I’ve worked in the restaurant business my entire life. Started flipping burgers at McDonald’s when I was fourteen years old. Worked at Domino’s pizza at 16 years old. Waited tables at three different restaurants during college – Darryl’s, Cameron’s and Chico’s Mexican Restaurant. Bartended at Robina Tavern in Queensland, Australia while earning my MBA degree. And today, I’m a proud owner of a Jersey Mike’s Sub franchise. All but one of these restaurants that I’ve worked at during my youth are still open (or relocated). And I’m doing everything I can to keep the doors open at my Jersey Mikes Sub Shop. Bottom line…the food business is hard. Really hard!

Why is Chico’s Mexican Restaurant in Greenville, North Carolina still thriving after all these years? What are they doing differently compared to all the other restaurants that I worked for that have closed? And what if I told you the current owner of Chico’s Mexican Restaurant, Mike Horton, started bussing tables there forty years ago.

Fact – all the other restaurants I’ve worked at we had to steal food and shove it down our mouths in the bathroom stalls or kitchen walk-in freezer to get fed. Chico’s feeds all their employees before or after a full shift.

Fact – all the other restaurants I’ve worked at never gave their employees an annual holiday party or an end of year bonus. Chico’s still does…and to every employee.

Fact – all the other restaurants I’ve worked at had massive employee theft problems. Chico’s hardly ever had any. And still hardly has.

Fact – Just about every restaurant and bar in downtown Greenville, North Carolina (during my college years at East Carolina University) are closed, shut down and out of business. Chico’s is still thriving.


I would bet against just about every restaurant. But I would never bet against a restaurant with a great manager. And I certainly would never bet against Mike Horton.

Here are five things that made Mike a great manager. My guess is that if you did these things in your own business…you might find similar success.

1) Mike Horton genuinely cared about the people who worked for him. Mike always asked about my grades (or my lack of good grades). He always wanted to know what was going on in my life. He attended my college graduation. And when my entire family (and grandparents) came in for graduation dinner at Chico’s, Mike picked up the bill and told my father that I was one of his favorite employees. Twenty-six years later and my dad still talks about it.

2) Mike Horton was tough. He was no pushover. We could not clock out until our work stations were perfectly clean. If our uniform was not clean and worn properly he would clock us out and send us home. He never yelled. He never disrespected any of us. But his expectations of his employees where higher than our own expectations of ourselves.

3) Mike Horton led by example. He mopped floors, cleaned tables, took out the trash and picked up cigarette butts in the parking lot. There was not a job at the restaurant that he’d ask us to do that he wouldn’t do himself. And he worked harder than anyone at the restaurant…anyone and everyone.

4) Mike Horton praised us. Although he was tough as nails, we all cherished Mike’s words to us. If we worked hard during a shift he would always pat us on the back and say, “Good Job Buddy”. We’d do almost anything to earn those three words.

5) Mike Horton had integrity. In four years working for Mike – averaging 20 hours a week during the school year and 40 hours a week during summer school – I never saw Mike do something that I didn’t respect. He said what he meant. And meant what he said.

It’s been twenty-six years since I’ve worked at Chico’s Mexican Restaurant…but there is not a week that goes by that I don’t think about the impact Mike Horton has had on my life. And now I’m, once again, back in the food business…I often wish I could run my Jersey Mike’s Sub Shop like Mike ran Chico’s Mexican Restaurant. I bet we’d sell a heck of a lot more subs. And I bet your business would boom too if we all were just a little more like Mike.