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Mark GrayMark Gray is the President and CEO of Bottleneck Management, a specialized company providing management solutions and operation strategies to a variety of restaurants. Mark’s expertise in operations comes from years of leadership positions at some of the most recognized hospitality brands.

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Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:

  • Mark Gray shares key methods of achieving genuine hospitality culture
  • How to successfully lead your team by example
  • Mark’s expert opinion on handling multi-brand challenges in different states
  • The benefits of virtual brands in hospitality

In this episode…

In this episode of the SpotOn Series, Chad Franzen is joined by Mark Gray, the President and CEO of Bottleneck Management. They discuss overcoming the challenges of creating a unique brand atmosphere, establishing a healthy leadership culture, and adapting to the pandemic requirements for restaurants. Additionally, Mark shares his insights on building a virtual brand in the hospitality industry and managing operations for multiple businesses on a national scale.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

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Episode Transcript

Intro  0:04  

Welcome to the Top Business Leaders Show, powered by Rise 25 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. Spot on has the best-in-class payment platform for retail and they have a flagship solution called SpotOn Restaurant, where they combined marketing software and payments all in one. They served everyone from larger chains like Dairy Queen and subway to small mom and pop restaurants. To learn more, go to This episode is brought to you by Rise 25. We help B2B businesses to get ROI clients and referrals and strategic partnerships through done for you podcast. If you have a B2B business and want to build great relationships with clients referrals 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 or email us at Mark Gray is president and chief operating officer of Bottleneck Management parent company to City Works Old Town Pour House Sweetwater and South Branch. He’s the former CEO of Barfly Ventures. Hey, Mark, thanks so much for joining me today. How are you?

Mark Gray  1:17  

I’m great. Thanks for Thanks for having me.

Chad Franzen  1:20  

So how did you get involved with Bottleneck Management?

Mark Gray  1:23  

I’ve been with the company now just under just under three years I did was with Barfly for five years, and we had a great a great run there. But when I was done with that position, took some time off and kind of put forward a thoughtful or thoughtful search and interviewed with a lot of different companies and a lot of different folks, but I just think culturally, Bottleneckwas the most aligned. And the style of the concept I felt was in my wheelhouse for the craft beer focus and very culinary forward. So it just seemed to align with, you know, what I enjoy about the business? When you say culturally, what, what was it about that that was so attractive to you? Yeah, I think especially when you’re working in a, in an owner-led business, you know, we’re not owned by private equity or another, you know, larger corporate Restaurant Group like Darden or Brinker. I mean, we’re, we have three owners, there’s a couple of investors, but so I think when you’re getting into a situation like that, you really have to take a look at, you know, as my vision for how I want to manage and run the business on a day to day aligned with what their expectations are. And just in meeting with them, you know, I felt very, very confident that, you know, our vision for how we treat people, our vision for quality and service expectations were very aligned. And that just made it that made it the right fit for me.

Chad Franzen  2:46  

So it’s kind of involved in your, your day-to-day row role as president and CEO, you guys have locations through multiple states. So I’m guessing operations. Operations can be maybe challenging, what’s kind of involved in your day-to-day role, COO and President?

Mark Gray  3:02  

Yeah, what’s what’s great about my job is I get to be a little bit of a generalist. So I do spend a lot of time on operations, the restaurant businesses and operations lead industry, in my opinion, so that does disproportionately get more of me. But I also, you know, we had a department head meeting this morning, and I get to, you know, be involved with marketing, HR, IT, you know, just tying together all the different departments as really my goal in the, in the company and making sure that as we’re launching initiatives, everybody’s getting what they need, from everyone else, so that our deliverables down to the restaurant are as good as they can be.

Chad Franzen  3:40  

What kind of culture do you strive for then at Bottleneck? And how do you how do you go about achieving that maybe setting the tone for the culture?

Mark Gray  3:47  

Yeah, you know, that’s interesting, that’s probably culture is a funny word, right? In my opinion, I think it’s the most important word in an organization. But I also think it’s the most abused word. In a company it can, it can be used to make sure that you’re maintaining the things that are important to the brand and its identity and, and the vision of the founders. Or it can also be used as a mechanism for hanging on to sacred cows and poor behaviors and old behaviors from the past that really times have changed and moved on, but we cling to them because it’s our culture, you know, the culture that we’re trying to establish here and we work at it every day is one that’s bottom up, you know, every book is going to talk to you about servant leadership and and how to execute on servant leadership. And I think different people accomplish it different ways. The way that works best for me, is, you know, doing my level best every day to try to try to lead by example and how I describe it is everybody has an open door policy. Right? Have you ever worked for a company or heard of a company that says Do we have a closed door policy? Don’t no one ever says that every handbook that we have an open door policy. Now how companies execute that that’s where the rubber hits the road a little bit. Is it truly an open door policy? I know what the handbook says. So I feel like I have an obligation to my team, to create an environment with my department head team. So I have, you know, the VP team and the director team all report up to me, Well, I have an obligation to them to create an environment where they can talk to me about anything, even if they think I’m the problem, right? Okay, that’s a tough, that’s a tough relationship to build. If you’re somebody in my position, it’s tough to break those barriers down where they feel like they can give you feedback. But But ultimately, if you’re going to execute on that open door policy, I think that that’s the type of relationship that you have to have, when whenever you ask somebody for a definition of open door policy, they’ll give you something like, you know, you feel comfortable to talk to your superior or your boss about anything at any time. That’s a very general definition. We try to level that up and create an environment where teams feel that like they can, but they feel obligated to talk to you that their level of investment in their level of ownership, and what’s going on in the day-to-day business is so important to them that they just have to discuss it with you. And in order to achieve that you’ve got to build a relationship uniquely with each individual person, where they feel like they can talk to you about those things, even if they think you’re the issue. And that sounds easy. But to develop that culturally to the entire organization, is very hard. And if you can deliver on that, then I don’t know what goes wrong in your company that you just won’t know about, you know.

Chad Franzen  6:57  

Sure, sure. That’s, that’s very, very interesting. How was COVID, kind of the COVID pandemic kind of impacted operations with Bottleneck and your locations?