Starting up a restaurant franchise with Stuart Cook

Recently I had the privilege to speak with Stuart Cook who is become a CEO of a franchised Mexican restaurant chain called Zambrero at the age of 23 with no prior experience in that particular industry and managed to grow the company by over 600% during his first 18 months after taking the role. Along with being a CEO a restaurant franchise, Stuart is also a director for a charity called Emagine.
Starting up a restaurant franchise with Stuart Cook:
Stuart grew up outside of Coffs Harbour (New South Wales, Australia) on a small hobby farm and then moved to Sydney where all the action is. When he arrived in Sydney he got in contact with the not-for profit organisation Rotary, not long after that he attended one of their international leadership conferences. 
It was at this conference where Stuart met Dr. Sam Price the founder of the Emagine foundation in Australia and decided that he wanted to get involved in this charity. Initially Stuart was much more interested in working for the charity rather than the franchise business, however approximately 6 months after working in Emagine, he was offered the CEO position for the restaurant franchise by Dr. Sam Price. He was being coached and mentored when he first took up the role and was empowered to make big decisions in the business so that the owner could focus on other matters.
Stuart manages his time for the roles between CEO of Zambrero and director of Emagine by blocking out specific time periods to work on each specific company as things always pop up for both organisations all the time. For example, Stuart would block out a specific day where he would only work on Emagine.
As anyone can imagine, being a CEO is tough enough but being a CEO and a director for a charity would definitely make you wonder whether Stuart has any time to himself at all. Stuart responds with “I always make time, health is always something that has been neglected in the year. There’ll always be a million things to do and it’s important to make time for yourself and leisure time. Relationships have taken a toll, still single because has to schedule dates 2 weeks in advance. If you want something done, ask the busiest person you know because they will make time. When I started out I worked really hard 80-100 hours a week, I lost some friends along the way but its because I believed in the business and the vision.” 
When asked about business plans, Stuart responds with “We all live our lives by the business plan, taking the time to write a 30 page business plan might take 2-3 days. But if you ask me about strategies etc.. I can tell you them straight away. If you need bank money or investors do it, but not everyone needs it. For new business people, I recommend to just do it (the business) rather than spend too much time planning. Do your research for the key areas but you need to start something to get it going.”
One might imagine that starting up a franchised restaurant may cost a lot of money but you might be surprised. “We started out Zambrero’s with $10,000. People think starting a business cost more than it actually does. We negotiated first 3 months rent free, paid initial deposit, painted the store ourselves.”
Stuart suggests that certain “must do’s” for every new entrepreneur are to talk to people and watching the cash flow of their business. “Talk to people, ask them what they did right and wrong. Learn from people’s mistakes rather than successes. You learn a lot more from someone who has failed rather than someone who is successful. Watch your cash flow as people like to avoid conflict, its easier to pay people you owe money too and hard for you to collect money from people who owe you money.” 

As a very young CEO, Stuart struggled initially with his inexperience and the way people perceived his youth. “Being young and not knowing what I was doing. Being old and not knowing what you are doing you can still have the respect that you would not get when you’re young. But when you show your results and confidence in what you are doing, you gain that respect.”

“Use your youth as an advantage, ask people for advice, knock on CEO’s doors and ask them for a coffee. I have never had anyone said no, I’ve talked to people who have made millions of dollars and they have never said no.”
Stuart reveals that his initial mistakes involved managing people.
“I have got a great team, but sometimes they were disconnected with the vision and when the leadership wasn’t around they couldn’t make the decisions right. So its important to encourage the team, support your team. Impart the vision of where the company is going and teach them how to deliver the right results to reach that end point the more independent and autonomy they will get, less reliance on you as a leader.” 
Stuart felt that his strength was creating excitement and hype around the brand and was able to show complete transparency, which helped him gained loyalty and trustworthiness. 
If you like to check out a Zambrero’s restaurant (if you live in Australia) please click here.
If you like to support or get involved with Emagine please click here
Hope you all learnt something and enjoyed your holidays!
Aaron Koo

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