As Rackson Restaurants marks its 10th anniversary this year, we sat down with founder and CEO Chris Johnson for an exclusive behind-the-scenes look. In this interview, Chris reflects on the original vision for the company and its impressive decade of expansion.
How did you get involved in the food industry?
My experience in the food industry began at an early age. My dad was a KFC franchisee and had started a business back in 1983 called Rackson Corporation. Rackson stands for Ron, my dad; Allison, my sister; Chris (me); Karen, my mom; and our last name, Johnson. And so that’s where the Rackson name came from. When I say I’ve been in this my whole life, I’ve literally been in this my whole life. My earliest memories are running around my dad’s restaurants on the weekends and learning the business through him as I grew up. I learned the business not only through watching him and listening to stories and tagging along, but my first employment was working in his restaurant. In high school, that’s where I worked to make some money. When I went to college, I would spend my breaks working in his office. This was where I began learning more about the management side of the business. When I took an accounting class in college, I would go see how that actually gets done in my dad’s business. After taking a marketing class, I asked my dad to take me along to a marketing meeting. For me, it was really cool not only to learn how to make the food, serve customers, and clean restaurants, but I also got to learn general business management.
How was Rackson Restaurants started?
My dad really needed some help, but I didn’t think I was ready. However, he encouraged me to come work and just figure it out along the way. So, I jumped into it full-time when I was in my early twenties. And then I started to learn. I kept learning. At this point, I was now running my dad’s business. My dad was no longer in the business, but I was starting and building my career, so we decided to sell Rackson Corporation.
However, I really loved the restaurant industry. I loved getting to work with all these different people who can contribute to the business, whether it’s in the restaurants, maintenance, or payroll. There’s so much stuff that must get done and everyone’s super important. I realized I would love to do this on a bigger scale but had no idea how to go about doing it. Around this time, I received a phone call from Burger King saying they’re looking for new franchisees. They reached out after hearing I was a good operator and flew me out to meet at headquarters in Miami. This was when I realized that I really wanted to build a business and take people on this journey. Burger King presented several opportunities for me to buy restaurants and I started on that journey. When it came time to name the business, I wanted to choose something that reflects what’s important to me. It was so clear – I had to call it Rackson. Even though it’s a different company from my dad’s, the values it upholds are the exact same.
What was your vision for Rackson when it started?
I learned from my dad’s business that the most important thing is having clean restaurants, being nice to your team members and to your customers, and serving great food. I would say the really good franchisees, like Rackson, have figured out that there’s a unique way of running their businesses. There’s good company culture and bad culture. However, what we hold important is that there’s a Rackson way of doing things, and we’re in this constant pursuit of trying to do better. I know so many people who settle with being average, getting the bare minimum accomplished. While I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, taking it to the next level is very rewarding because the business runs better and provides more opportunities for people to advance. It’s also a lot of fun. And that’s our culture. That’s why we’ve tried to hold that core.
Why did you choose to have ‘people’ as the primary focus in “people, process, profit”?
Everything gets done through people, so people are our priority. If you find the right people and then train them the right way, they have all the tools and knowledge to do their job.
Then the process part comes in. Why has Rackson always outperformed others? If there are ten steps in a process, it’s important to recognize that all ten of those steps are important. You can’t jump from step two to seven right away; you’re missing the things in between. When I looked at some of my peers who weren’t as successful, often they prided themselves on taking shortcuts because they believed nobody would check. That doesn’t work over time. While it might take us one more step to do something, that’s exactly what we need to do to be successful.
Profit isn’t only about making money. Profit is getting a great inspection during store visits or receiving positive customer feedback. Profit is really a word for the target. You can’t get to the target unless you do those first two things right. Any time the company makes a critical decision, we determine how this impacts people and establish a process. If we do those two things right, nine times out of ten, we’re going to get the result that we’re looking for.
After ten years of Rackson, what are you most proud of?
I just think the growth of this company has been really awesome. I mean, it’s ten years, right? It’s been a pretty wild ride, and I’m really proud of everyone in the company. I provided the foundation and put the resources in place, but it’s the team that made this happen. In going from zero business to 65 restaurants today, it’s not so much the size that’s the pride for me. It’s the journey that we’ve gone through and the cool people we’ve met along the way. I think we’ve changed a lot of people’s lives, and we’re just getting started.
What does the future of Rackson hold and how do you hope to see the company grow?
Everybody in this company is important to me and I want Rackson to be a vehicle for them to accomplish anything they hope to do. Regarding growth, I think we are about to expand into a second brand. We have done multiple brands before, but we’ve never done it with size, so I think this is going to be a big step for us. I think the last thing is staying true to our values in a changing time. If we can continue to navigate changes but remain relevant to our core values, that’s a real win.
Reflecting on all the people who have been part of the journey along the way is what gets me fired up. Being able to watch everyone continue to grow the company and advance their careers is the thing I’m most excited about for in the years to come. I think that’s also been the most rewarding thing for me over the last ten years. I just want to do that again and again and again.