Elaina Morris is the Founding Partner, President, and CEO of Ascend Hospitality Group, which delivers world-class hospitality and culinary experiences across the Pacific Northwest. As an accomplished business owner and community leader, Elaina has over 20 years of experience developing concepts and creating value in various industries. She serves as a trustee for the Washington Hospitality Association’s Education Foundation, Bellevue Chamber of Commerce, Samena Club, and Rainier Athletics.
Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:
- How Ascend Hospitality Group expanded following a major setback
- Elaina Morris describes Ascend’s restaurant brands
- Elaina’s background and launching Ascend
- The lessons Elaina learned as a franchisee
- Advice for obtaining profitable investments
In this episode…
Join Chad Franzen of Rise25 in today’s episode of the SpotOn Series as he chats with Elaina Morris, Founding Partner, President, and CEO of Ascend Hospitality Group, about achieving entrepreneurial success in the restaurant industry. Elaina shares how Ascend expanded following a major setback, how she launched Ascend and its various brands, and the lessons she learned as a franchisee.
Resources mentioned in this episode:
Sponsor for this episode
Today’s episode is brought to you by SpotOn. SpotOn has transformed the merchant service industry by providing the tools and support your business deserves at a price that puts money back into your pocket!
SpotOn’s team wants to empower all of their merchants by merging payment processing with simple customer engagement tools, all in one easy-to-use platform. As a business owner, you are focused on managing your daily operations and engaging your customers. You don’t have the time, energy, or excess funds to devote to multiple complicated platforms! That’s why SpotOn is focused on helping you build long-lasting customer loyalty while saving you time and money through our all in one system.
Whether you are a merchant or a consumer, SpotOn wants to be more than an average payment processor. SpotOn aims to exceed your expectations by valuing simplicity, maintaining flexibility, and celebrating innovative collaboration. Let SpotOn help you do business the right way.
Partner with SpotOn today! Visit spoton.com today to schedule your free demo or to view SpotOn’s products. You can also call SpotOn at 877.814.4102 at any time. Let SpotOn help you make the difference with your business!
At Rise25, we’re committed to helping you connect with your Dream 100 referral partners, clients, and strategic partners through our done-for-you podcast solution.
We’re a professional podcast production agency that makes creating a podcast effortless. Since 2009, our proven system has helped thousands of B2B businesses build strong relationships with referral partners, clients, and audiences without doing the hard work.
When you use our proven system, all you need is an idea and a voice. We handle the strategy, production, and distribution – you just need to show up and talk.
The Rise25 podcasting solution is designed to help you build a profitable podcast. This requires a specific strategy, and we’ve got that down pat. We focus on making sure you have a direct path to ROI, which is the most important component. Plus, our podcast production company takes any heavy lifting of production and distribution off your plate.
We make distribution easy.
We’ll distribute each episode across more than 11 unique channels, including iTunes, Spotify, and Google Podcasts. We’ll also create copy for each episode and promote your show across social media.
Co-founders Dr. Jeremy Weisz and John Corcoran credit podcasting as being the best thing they have ever done for their businesses. Podcasting connected them with the founders/CEOs of P90x, Atari, Einstein Bagels, Mattel, Rx Bars, YPO, EO, Lending Tree, Freshdesk, and many more.
The relationships you form through podcasting run deep. Jeremy and John became business partners through podcasting. They have even gone on family vacations and attended weddings of guests who have been on the podcast.
Podcast production has a lot of moving parts and is a big commitment on our end; we only want to work with people who are committed to their business and to cultivating amazing relationships.
Rise25 Co-founders, Dr. Jeremy Weisz and John Corcoran, have been podcasting and advising about podcasting since 2008.
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 the 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 spot on restaurant where they combined 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 podcasts. 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 Rise25 media.com or email us at email@example.com Elaina Morris is the CEO president and co founder of Ascend Hospitality Group, a premier hospitality company headquartered in the northwest Elaina has launched launched several businesses, local businesses in the hospitality sector, including Woodworks kids, and Ascend Hospitality Group featuring its crown jewel Ascend Prime, which was recently named one of Architectural Digest most romantic restaurants in the world. Elaina, thank you so much for joining me today. How are you?
Elaina Morris 1:30
Thank you so much, Chad, for having me. I really appreciate the opportunity to talk to you and your your guests today. It’s awesome.
Chad Franzen 1:37
Great. Thank you. Hey, my pleasure. So tell me a little bit more about Ascend Hospitality Group. And what’s a part of it?
Elaina Morris 1:44
Oh, my goodness. Well, in a very short lifecycle it has, we have traversed a very interesting footprint. Whenever I explain this to people, it feels like a little bit of a roller coaster ride. So buckle up. Prior to COVID, our company was really we operated in three states, Washington, Oregon and Utah. And we were about $50 million in revenue. Yeah, it’s 13, restaurants. Post COVID, we ended up in actually four states, we actually negotiated some deals into Arizona. So we actually expanded our footprint. But as you can imagine, we lost many team members, and many. They’re like family members, it’s kind of hurts even to talk about it. We came back at about 350 out of 700 employees, 650 employees. And then I’m proud to say that in 2021, the team really buckled down and we’re back to through, you know, rehiring retraining expansion, we closed some of the restaurants that that really just couldn’t hang on. And we signed some leases actually six to be exact, for expansion of our current brands into new new cities. So we’re back to around three pandemic revenue levels, which again, we’re at 50 million and went to zero, if you can imagine the zero revenue for about six months. And then through online ordering and delivery, we went back up to about you know, 20 25 million and now we’re mostly back to where we were. But we now with our new restaurants, an expansion of our current brands as well as a couple new brands will be in around 1000 employees going into 2022 Oh, wow.
Chad Franzen 3:43
Good for you. I’m glad I’m glad you guys were able to rebound. I know a lot of you know it was a it was a struggle for everybody. What can you tell me some of your brands I mentioned Ascend Prime but what about some of the other ones? Well, as you
Elaina Morris 3:55
know, we’re very well known for a Ascend Prime steak and sushi, which is a 26,000 square foot 617 seat five private dining room for outdoor patio, rooftop restaurant and it was actually my first restaurant if you can believe it or not. That I don’t know what that earns me in the restaurant world other than like, people hug me and they like they’re like, Wow, you’re still alive. So that’s pretty cool. I’m also famous Dave’s franchisee, and very proud of that. Famous Dave’s is a 26 year old brand. Dave Anderson as a personal a good friend of mine, and he’s really still involved in fabulous. World’s best barbecue. We do all of our cooking and smoking of our meats on site. And I operate financiers in Washington and Utah. And then we have Stanford’s Sanford’s, actually, it’s a little bit dramatic. Actually, as many of your listeners probably know, Stanford’s was part of restaurants unlimited restaurants unlimited was probably one of the larger hospitality companies in the Pacific Northwest and at the end of 2019 On, they filed bankruptcy and they decided to sell so they didn’t go into protection. The folks that were injuries sort of gobbled everybody up and then went out to, to sale on some of the brands. And we chose because we’re in the state, we are in the beef business. We, we chose to acquire Stanford’s, and they have operations in Washington and Oregon. And now we’re expanding on to Utah. So I’m super excited to have that brand there. Again, they started, you know, over gosh, you know, 20 years ago, by a company called Pacific Coast restaurants in Oregon, one of the most kind of beloved hospitality companies in the Pacific Northwest from a, you know, a generational standpoint. So those are our brands, we did have a food hall. Unfortunately, with pandemic we, we just could not survive, we hadn’t closed the food hall. It’s not you know, a gathering places like that are just not there. Many of them are just not going to make it if they if they can’t do an extensive amount of delivery, and you go, and then we’re, we’re expanding our footprint this year into Tempe, Arizona, where we have acquired a space that used to house to nightclubs, and we’re bringing up sort of like a his and hers nightclub environment. So I’m pretty excited about that. As well as we renovated and evolved. Well, actually, we evolved Stanford’s and made Stanford steak in downtown Tacoma this year, is the new version of Stanford’s. And then we’re gonna do an additional steak and sushi version of Stanford’s in Salt Lake City, that will open in May. And then our next footprint for famous days will be actually the very first quick serve famous days. So drive through famous days and the entire brand. And now in Salt Lake City as
Chad Franzen 6:46
well. Okay, wow, that’s something that’s great. So you said Ascend Prime was your first one, right? Yeah. Tell me a little bit about how that came about. I mean, like your background right now, for those who are watching on video, obviously, it looks like a, like an incredible atmosphere. Just kind of tell me about how that came about. And what, what got you into it?
Elaina Morris 7:04
Sure. Well, it was a it was a labor of love, partnership, extraordinary trust and a leap of faith really, by a lot of people on I started a Ascend Hospitality Group with my partners. And the, at this point, one of my partners, Jeffrey Frederick, who I worked with, I got into the restaurant. I’m an engineer. I’m a software engineer, that’s actually I have an MBA, believe it or not, but I spent 17 years as a sap consultant actually doing systems integration. But I’ve always been, you know, in sales and and I’ve had businesses on the side and I’m really untrue people and hospitality person. So when I had the opportunity to go into data States of America, which is how I got into the restaurant business, I met my current partner who is Jeffrey fragile, who came out of Caesars and has an extensive amount of experience concepting developing designing, and operating restaurants on behalf of celebrity chefs and things of that nature. So his background is, you know, launching concept of developing, designing and launching and operating celebrity chef restaurants like Jada, on the Gordon Ramsay restaurants in Vegas dyfi. And then just being in charge of all food and beverage at Caesars and so he did that for a pretty long time and then spun himself off as his own his own company. He went when we I live in downtown Bellevue. And so when we got the call that this building was being built, it’s Lincoln Square south. It’s kind of on the opposite side of where Bellevue Square Mall, which is a huge regional retail center, owned by Kimber Freeman and Kimber development company. They built this building and it was a billion dollar investment. It’s 31 stories. It’s pretty incredible. And it houses tech companies like Nintendo us the Ballmer group Valve Software, you know, they make seem like all of these amazing tech companies. And I knew that, you know, there needed to be a fair amount of food, you know, conglomeration in this building. And so we actually did our food hall and Ascend in the same building just one was on the second floor, one’s on 31st floor. So, we went to Jeffrey and said, Hey, listen, you know, do we have the opportunity to take out this rooftop restaurant and what do you think because they want to make it into another restaurant, which, you know what? It’s good. They didn’t do that. That restaurant company went bankrupt. Yeah. And so we said, okay, let’s let’s submit something that feels more like putting Bellevue in As the twin to Seattle, so I’m going to like meet to the middle and to the right here, the Space Needle is over there. Right there, need a space needle, and then you can see our building. And so just looking across like Washington, and we wanted that sort of twin city feel, and when we submitted the restaurant design, and again, it’s, it’s 360 degrees of unobstructed views. That’s the way the architect should be patient when an architecture or quite frankly, because this building is phenomenally amazing. And so are just don’t screw the view up as it. So all the restaurant concepts developed are concepts that they had been, which camera development company had been proposed. Were all like they have the kitchens slammed up against one side of the of the window, you know, so essentially any restaurant proposal they received, it was obstructing one of the views. And we were like, What are you guys doing? So we put the kitchen in the interstitial and the building is such that it is a big, you are sorry, it is a big circle. In the center, there are the elevator shafts, which was the right thing to do. They didn’t put them up against the glass. It was harder construction, but it made for a better more premium environment. And so the restaurant really is you mean 360 degrees, you can walk around, it’s either private dining, outdoor patio, main dining room, or we have a 5000 square foot sushi lounge, as well as lounge with fireplaces, right. So you can I mean, the views of like the Olympics and those you know, and the you can see Mount Rainier, right? Like I mean, like in May in the cascade, like you’d see Mount Baker like it’s unbelievable. So that’s, that’s kind of how we, we want we want on innovation, right? I mean, we want on common sense and innovation. And of course, the cast of characters that we brought to open the restaurant. I mean, this is like an all star cast of chefs, and general managers. And there it felt very celebrity. And so it feels very cosmic cousin politic probably the number one, the number one comment I get. Thank you for bringing a little bit of New York, Chicago and LA. Tip.
Chad Franzen 12:22
Right, yeah. Nice. So what would you say is the best minutes of the day to be there considering all of you know where the sun might be? And things like that, would you say is the best hour of the day?
Elaina Morris 12:34
Twilight? So it depends on you know, we live in the Pacific Northwest. So our our summer days are long. Our winter days are very short. So Twilight is it could be anywhere from 445 to nine o’clock. Right. So it just depends with ebb. I would just tell anybody using look at it. Look at the look at the forecast. Look for Twilight, just because it’s a little bit foggy, doesn’t mean it’s not going to be foggy up top right? Because we’re actually above the cloud sometimes Believe it or not. So yeah, so I would say definitely shoot for Twilight.
Chad Franzen 13:08
So that was your first your first restaurant, but it was you had already started Ascend Hospitality Group, correct?
Elaina Morris 13:14
Yeah, I did. Because we were in planning, we we did a lot of things simultaneously. One of the things that I recognized about hospitality I had been working in the restaurant industry for a year and a half prior to opening Ascend Prime steak and sushi is that unless you are a chef, or you have grown up in the hospitality industry, and you want like your neighborhood, bar and restaurant, like that’s where you want to work, and that’s what you want to do. And you’re just doing it for you. Right, like really. If your intention is not to work in your restaurant, you need to have a lot of restaurants it’s just the the economies of scale just don’t work anymore. Right. It’s very difficult to have one a onesie twosie kind of environment. I know because I’ve talked to I’m friends with I mean, there’s almost no restaurant or I don’t know, I’m not friends with up here. It’s a very tiny community. We all sort of try and help each other out. It’s really hard. I can probably have to Ascend $15 million. Right, right. So it’s not real. Yeah. But uh, but yeah, it’s it’s uh, it’s kind of difficult but I did a lot of the stuff at the same time so I became a famous stage franchisee at the same time that I signed the lease for Ascend Prime steak and sushi and also the food hall. And so we actually opened the food hall two months after we became a fantasy as franchisee and we opened a semi second sushi six months after we became a famous days franchisee so it’s like, boom, boom, boom, right and if difficult,
Chad Franzen 14:50
so you you’re working as a as you know, kind of an engineering and things like that. What attracted you to a becoming a franchisee and then moving forward into all This.
Elaina Morris 15:00
Yeah, well, you know, our background. And I will, I will just say that my background is a high tech, as I mentioned, and in the high tech space actually worked for two Fortune 500 companies and worked on a very significant piece of software. I basically came up through Lucent Technologies, right. And so you don’t hear that name very much anymore. But for those of us who kind of grew up in the late, late 90s, you know, you got your your start, basically, at&t, if you didn’t get your start in 18. I don’t think I’ve met anybody, in fact, today that didn’t get their start date. But, um, but anyway, so that I think the point is, though, I’ve worked on a merger and acquisition that was pretty high profile with private equity company. And I think I was pretty young. And I sort of found my, I started my, my calling, right, I managed a very large group of engineers. And we created something very cool, that ended up being worth a lot of money. And it was so cool, in fact that I got laid off after the merger. Like everybody, right? Um, and it was, it was, but it taught me that, you know, sort of like the, the, I guess, the ebb and flow of the the cat markets. And I was like, alright, well, what am I going to do now? And how do I, you know, whatever I started came out of tech and, and started to start, I started my family. And I lived in the Pacific Northwest, and there really were no indoor kids playgrounds at all. And it rains literally all the time here. So it’s like, Come on, guys. Right, this was 2008. And so I started with a works kids, which was an indoor kids playground business that I actually created a franchise for, but I didn’t sell franchises fast enough. So I just got copied. At the end of the day, while I’m an entrepreneur, and I have a restaurant tournament entrepreneur, like I’m an entrepreneur first says, I lost a million dollars, it was the worst decision I’ve ever made. It was the best decision and worst decision I’ve ever made. And truthfully. And I’m not just talking it wasn’t bank money. It was it was my money. Right? So it was like an and, and so I think what it taught me is the just the Hard Knocks of the ebbs and flows and rollercoaster ride of being an entrepreneur and so, but I ran it for 10 years almost right. I mean, I didn’t sell Weibo works until 2019 2020, I think is the end of 2025. Or sorry, the end of 2019, I finally sold it. And I sold it for literally no time I sold it for like the cost of assets, value valuation on the cost of value. But But having said all that, I think that, you know, at that point, I was involved with some private equity firms and doing some various consulting around various things. And some of it was restructure. Some of it was m&a. Some of it was was tech, you know, I’m like a floating Chief Technology Officer for some firms. And, and they asked me to go in and help restructure famous days. And that is ultimately how I got started in the restaurant business. It was not because I’m a restaurant tour, it was because I’m an entrepreneur, and I do things like look at stuff and go like, why should we pay for that? Right? And just, you know, the accountability, and it was a company that had rotated itself through and you can go read about the tale of the tape and fantasies, but prior to 2015 I mean, they had been through like 10 CEOs. And there were there are still such amazing people there. I mean, it is a restaurant business that’s based on heart and life skills. And you know, Dave always says, serve a guest or serve someone who is right and so is that bottom up mentality of like, there’s no such thing as corporate Your job is to serve operate at the pleasure of operations because that’s who’s interacting with our guests, we need to do whatever we need to do to make their jobs easier. And and and I really appreciate it that is more than anything, just being in the hospitality business. Previously, I mean, it served families with young children and this was a high volume environment I set a price right. And so I lost my I lost my fortune but but, you know, I serve families of kids under five, there’s no more you know, there’s no more heart you can give to people other than that family, right? Or there’s single moms and single dads and things of that nature. So So anyway, as as I got into, you know, being on site at a famous Dave’s for a year and a half I I helped to turn the camera around and that’s kind of the sort of the start of all of that and I stayed there for about a year and a half and I would never wanted to be the CEO. That was not my goal. Like once I was there and realized, like what the restaurant industry was out of like, yeah, it’s time for me to start my own restaurant. did pass and and there was real estate opportunity. This was one of them. Kind of how that all happened.
Chad Franzen 20:07
So did you. So, you know, you mentioned that you had you had wiggle works, which ended up you know, you loved it, but it ended up not being a lucrative opportunity. What did you learn from that that helped you? Kind of, you know, what’s your success at famous Dave’s,
Elaina Morris 20:20
oh my gosh, it one big thing. It’s like, you gotta strike while the iron is hot. You know what I mean? I had a kick butt concept, it was kick, butt. I just didn’t move fast enough. I literally did not move out. It was like analysis paralysis. Not I guess. And this is what when I coach, I coach a lot of women, women, entrepreneurs, women in business, etc, etc. It’s like that, but anybody could benefit from this advice, which is, you know, you just have to believe in your frickin self, right, like, stop looking around and trying to get validation, it’s like, when your gut tells you, you got to do it, and you have to believe in yourself and not that like 80% of the time, you’re probably gonna be right. And then 20% of the time, you’re not you just have to tack and you’re gonna know you’re gonna be right. It’s a 5050. After that, you have to move you can’t do either, because the market isn’t gonna wait for you. I already knew all the people stuff, I already knew how to create a business, I already knew how to manage the administrative side. I know I know how to run executive teams, I know how to get results. I’m a salesperson, after all, that is my background. I at the end of the day a salesperson. But but that all of those things already had what I didn’t know was how to manipulate essentially the the economies of scale in the economy and to move with cat markets. Like it just it didn’t dawn on me at the time. I was young, I was really young. And I was a new mom. Really, to be honest. I mean, I opened my very first RiverWorks with my daughter on a Baby Bjorn and I was at the register and she was five months old. Oh, wow.
Chad Franzen 22:03
Have you? You talked about the kind of the philosophy of famous Dave’s that kind of that servant leadership style? Have you kind of incorporated that into the other brands that you’re associated with it Ascend?
Elaina Morris 22:16
Oh, yeah, absolutely. 100% I, you know, I don’t we are our core values of our business at this point on which have now been there in everything we do is our measuring stick. We do our all of our reviews, and it’s just, it is our accountability tool, but it’s a matter of Team matters and service matters. And that’s it, right? And then if people can’t get that, right, I generally will say to them, if I would do it, you should do it. And if I wouldn’t do it, please don’t do it. Right like that. It’s that simple. It really is easy to work here that we invite people to, we will promote them to guest very, very quickly if they are not here to serve, because it is a very difficult situation we work when everyone else is is celebrating. And that can be very moralizing. But you have to really enjoy celebrating with others and for others and helping others celebrate and make them feel very special in order to do this job every day. So yeah.
Chad Franzen 23:20
How do you determine which investments are good ones to add to your group?
Elaina Morris 23:26
Well, it’s our investor always says one thing, a bad deal never gets better. Okay, you can apply that to literally any industry that you’re in. But you cannot recover from two things in this business, a bad real estate deal. And then bad deals in general. So like, if you have to make a lot of deals when you’re starting a restaurant, right, and the very first thing you have to decide is is this piece of real estate, an a B or a C because it’s a brand that you put into a piece of real estate isn’t doesn’t serve the community the way that you hoped for it doesn’t work, whatever the case may be, you have to be ready to like turn because these leases on you we own very little of our real estate, just because it wasn’t the market when we got into it. Now it’s a little easier to do if you’ve had sites and things. But these leases are, you know, 10 yearly to two five year extensions and things like that they’re a lot out of the 70 years. I’m trying to be in Boca like you know at least 75 I’m not sure if we’ll be like dealing with this later. But But I think my point, you know, my point is you got to make it you have to make good deals. He just can’t you know the best friggin concept in the world but if you’re running 11% occupancy costs you’re never gonna make it right. The second big thing is where you have your restaurant right where you where you have your name everybody should know this right? Like you can’t start a business Depending on what you do, unless you’re in the city, you know, unless you’re in the products, the CPG space. But if you’re in a service based business, you better be somewhere that has like some friendly labor. Right. And that is a lesson that has been really difficult. Because I’m in the Pacific Northwest, and from a labor perspective, not just I don’t even talk about labor regulation, I just talk about rates, you know, like, the average rate for a dishwasher, the average rate for you know, etc, it’s expensive to live here. And so, for people to actually be able to live, you know, we have to, we have to do something around the highest labor market, the United States, right. And so, when you have landlords, who are the banks, right, and their interest rates are going up, and you have all these, they’re having to refinance and do all these things. And, you know, they’re having their tenants are having a tough time paying, and then I’ve got so so then my costs are starting to rise, because cams go up. So then I have that, then my labor rate, I mean, these taxpayers just voted in these three or four different labor heights over the last, you know, four years. And I mean, it is, it is, we’ve had to get very creative about pricing, so that we can, we can survive, we, we have to pay people, we have to abide by the law, we need people to make a good living. And yes, people are still getting tips. But at the end of the day, that’s just not enough anymore. Because, you know, hospitality workers, which, ironically, the hospitality industry is the second largest employer in the United States, hospitality workers, they’re just no longer working two or three jobs. Right. It’s just it’s untenable, it’s untenable in the market, you can’t do it. So we’ve had to make that up. So labor is going up astronomically. And then on top of it, and you guys all know, what’s happening with our food costs, like our food costs are out of control, and has nothing to do with anything, the cost of trucking, the cost of storage, the cost of cutting, right, like any sort of product that has to be harvested, and then cut to a specific spec. So beef, pork, and chicken. And then on top of that, produce, right, because the labor for the workers to go pick the produce, and then you gotta get the produce. And then by the time you get it, it’s delayed, because it’s sitting in a past somewhere. And so now it’s rotting, like, the cost of labor for production of food is out of control. And so between food costs, or sorry, between labor costs for our producers, and then shipping, it’s almost impossible. So you really do have to say, I’m going to limit my menu, I’m gonna take certain skews off my menu, because I just, it’s that one off, like, we serve beef, beef, beef, beef, beef, pork, chicken, scallops, right. It’s like buy it. So so we had to look at that. And we have started to look at the cost of labor and labor opportunities and doing things like flexing manager work weeks, and maybe we have more managers, and maybe they go to hourly, because it’s actually better that for them, but it’s also better for us, because then they can make overtime. But then we’re not on the hook for, you know, having to guarantee certain federal, like, there’s all kinds of stuff that we’ve had to look at to say like, maybe we reformulate our business within the confines of the law. But that gives people a better quality of life, and then also allows us to meet certainly, we’ve had to raise our prices, you know, we’ve absolutely had to raise our prices, just like everyone else. And we’ve had to change the format of our restaurants. And one of our restaurants, we shut down for dining completely. I’m like, but you know, if you look at the labor that’s associated with our dining business, and the labor that’s associated with to go deliver in catering, and by the way, the revenue is 6040, or 60%, outside of the four walls and 40% inside of four walls, if you look the revenue, but the 40%, inside of the four walls of dining is taking up 70% of your labor by right now. You know, so we’ve had to do stuff like that. And it’s, it’s a very difficult environment to operate in. If you do not have the economies of scale. I just don’t know how people are down it. Sure.
Chad Franzen 29:22
Sure. Is there. What are you What would you say are some of the things that you’re most proud of as your time, you know, kind of being in charge there at Ascend
Elaina Morris 29:31
yeah, people are people. I mean, it’s like the number their flexibility there. There were with all their, you know, ability to adapt, and if they’re fearless attitude, right, I mean, it’s, it’s that stick to itiveness of a family. That’s like, I mean, one day we’re in business and having the best quarter of our life. February only 19. And literally 30 days later, I had to layoff 550 people. And it’s horrible. Right? It was absolutely a disaster and, and those who were last sort of bat like famous Dave’s is a really good example of these guys, they do a lot of their business outside of the four walls. So we didn’t actually have to lay as many people off at famous Dave’s, and they just cranked out to go into delivery. And during the pandemic, and that actually helped pay for health care for the entire company. Right. So it’s, it’s the, it’s making people aware that they have an impact no matter how little they think they do. And as long as I do my job of communicating and make, again, you matter, Team matters, service matters. If I do that job, then they will, they will do what they always do, which is rise to the occasion and take care of each other and take care of our guests. When people feel well cared for, they will take care of each other and guests, if they don’t you go into a restaurant, you have crappy experience, you have nobody to blame but the owner, right, like really on the management team, because that’s just the people feeling not well cared for. It really does. And it works like that in relationships. So I’m, I’m the most proud of my people more than anything,
Chad Franzen 31:19
is there, is there something you have to do like daily or remind yourself or maintain a mentality in order to you know, have such a positive attitude? And lead people in that way?
Elaina Morris 31:29
Oh, my gosh, you know, I love what I do, right? I really do. I mean, I love restaurants are are not complex, there’s just a lot of moving parts in it, you know, you get around, a lot of people over simplify it, and it it’s fresh, it’s probably the most frustrating thing. I have to remind myself that not everybody has access to the information I do. And so people are frustrated, confused, concerned, whatever. My job is to communicate, you know, my job is to motivate, inspire, lead, provide vision, and communicate and take care of our people. I mean, that that is like the number one job of the chief executive, right if people process performance period, right, and the story and, and so I think what I my daily mantra is just remind myself that, that it’s a big company, and that it should not get caught in the quagmire of red tape. That’s why I’m an entrepreneur. That’s why I not, you know, I’m not trying to make this into anything other than that, and that I’ve asked these people to come along this journey with me, and they deserve transparency, and they deserve communication. And when people again, I have to look at my leaders, and when they feel well cared for, they take care of their people, and, and so on and so forth. And so I would say that’s probably the daily mantra when I’m frustrated is because I either have the right person in the wrong seat, the wrong person, and I got to make a hard decision. Or I’ve given poor direction. And maybe I’m, you know, not not providing the best leadership that I possibly could. And there’s just really nowhere else to look but into the mirror. It’s good to gaze into the mirror when you’re a leader.
Chad Franzen 33:15
Sure, sure. Hey, it’s been great talking to you. I have one more question for you. But first, how can people learn more about Ascend Hospitality Group and his properties?
Elaina Morris 33:25
Absolutely. We’d love to invite everybody to go to ascendhg.com. And you can see certainly, all of the good stuff that we’re doing all of our brands, but the number one thing that you’ll see are something called AHG cares. Our our company is truly based on a philosophy of servant, as we talked a little bit about today, servant leadership, but mostly service. And we serve the communities that so greatly support us. We do a lot of philanthropy, we do a lot of active work with our communities in the schools in particular, that’s kind of my lane, is education, and particularly culinary and service, education, things of that nature. And you’ll see all of the things we do with all of the all of the folks in our communities that also want to get back. And so love for people to learn more about AHG cares and all that we’re doing for our communities. I think when you spread, spread the good work, the good work comes back to you. And so it’s a little bit of pay it forward what we do.
Chad Franzen 34:26
Very nice, very nice. My last question for you, are there any books or podcasts that you have found particularly valuable or enjoyable as you’re kind of in your leadership process?
Elaina Morris 34:37
Well, let’s see here. I am really tight with a lot of our local folk, right and so we have actually a you know, there’s not a national podcast that I really listened to. The books that I read are really more you know, business process oriented and really a bore. I think for a lot of people I spent my time in Like design books and things like that, because we’re opening new restaurants. But I would say I’m kind of looking over my thing here probably like, the number one book I look at on a daily basis is the greatest salesman in the world by Augmentee. Know, that’s probably like, you know, like just that daily reminder that we are worthy, we are good enough and that we can, if you believe that you can achieve it kind of thing. I think that that is something that I subscribe to on a daily basis. And then, you know, there are a couple of really awesome podcasts about like going behind the scenes in business. One of them was just featured on The Daily Show, and I forget the guy’s name, and I’m sorry for that. But I would say when people can, can look into trying to understand how things work behind the scenes, it gives you a greater amount of empathy and understanding and I think that’s always that’s always best. And then of course, my girl had her McMahon. I love comedy. Heather McMahon as a good friend of mine, and she has the absolutely not podcast. I think everybody needs a little bit more levity. And she is hilarious. So she, she’s a comic. She lives in Atlanta. She’s visited my restaurant, she’s absolutely hilarious. And I’d say if you need a good bit of levity, go listen to the absolutely not podcast, my girl have any man.
Chad Franzen 36:22
All right. Hey, Elena. It’s been great. It’s been great to talk to you. It’s been fun hearing your stories and your experiences, and all about us. And thank you so much for your time today.
Elaina Morris 36:31
Thank you, Chad. Really appreciate it.
Chad Franzen 36:33
So long, everybody.
Thanks for listening to the Top Business Leaders Show. Powered by Rise25. Visit rise25.com to check out more episodes of the show and to learn more about how you can start your own podcast