)  hire someone who worked for them; I chose the latter.

In the early ’90s, my wife, Monica, was a kindergarten teacher at Faith Christian Academy in Pasadena. One of her students, a girl named Lindsey Perkins, was very proud of her daddy and where he worked. She would go to class and on occasion announce to Monica that her daddy was the General Manager {GM} of the Pappasitos located in Webster. So, of course, Monica would come home and remind me that one of her students’ father was the GM of Pappasitos. I stored this information in the back of my mind.

When the development of the second Gringo’s in La Porte began in 1995, I discovered that Joel was no longer with Pappasitos, and he had moved on to help open the new Kemah Cantina; now operating as the Aquarium Restaurant. My family’s tortilla company, El Matador, just so happened to sell tortillas to the Kemah Cantina. As Gringo’s La Porte was getting closer to completion, I asked my cousin, Chuck Rivera, who worked for El Matador to please pass on to Joel that I was looking for a GM to help me open the new Gringo’s. Joel contacted me almost immediately, and we met several times over the next five months. Truth be told, I would have hired him after the first interview; however, my only issue was I did not have the money to pay him. Keep in mind, in early 1996, I only had the one Gringo’s location in Pearland. I continued to meet with Joel, while at the same time, delaying a job offer until we were closer to opening. Joel joined the Gringo’s team in May of 1996.

What I did not know, when I was interviewing Joel, was that he did not want to leave Pappasitos. He parted ways because he had been demoted from GM, relocated to another location on the north side of town and his salary was cut by sixty percent. To compound his dire financial situation, his wife, Jamie, was no longer working as an executive secretary and their 4th daughter, Shelby, was just born.  

Joel helped me open the Gringo’s in La Porte on July 2, 1996, and in assembling his management team, he hired several incredible individuals who are still a part of Gringo’s family today. To name a few: Franchise Partner, Kevin Carroll; Kitchen Manager Extraordinaire, Francisco Rodriguez; Sr. VP of Operations, Danny Hanks; Chief Marketing Officer, Heather McKeon; Chief Operating Officer, Jonathan Kim; and I’m sure the list goes on.

Opening Day at Gringo’s La Porte

“As iron sharpens iron, so one man strengthens another.” (Proverbs 27:17)

Joel went on to help me open our 3rd Gringo’s in Texas City on August 5, 1999, and a few months later received the opportunity to franchise his own Gringo’s. Once again, through my cousin Chuck, we learned the owner of My Amigos, Jesse DeLeon, was selling his restaurant on the Gulf Freeway at Fuqua. Joel and I visited the restaurant as customers on Thursday, April 17, at around 7PM, and it was very slow. As we walked around the restaurant, both of us felt we could easily convert it to a Gringo’s at a minimal cost. A few days later, on May 1, we made a deal with Jesse to purchase his business and assume the lease. I personally financed the entire project for Joel to show my appreciation for him joining our team four years prior. Gringo’s Fuqua, on the Gulf Freeway, opened for business nineteen years ago this month, July 24, 2000. It has been one of our best deals ever, and also one of our most profitable units.

Joel and I with our commercial real estate broker, Hugh Ruggles

Back when I was interviewing Joel, and putting him off until I could afford to pay him, he must have been getting a little concerned and decided to give me his best line in an attempt to convince me to hire him. He told me, “Russell if you hire me, I will run that restaurant as if I owned it myself.” Those words were very prophetic. After Joel opened Fuqua in 2000, he has gone on to open four more Gringos locations: Champions in ’06, Cypress in ’10, Spring in ’13, and The Woodlands in ’18.

I appreciate my relationship with Joel for many reasons besides just the obvious; I appreciate his faith in God and his love for his family. Joel is a righteous man, but he doesn’t wear his faith on his sleeve. He exhibits all the qualities every one of us should strive to be in our own personal and work life. I believe I speak for the both of us when I say, we are equally grateful our lives intersected when they did, and both better for it. Furthermore, I know for a fact that Joel is very thankful he has always lived his life in such a way that made his daughter, Lindsey, proud enough to tell her kindergarten teacher, “My daddy is the General Manager of Pappasitos.”

Joel and Francisco Rodriguez

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