Fresh Forward

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freshforward

Young CEO has has big plans to take his Freshii concept around the globe

Matthew Corrin was 23-years-old when he opened the first Lettuce Eatery in Toronto in 2005, modelling it on a popular concept he had seen in New York. Five-years later, the brand has grown and evolved into Freshii, an exciting concept that focuses on made-to-order fresh food served in an environmentally sustainable fashion. With almost 60 units across North America and 300 more in development, the 28-year-old Winnipeg native is determined to become the industry’s next Howard Schultz.

F&H: How would you describe your leadership style?
MC:
Dream big, work my butt off to achieve those dreams and lead by example.  Everyone on my team subscribes to this philosophy. We have a motto internally — merely ‘good’ managers need not apply. You’ll only fit into our organization if you’re a ‘super-achiever.’ 

F&H: What kind of perspective does your age give you in running an operation that you’re building from the ground up?
MC:
The day I opened my first store was the first day I ever worked in the restaurant business. I was 23, and it was my second job ever. I literally had no idea what I was doing. The nice thing about this business is it’s not rocket science — but it is hard work. I’ve never met anyone who works harder than me.

We will finish 2010 with more than 60 locations in 18 cities worldwide — including Calgary, New York City, Los Angeles, Vienna and Dubai. It’s a really exciting time for our company. Our key to success this year is partnering with great franchisees, choosing great real estate and only hiring “super achievers” as managers.

F&H: Because you run your business from a virtual office, do you face different challenges than most CEOs?
MC:
This is my first time being a CEO, so I have nothing to compare it to. But I promise you this — it’s a lot more cost-effective to run a virtual office than a physical office.

F&H: What’s your biggest challenge during tough times?
MC:
We recognize that unit managers are by far the most important employees in our company. They’re the point people that serve thousands of Freshii guests every day. They manage a team of hourly employees and they’re in charge of their P&Ls. That’s why we only want super achievers. I subscribe to the Steve Ells (founder of Chipotle) philosophy of personally interviewing every store manager in every corporate and franchise store we open. It’s that important to our success. It also helps keep the message on track to all of our team — senior members, franchisees, other managers and hourly employees — that as the founder and CEO I care about this role more than just about anything in the company and I spend a lot of my time focusing to that effect. As a result, I travel four days a week. The good news is that once we hire a unit-level manager, they rarely leave.  Rather, they’re promoted to higher roles in our organization.

F&H: What keeps you awake at night?
MC
: My two-year old daughter, dog and wife all sleeping in the same bed. Truthfully, I never procrastinate and rarely lose sleep over business. I sleep so few hours that when I’m in bed, I’m sleeping.

F&H: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned as a leader?
MC:
As the economy got really bad, we became more operationally efficient and, therefore, more profitable. It didn’t impact the bottom line, but it improved our business model. One of the good things about unit growth is economies of scale and better pricing.

F&H: What’s your biggest strength?
MC:
Execution sets me apart. Talk is cheap. I’ve met a lot of people who love to talk about doing something. I actually do it. It’s not always right, but at least I’m doing it.  It keeps us evolving as a company — trying new things, figuring out ways to become better, more profitable, more scalable, more attractive to customers and investors. Never let a day go by without executing on something.

F&H: Who do you go to for counsel when you are faced with difficult choices and decisions?
MC:
I’ll check out publicly traded restaurant brands that disclose a ton of good stuff in their earnings reports; I’ll speak to my mentor or just listen to my gut.

Illustrated by Jason Edmiston

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