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Nick Perpick credits his team for paving the way to success at Prime Restaurants

Hardly a rookie on the scene, Nick Perpick has been leading his team since he co-founded the first Casey’s Grill • Bar in 1980 in Sudbury, Ont. On the 30th anniversary of his premier brand, the president and COO of Prime Restaurants — which now also includes the hugely successful East Side Mario’s, Bier Markt and Prime Pubs chains — has learned that although things change, the ground rules remain the same (except when it comes to a really good apple pie recipe).

F&H: It’s been 30 years since you began this journey. How has the industry evolved?
As the world changes, there’s a need for a little bit more accountability. Our guests look for a quality experience, and we have to give them a reason to come back. Everybody who runs a successful operation has to have the basics covered: hot food hot, cold food cold, good service, clean restaurants and relevant programs to attract new guests. But over the years, because of saturation in the marketplace and changes in the economy, margins have shrunk. People today have to be more cognizant of the money they spend and make sure the model works to deliver profitability.

F&H: How did you navigate through the recession?
I don’t think there’s an organization out there that hasn’t done some type of restructuring or hasn’t been forced to lay some people off. When you’ve got an economy like this, you’ve got to make sure the people you keep can perform at that level, because you can’t afford to have weak employees. An economy like this allows you to enhance your workforce by making sure you have the right people.

F&H: How did you boost morale during the downturn last year?
Communication is the key for a lot of people. You have to communicate so they understand what’s going on and why it’s happening, because fear sets in when they don’t.

F&H: What is your leadership style and has your approach changed over the years?
I have always been a hands-on, focused and motivational leader. I believe in the team approach to success and accountability for results with strong incentives. Clarity of communication and development of your people is paramount to achieving success. Instilling a great culture and sense of pride for yourself, your people and your guests puts you in a good leadership position. Over the past 30 years, I’ve learned that change will continually influence your next plan. You and your organization must be flexible and adapt and move quickly to maintain a competitive advantage. Take advantage of your strengths; lead, do not follow.

F&H: What’s the biggest challenge a leader faces today?
The biggest challenge right now is stealing share. There are more seats out there than there are customers to fill them. Our challenges are to attract good franchisees and make sure they’re focused on delivering the guest experience. Plus, the model has to be profitable, so you always have to make adjustments and ensure the profitability is there.

F&H: So, saturation of the market is most difficult?
I don’t want it to sound like I’m making saturation an excuse — it’s not. It’s not going to change, so you have to learn to win inside that environment. But good people are very important, too, so that’s another challenge. You must always have the right people. It’s a two-way street; you can’t use and abuse employees, you have to offer them a job that’s meaningful so they see an opportunity.

F&H: What makes a good leader?
Passion, knowledge, innovation, creativity, [someone who] understands people and communicates well. You always have to work towards plans. I believe a leader has to provide a vision to the organization.

F&H: Congratulations on the big anniversary at Casey’s. I heard your mom makes a great apple pie.
That was a recipe she made for all six restaurants when we first opened, and we originally called it Apple Betty but we changed it to Apple Mary — because that was her name. I tell you, people sure love that recipe. February 25 was Casey’s 30th anniversary. You know what excites me more? I just like the direction Casey’s is heading in and the results it’s getting. Thirty-years later it’s still relevant.

Illustrated by Jason Edmiston

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