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Michael SchultzMichael Schultz is the Founder and CEO of Infuse Hospitality, a management and consulting company that works with offices, retail spaces, hotels, and more to create first-class food and beverage amenities. These spaces are fully customizable and range from simple beverage carts all the way up to full-scale restaurants. With 25 years of experience in hospitality, Michael entered the industry at age 12 as a dishwasher before his entrepreneurial drive and creativity ultimately led him to create Infuse.

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Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:

  • Michael Schultz’s rise from dishwasher to hospitality entrepreneur
  • Michael explains how his entrepreneurial spirit is driven by the desire to leave a legacy for his children
  • Creating Fairgrounds to make coffee and tea more accessible to all types of people
  • Michael talks about navigating the pandemic’s impacts on Infuse Hospitality
  • How compassion and empathy helped Michael become the industry leader he is today

In this episode…

In this episode of the SpotOn Series, Chad Franzen chats with Infuse Hospitality Founder and CEO Michael Schultz about how his desire to create a lasting legacy for his family led him to become an entrepreneur. Michael discusses his humble beginnings in the hospitality industry, the key components of a successful brand, and how being service-minded and observant of human behaviors helped his company find stability and success — even once the pandemic reared its ugly head.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Sponsor for this episode

SpotOn:

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Episode Transcript

Intro  0:04  

Welcome to the Top Business Leaders Show powered by Rise25 Media, we featured top founders, executives and business leaders from all over the world

Chad Franzen  0:20  

Chad Franzen here co host for this show where we feature top restaurant tours investors and business leaders. This is part of our SpotOn Series. SpotOn has the best in class payment platform for retail and they have a flagship solution called SpotOn restaurant, where they combine marketing software and payments all in one. They’ve served everyone from larger chains like Dairy Queen and subway to small mom and pop restaurants. To learn more go to spoton.com. This episode is brought to you by Rise25 We help b2b businesses to get ROI clients referrals and strategic partnerships through done for you podcast. If you have a b2b business and want to build great relationships with clients, referral partners and thought leaders in your space. There’s no better way to do it than through podcasts and content marketing. To learn more go to rise25media.com or email us at [email protected] Infuse Hospitality Founder and CEO Michael Schultz brings over a quarter century of experience in the hospitality industry and a proven track record of success and profitability from fat from casual restaurants to fine dining establishments. His expertise and leadership combined with his passion for top notch hospitality has yield have yielded a very loyal following. Throughout his tenure, Michael has created numerous brands built successful leadership teams, and has mentored countless individuals with his many years of experience. He founded Infuse Hospitality. Infuse Hospitality creates and operates first in class food and beverage amenities for companies and organizations without the resources to do so. Michael, thank you so much for joining me today. How are you?

Michael Schultz  1:50  

I’m well thank you very much for having me. It’s a great pleasure.

Chad Franzen  1:53  

Sure, the pleasure is mine. So tell me a little bit about your background. How did you get started in the restaurant and hospitality industry?

Michael Schultz  2:01  

Oh, I started washing dishes at the age of 12. And just kind of fell in love with it. And so just worked my way through all kinds of different roles with the objective of becoming an executive in the restaurant space. And then once I accomplished that, when the first of my my four children was about to be born, that’s kind of when I set off on my journey as an entrepreneur.

Chad Franzen  2:31  

Where did you wash dishes at age 12?

Michael Schultz  2:34  

Many places many places I was an equal opportunity, just dishwasher.

Chad Franzen  2:40  

What are some of the other jobs you had as you work your way up from dishwasher?

Michael Schultz  2:44  

Yeah, so I mean, really every single role from host to busboy to Chef and prep cook and line cook and server. And so really having a great love and understanding for all the different pieces. And that’s really one of the most rewarding things about the restaurant industry is that if you do everything, right, nobody really notices. It’s like an orchestra of a million different pieces all coming together to have some kind of positive psychological impact on our guests to make them feel so great that they want to come back and bring their friends.

Chad Franzen  3:20  

Yeah, I was just gonna ask you What about the restaurant industry is particularly attractive and exciting for you? Would that be it?

Michael Schultz  3:28  

Well, I think for me, not just with restaurants. But just being an entrepreneur, what really inspired me was the ability to leave a legacy for my children, where my organizations and the culture which can do things differently, where we give people the opportunity to make a better life for themselves and their families. And so I’m extremely passionate about creating jobs and driving culture that’s different from what I experienced, or you know, what is sometimes the norm in our industry?

Chad Franzen  3:59  

How many restaurants would you say you worked for before you kind of became an entrepreneur?

Michael Schultz  4:07  

I mean, a lot. You know, I worked for great organizations from Wolfgang Puck to Ruth’s Chris and in my way, throughout my career and really, very much like going to school you’re you’re learning different pieces. And so every company that that I’ve worked for, and everybody that I’ve worked for, both good and bad, I’ve learned critical and important lessons that I apply in our businesses today.

Chad Franzen  4:32  

So what drove you you’re the founder of Infuse Hospitality. That’s kind of a consulting a consulting firm and then Fairgrounds Coffee and Tea. What drove you to start those?

Michael Schultz  4:44  

Yeah so, Infuse isn’t really a consulting firm. We create and operate now I think servicing about 40 million square feet in about 30 states and

Chad Franzen  4:54  

a few prowl I’m sorry, okay.

Michael Schultz  4:57  

These were not my first company, but But what really, what really drove me was I kind of had a freakout moment. And my, you know, I’m about to have this human being come into the world, and now I’m responsible. And now throughout my career, a lot of it in the earlier days was was ego driven, and the reasons why I was doing things and all of a sudden, I started thinking about, you know, this, this little person that was about to be born, and that I’m not going to live forever. And what what really kept coming into my mind is, what are people gonna say about me to this child to these now, children, when I’m born, and the idea of your dad was great, we got the stock price from two to $28 wasn’t exactly what I had the legacy that I was looking to leave. And so even as being a senior leader of somebody else’s organization, you don’t always have total control about why you’re going to do things, or what the epicenter is, and what the mission is going to be. And really what’s most important to you. And so the only way that I could figure that out, really was doing it on my own. And so I took that very scary leap of faith as an entrepreneur. But, you know, I grew up working very, very hard. And my parents taught me that you’re really not entitled to anything. And so I was more afraid of looking back and wondering what if, then I was a failing, failing, you know, was fine, I would understand what what happened, I would learn from it. And I would move on. But you know, that bat, thinking back and wondering what could have been, what what should have been, it bothered me, and so I needed to do something about it.

Chad Franzen  6:46  

So tell me a little bit more about Infuse Hospitality and what it is and kind of how you how you got there.

Michael Schultz  6:53  

Yeah, so Infuse Hospitality creates and operates best in class, food and beverage experiences throughout the country, whether it’s traditional retail concepts from coffee shops, to fine dining, and also solutions for hotels, building owners, residential towers, it’s experience based businesses really anywhere where design and hospitality can have an impact. And so we had other organizations. And yeah, at that time, you know, really, we had a few holdings in the in the coffee space. And so it started with my identifying areas of opportunity in the coffee space, where it just didn’t make sense to me. And so when I looked at coffee, and again, we had these other holdings in the coffee space, you know, people would talk about growing the craft of craft coffee, but to me, it felt very aloof. And I didn’t see the focus on hospitality and there was no choice. You’d walk into lock cologne (what??), where you’d walk into Starbucks, or you’d walk into Blue Bottle, and you’d be locked into their brands. But then we leave and we’d go to dinner, and there’d be 150 different beers on tap. And I thought, How bizarre if I walked in like it was 150 years ago to these tiny houses, and you had 100 taps and your choice was butter, but like, why is there no choice in coffee? Why can’t I walk in somewhere where I can choose from all these different roasters and then all these other questions came up? Why is there Why is coffee so masculine and coffeehouses are masculine? Why is there not a great focus on service and hospitality? Why is in the rest of the world for the last, you know, four or 5000 years tea has been the most important beverage on the planet? Why in the United States, does it play second fiddle? And the final piece was, why can’t I get chef crafted food at the same place I get great coffee. I can go throughout Europe. I can go throughout the Middle East. I can go through other parts of the world you wake up and you say do I want to go to a restaurant or do I want to go to a cafe? The difference is do you want a 20 minute experience or a three hour experience? And so we created Fairgrounds Craft Coffee and Tea. Were really to be a solution for all of these areas where you’ve got an incredible design you can come in, you can taste different cold brews from different roasters throughout the country on tap or flights of kombucha or sparkling botanicals or pick from seven, eight, ten, twelve different coffee roasters and do flights of hot coffee and tea having being equally as important and a great chef crafted menu and so it started with creating a brand that now has a very wonderful quote following and having great success with that. And at the same time we had other people you know, reaching out saying, hey, we need to do something in In our building, or we, we have a problem here and I said, wow, there’s no solution in the space other than these large institutional food service groups, the compasses, the air marks the subject zones of the world, or a small mom and pop that wants to do the sales of, of, you know, similar to my children’s lemonade stand. And so I said, Really, there’s no solution in the world of real estate. And these other areas that can do authentic, be spoke and be loved, craft excellent experiences at scale and be authentic and not through the lens of institutional foodservice, but through the lens and the data and everything else that comes from having excellent retail based food and beverage experiences. And so that’s how Infuse Hospitality was born or short, five and a half years ago, and now again, servicing about 40 million square feet in over 30 states in two provinces of Canada. And so, obviously, lightning lightning quick, and the last few years have been a blur for sure.

Chad Franzen  11:05  

So when you walk into Fairgrounds, how does it feel different than when it’s like, give me some specific ways it feels different than when you walk into your your standard brand. It’d be a big brand coffee shop.

Michael Schultz  11:16  

You know, it’s it’s brighter, it’s definitely more comfortable. It feels super local and authentic. It’s definitely designed to be more feminine than masculine. You see.

Chad Franzen  11:27  

What do you mean by that?

Michael Schultz  11:28  

Analogy with six different machines doing automated pour overs. So human beings are freed up to actually talk to guests, incredible food menus, you walk in, and it looks like a bar with all these different taps. It’s, it’s like night and day different, which is why Fairgrounds and in Texas and in Illinois, and in Minnesota, and in Wisconsin, and everything else that’s, that’s coming up has been so beloved, in the communities in which we’ve opened.

Chad Franzen  11:57  

What do you mean by feminine rather than masculine?

Michael Schultz  12:01  

You know, we found coffee to be very, very kind of dark and and kind of harsh and a little bit cold. And through our design, and through our culture, we’ve kind of found found more balance in that. You know, one important piece of the Fairgrounds brand is a focus on health and super hyper local, clean label consumer packaged, good offerings and better for you drinks and food items, we’ve got a whole menu called elixirs, which are kind of better for you health based awesome concoctions that may be color changing, they may be super cool, but they have incredible health benefits to them. And so, Fairgrounds the experience that we curate there, especially with service and hospitality, being the core of it is so very different. And whether you’re eight or 80, and you’re a coffee and tea expert, or you know nothing, you can come in there and feel comfortable without being made to feel ignorant because you don’t have a twisty mustache and beard.

Chad Franzen  13:01  

What were some of the early days, I mean, I’m sure you you just started with one location, what went into just kind of starting the Fairgrounds brand in and of itself.

Michael Schultz  13:13  

Well, like everything that we create, it’s you know, there’s a bazillion different pieces from what we look like and what do we sound like? And what do we feel like? And who are our consumers? And what do they look like and sound like and feel like and you know the the tiny details from creating a name creating a bait brand, creating a logo creating a visual identity where the name can go away at a later date, what are you going to serve things out of what is it going to look like? It’s, it’s it’s so I don’t think I don’t know if everybody understands to create a really curated, scalable brand, how many little tiny pieces go into it from the temperature of the space? And what does it look like from every seat and the lighting? And what does the music sound like to make people feel a certain way. There’s definitely a science and psychology and a lot of data. And it’s that same kind of commitment to detail that has created success for infuse other than the fairgrounds brand and our other concepts or a lot of our bespoke one off things that we’ve created where it really gives them a competitive advantage because whether it’s somebody in a hotel or somebody in an office tower or somebody in a corporate campus or somebody in a residential tower, we brought to them experiences that are as good or better than the favorite place that they would want to walk to on Sunday and start posting pictures on our videos on Instagram. And so it’s it’s a lot of different moving pieces, which all comes down to making people feel a certain way.

Chad Franzen  14:52  

Was there a moment when the first one was kind of going and you’ve, you know, you’ve tried some different ideas that maybe you hadn’t seemed before where you thought, Okay, this works. Let’s grow.

Michael Schultz  15:04  

Yeah, I think the whole idea of it, you know, we were really the the end still are the only folks in, in the space that offer consumer choice around, you know, coffee and tea. And so the idea that you’re not tied to these brands that you can come into the space and try all of them, I think is disruptive. You know, because of our prior experience and other organizations that we own, we were really able to overcome some of the hurdles that that others today still wouldn’t be able to offer that kind of program. And it’s complicated, especially with coffee and tea, you’re dealing with an unfinished product. And so if I’m creating a beer, and I’m putting a beer in a keg, or I’m putting a beer in a can or a bottle, the end consumer is experiencing it the way that I intend them to do so and so it’s a more difficult variable with not just, you know, food and beverage with restaurants, but specifically with coffee, you know, you’ve got the farmers who are trying to grow this incredible bean and pick it at the perfect time. And then you’ve got the roasters who are really artists who intend people to experience something in a certain way. But it really all comes down to the training and education and the ability of the roaster to serve that unfinished product in a way that it was intended and pays deep respect to the folks who grew it, the folks that got it to us, the folks that that the artists who roasted it. And so it’s a little more complicated, and really takes a significant investment in training and education and having those controls in place.

Chad Franzen  16:41  

How did COVID affect Fairgrounds? And it didn’t change it at all?

Michael Schultz  16:46  

Well, I mean, you know, we’ve talked about Fairgrounds out talking about Infuse Hospitality as a whole Fairgrounds being a small piece of that. I mean, COVID was nothing I could have ever imagined, you know, in my head to have something so bizarre, and not have an understanding of not only what’s going on, but how long is it going to last? Is this a three year thing, a three day thing, a three month thing? What is it, and then we’ve got these companies that I created to be able to provide opportunities for others and give them a chance to create a better life for themselves and their families. And then you’re, you’re facing, you know, totally disastrous circumstances. And so, you know, COVID really, very quickly put us into an emergency mode of, you know, not only how do you get through this to get to the other side, but, you know, you talk about seeing through the proverbial forest, it’s not just getting through the forest, but where do you come out of it? And how do you protect your people? And how do you make sure that there’s an organization on the other side for them to do continue working?

Chad Franzen  17:55  

Yeah.

Michael Schultz  17:58  

So you know, luckily, the the hard work that our teams put in, you know, we not only survived COVID, but I came out of it stronger. And we saw a lot of people making changes in the world of, of retail, you know, some of those are will last, you know, some of those we don’t think and we’re temporary and that people are truly especially now yearning, to go back to that experience, where you’re taking care of you’re dealing with human beings, you’re made to feel a certain way, and you have a moment to escape. What else is going on in your life and in the world?

Chad Franzen  18:32  

Were there any things you did, like specific things you did during that kind of emergency mode? That really worked for you?

Michael Schultz  18:41  

You know, there were things that worked and things that that that didn’t work, we didn’t want to go too far out there. And, you know, I think, you know, what, one example you know, of that, I’m sure you’ve seen a lot of folks coming out with the digital menus. And so, kind of easier with Fairgrounds with with more full service. I just I know, as a consumer, I feel so bad, you know, sitting at a table with my family, or sitting at a table with friends, and I’m on you know, I’m holding this electronic device. And I feel like it’s rude to the other guests. And I’m being rude to the folks that I’m sitting with and it just never felt right for me. And so it was something that we implemented in fast service and fast casual that I think kind of works. But now I think people are really enjoying when they get handed a menu or they look at a menu and going back to you know, not having to be 100% of your time devoted to these electronic devices, which really distracts and takes away from not only the the experience but the joy of being with other human beings.

Chad Franzen  19:55  

What’s your since you’ve become an entrepreneur, what’s kind of some of the proudest moments that you’ve had so far?

Michael Schultz  20:02  

Well, there’s proud moments and they’re scary moments. I mean, what what, what’s the greatest, you know, is that people have already started sharing stories with my children where, whether it’s this company or other organizations, or companies that we’ve vaccinated from, where, where they go and say, let me tell you a story about your daddy. And to me, that’s the the greatest, as long as it’s a good story, that’s the greatest thing ever. And watching people grow through our organization, you know, I really look at Infuse as an incubator for the next generation of chefs and restaurant tours. And it gives them an opportunity to have a truly have an organization that cares about balance in their lives. And I believe that if you have balance between work and home and health, you can achieve higher levels of success. And so watching folks, buy homes or grow in their personal lives and get married or having children or, or these other moments that are created by the opportunities that we’ve given them makes me very proud. And, you know, as we continue to grow, you know, our, our success as an organization also allows us to give back to the communities and make the ones in which we operate better, because we’re part of it. And so, either our philanthropic efforts or the opportunities that we provide to our folks, you know, I feel a great duty when people join our organization, I feel like at a lot of other companies or companies I worked for you were kind of anointed and you’re your lead in you, you’re, you should be thankful that you’re led into this, and I feel quite the opposite. Like when someone, you know, decides to join one of my organizations, I feel a deep weight of responsibility to them and their families, to make sure that they’re, they’re well taken care of that they’re enjoying themselves, that they’re not experiencing some of the negative things that I experienced in the industry, and that I’m doing everything we promised to them when we attracted them to our organization. And so that is exciting, and makes me jump out of bed at 4:30 in the morning. And it also scares the heck out of me every night that when someone joins our company, that’s another person that we need to make sure they can feed themselves, and then they can take care of themselves and that them or their families are, are, are no less important than, than me or my children. And so it’s exciting and scary all at the same time.

Chad Franzen  22:36  

Do you think that that, you know, I’ve worked for a million different places, I never thought that my boss was really worried about those kinds of things? Do you think that that’s common for bosses? Or do you think that’s unique to people like you?

Michael Schultz  22:49  

Um, I don’t know, I can only focus on myself, and what’s important to me, and no one’s gonna count my things when I’m gone. And so what’s important is the only thing that I leave behind is those stories and my good name. And so my father was a clergyman. And when my father passed away a few years ago, I literally had no less than 1000 people reach out telling me how he had such a personal impact on them through different life cycle events. And, you know, for me, these organizations are a vehicle for me to try to make the world a little bit better before I go, and, and to be able to help as many folks as I can. And so I can’t say what what others do, I can only focus on what I believe is his right and do that the best that I can.

Chad Franzen  23:41  

Well, that’s great. We are big fans of publicly acknowledging people who have been influential for you, who are some people in the industry that you have respected and looked to for advice?

Michael Schultz  23:50  

So many, I mean, you know, everybody that I worked for, you know, from the time of 12, you know, to now I just am constantly learning. And so I think my most important job is listening, you know, some of the things that I learned, you know, through my career were good, a lot of it was bad, and that’s equally if not more important, of how not to treat people or things not to do or decisions that to make and so it’s so critical that you watch that so carefully, to be able to learn the lessons if you’re if you’re looking for an understanding of of what the lessons are when things happen that why did it happen why did it happen to me. But truly, what’s the lesson that I’m supposed to learn? It’s so helpful and you know, even today I you know, I worked for organizations where it was almost like this triangle at the top of it, you had the these are the most important people is the board of directors, and the people sitting in the boardroom and this and that, and it finally gets down to you know, the people well To me, like, I’ve spoken to zero guests in the last month, so I must be the least important person in the organization. And the most important people are those who are out there every day taking care of our guests. And so it just kind of makes sense to me that way. And that’s how we run our organization. And so if I need the answer to something, I don’t have to call the executive vice president or the CEO, I can call the dishwasher in Denver, and he’s gonna immediately know the answer to the question. And so I think, relying on your people, and listening very carefully to them, and not getting caught up in what people have created to be the norm of how a business should work, it doesn’t have to work that way. I’m no more important than anybody else. And collectively, we’re all either gonna win together or not. And so those are, you know, I’m very grateful to everybody that that I’ve worked with previously, because I learned so many important lessons from all of them both good and bad.

Chad Franzen  26:07  

Do you think when there’s kind of that team atmosphere, you know, where like, the CEO would call and ask for thoughts or advice from, you know, hourly employee? So it’s kind of like a team atmosphere, we’re all in this together? Do you think that customers can feel that in terms of the happiness? Oh, they come in

Michael Schultz  26:24  

I mean, I know that as a consumer, I tried to just look at something, everything we do, I look at very simply, I think about it, when I walk into one of our restaurants, it’s no different than I walk into someone else’s restaurants, I have big eyes and big ears. And to me, within 20 seconds, I can feel the energy of what’s going on, if the manager has been beating everybody over the head, that obviously transfers through in the energy, you know, you can’t scream at someone and say, Now go out there and smile and give warm fuzzies. And so I definitely feel that, you know, our folks being empowered to make decisions and invested in what’s going on. I do. You know, sometimes I walk into places, and I’ll get on a plane, and I’ll be a couple thousand miles away, and I walk in, and I just start washing dishes that, you know, I think how people used to walk in to my restaurant when I was an employee, and they’d be this important person that I was waiting for for all of these weeks. And then they’d come and they’d say, anything I can do to help. And before I could answer, they were sitting down at a table with a laptop open for two days. And that was it. And so to me, you know, like, I can be helpful by washing the dishes, and inevitably, will, you know, someone will go to the manager and be like, Yeah, we think Michael Schultz is here. He’s been washing dishes the last, you know, 30 minutes in the back, and they’re like, oh, no, no, no, you don’t, you don’t have to do that. I said, Well, why why? Why can’t I do that? And so, you know, when I call do something like that, which I do a lot, or I call somebody at first, they’re like, Why? Why? You know, they’re, they’re nervous, or they’re, and, you know, after we talk, and I tell them, why I’m asking them and why we value them, you know, that relationship has been created. And so, you know, if they need something, or they don’t agree with something, or policy rolls out, like, they may skip everybody and call me and be like, Why did this happen? And that’s beautiful. That’s really the way that it should happen. And so the company, if I left tomorrow, would probably be okay. If they all left me tomorrow, I would have nothing. And so I owe everything to them. And my job is to be their, their cheerleader, and do everything that I possibly can to help them. And that’s just kind of how I see myself. And so that’s, that’s, I think, maybe part of the reason why we’ve been able to grow so quickly. And in an unprecedented time of having such a difficult struggle to acquire talent, and retain talent. You know, we’re very lucky because people stay. And people often turn to their friends and go, you got to come over here. And then a lot of scenarios, and in a lot of our businesses, they’re not working nights and they’re not working weekends, and they’re not working holidays and they’ve got benefits and they’re making a lot more money than then they could or would be working elsewhere. And they’ve got people that actually care about them. And so that that makes me proud, and has been a very important tool in you know, the these very difficult times that that our industry is struggling with right now.

Chad Franzen  29:43  

Well, hey, Michael, I really appreciate your time. You got a great perspective and great story. Where can people find out more information about the things you’ve got going on?

Michael Schultz  29:53  

Yeah, they can check out www.infusehospitality.com or please follow me on LinkedIn and other social media challenges, other social media avenues where we make announcements and try to do some fun stuff. So either of those.

Chad Franzen  30:11  

Okay, well, hey, I appreciate your time like Oh, thank you so much for joining me.

Michael Schultz  30:14  

My great pleasure. Have a nice day.

Chad Franzen  30:17  

You too. So long, everybody.

Outro  30:18  

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