Dallas Startup Week Highlight: Three Ingredients of Phil Romano’s Secret Sauce for Entrepreneurial Success

Phil Romano certainly has a lot on his plate, so to speak.

This accomplished entrepreneur, restaurateur, and philanthropist has founded numerous successful businesses in his career. Often referred to as a “restaurant artist,” he is the founder behind both Fuddruckers and Macaroni Grill, as well as several other multi-million dollar restaurant chains.

Even today, Romano continues to bring value to the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex with his newest project, Trinity Groves. With such a striking track record, entrepreneurs and restaurant owners would certainly benefit from the advice he gave during Dallas Startup Week’s Spotlight Seminar on March 2.

Here’s a little-known fact: Romano originally raised $150,000 for the very first Fuddruckers, which in turn grew to more than $3 million dollars within the first year and a half.

Though he lightheartedly joked about the Fuddruckers name being the result of some good scotch, the amount of talent he brought to the table with this specific chain is no laughing matter. He took a new concept, found a point of difference, and stuck with that differentiation to create an internationally-renowned brand.

With decades of industry experience backing him, Romano presented several helpful tips for those running their own restaurant concept. Much of the ingredients of this “secret sauce” are applicable to other business settings as well.

Three vital ingredients have been reproduced here:

“You’ve got to have that point of difference. You’ve got to have that ‘hook.’”
In creating the Fuddruckers concept, Romano provided a prime example of what he deems a “hook.” This is intended to mean some specialty or point of difference that will lead someone to visit your restaurant, as opposed to another. Burgers were a huge selling point with Fuddruckers, and they rightfully still are.
Romano suggests that once a concept tunes into this point, and then engages in crafting and perfecting it, they will inevitably differentiate themselves from their competition. This difference can become the entire basis for a brand and also keeps patrons coming in day after day.

“Businesses need a constitution, responsibility, and charity. You’ve got to instill these things in them.”
It’s just about as simple as it sounds: Businesses need a clear framework from which to operate. Employees from top to bottom need to understand this constitution, and they need to stick to its guidelines regardless of other outside forces. Romano explains, “When I create a concept, I create a person. I see how it’s operating, how this ‘person’ operates, what their constitution is, how it operates, and how I can keep it that way.”
In a few words, you simply wouldn’t get anywhere by not basing your organizational framework on some form of established precedent. Order appears as a necessity to Romano, and irresponsible decisions can be especially prevalent if a constitution is faulty, weak, or otherwise seriously flawed. A healthy sense of responsibility, along with giving back to the community you’re involved in, is of high importance within any business proposition.

“Stick to what you know and hire someone who knows what you don’t.”
While this tip is fairly intuitive, it’s surprising to see how often business and restaurant owners try to undertake large projects they are not well versed in, and fail. They simply don’t take advantage of the resources available to them and often waste their time diving into projects they don’t have the necessary skillset or understanding to complete. Romano reminded us that it is sometimes wisest to seek help with your business. If your background is in finance, don’t go out and hire someone who with the same finance background. Go find a person who can add value to your business, but in a different way than you.

Romano encourages business owners to look for people who are wholly committed to taking ownership of some part of the concept. These people will stand by your side, even in trying times.

Though most of the discussion was eventually directed toward Romano’s involvement with Trinity Groves, it is important to note several things about this project, along with the preceding tips. He explains it best, saying “This concept is a lot like Shark Tank. It’s the real thing for unique restaurant concepts in the Dallas area.”

Restaurant concepts may apply to the program in the hope of receiving up to $500,000 in funding from investors. Trinity Groves is even backed by an entrepreneurial fund of $10 million, as well as a sterling management team with centuries of unmatched expertise. The destination also provides endless hours of shopping, entertainment, and dining choices for the family.

No stranger to the economic impact he has had on just the Dallas area alone, Romano supports his new Trinity Groves mission with unwavering resolution. “We’re creating jobs for the private sector. We’re doing something here.”

Mitchell Camp

Mitchell is the Director of Marketing Communications for Divergence Academy, a Co-Founder of WS.N, and a freelance writer. He enjoys basically any activity involving dogs.