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Leadership is about more than just calling the shots. It’s about inspiring others to reach their full potential. When you can see the potential in others and help them achieve it, you’re not just making them better employees – you’re making them better people. Join Michael McHenry, Founder and CEO of The McHenry Group, as he talks about championing others to their fullest potential. He also shares a glimpse of his life and how he has built a world-class team and honed skills in experiential brand and concept creation, culture building, and high-performance operations from start-ups to multi-million-dollar enterprises.
Michael McHenry Shares How He Became A Successful Industry Disruptor Time And Time Again
In this episode, my friend and entrepreneurial hero, everything he touches turns into gold, Michael McHenry, Founder and CEO of TMG, The McHenry Group, which is a progressive Utah-based boutique restaurant group focused on experiential concept creation and forever challenging the industry status quo. It has created seven viable brands, including Dirty Bird, Sunday’s Best, and Ginger’s Street, and opened more than 65 restaurants creating over 2,500 jobs. Talk about social responsibility and adding to the economy and making everybody else around him better.
He’s sharing his life and climb to the top of his industry, giving us an insightful glimpse into how he sold his first self-built business at the age of 19 and how this industry disruptor has honed his skills in all aspects of culture building and high-performance operations from startup to multimillion-dollar enterprises to create national award-winning concepts under TMG’s crest, that has changed the course of the restaurant industry forever.
One of my favorite things is to interview people that you have always been curious about because they’re always at the biggest events and have the best seats. They’re always at the galas. They’re always participating in charitable fundraisers. There are larger-than-life characters that seem to stay under the radar until you get to know who they are and the motivation behind their constant strive for success.
My guest is Michael McHenry. I asked him the first time we met, “Is that a stage name? That’s way too cool.” Dan Clark, I sound like a cereal box. Michael McHenry sounds like a star. He sounds like a Shakespearian actor. When you see this larger-than-life character in shorts and a medium t-shirt to make him look more buff than he is, he’s fit. He focuses on becoming the best version of himself physically, mentally, spiritually, socially, and financially.
This show is about finding those who are power players, who are willing to share their secret sauce with us so that we, too, can click off this episode and do what they have done. If we think like a serial entrepreneur, restaurateur extraordinaire, and someone who’s willing to roll the dice and take calculated risks with the motivation, “What can I build that will improve everybody around me?” Not just the community and opportunities for social interaction, believing that food is one of the love languages.
Here’s our guy, Michael McHenry. He started way back in an interesting background story, as an athlete, looking at him as a stud muffin hunk of burning love. He chose not to be that football, basketball, or baseball star as a teenager. I don’t even know how to start, except to ask you the question, “What in the world were you thinking of becoming a professional bowler?” You could be an NFL linebacker in Europe, and you’re a bowling champion.
I got to keep you on your toes and spoken like a true coach.
How old were you?
I started bowling when I was eleven.
Where were you?
I grew up in Sandy, but I cut my teeth at Junction Bowling Alley. They were bowling alleys back then, not centers, in Midvale. I progressed at the Ritz Classic on 21st South and 6th. I grew up in Sandy and went to high school in the Sandy-Midvale area. In the ’90s, being in high school dude, 6’2, 225 pounds, and you don’t play football, that was a weird deal. You then got to say you’re a bowler. You’re talking about building self-confidence and things that you’re doing.
I had to justify my sport even now over time. Honestly, I’ve never been a professional athlete and anything else, but as a professional athlete, when you play at that level, no matter your sport, there’s a discipline and a unique set of skills that are developed. There’s a unique type of behavior, tenacity, drive consistency, practice, discipline, failure, and fast failure.
There is also a focused regimen because of quality control. My highest score ever was 62. I’m being facetious. To be able to roll that ball, spin it in that specific way, and do it consistently, you had to condition your mind, eye-hand coordination, and your focus on quality control that eventually helped you become this serial restaurateur.
I had no idea how goal-oriented I became and programmed that became a part of my DNA over time when your main objective is to knock all ten pins down on the first roll.
Show up and be unwavering in your commitment and pursuit. You do those things, and you’ll have a tremendous head start on the majority.
When it doesn’t happen, you immediately have to go into passion, creativity, imagination, and innovation mode.
There’s no question. There are so many variables in that sport that it allowed me to work to control my environment, which made me a great leader. Understanding that at that level, everything matters, temperature, humidity, type of oil, pattern, and elevation, it’s all physics. It’s all about creating energy. The reality is I started becoming obsessed with the environment at a young age and it became natural to me.
I paid attention to temperature, cleanliness, and dynamics. I was understanding elevation, not because I was out there hiking or I felt like it would mess with my air, my intake, or my breathing, but how it would affect the revolutions that I was creating on the bowling ball, what type of equipment, or whatever it might be. That was happiness at such a young age. As I grew into a business, I realized that I had this unique set of skills that I had developed, earned, and honed over many years of my life in professional sports.
Through space repetition learning, but proving true practices make permanent.
It’s perfect practice. The reality is the disciplines. I showed up every single day for years, not a month, not a week, not hours. I bowled over 30,000 games.
You’re a huge Utah Jazz fan. I bring a couple of our mutual friends on the other side of the court and we’re texting during the game. You’re right under the basket and we’re right under the basket, but you always make the jumbotron because you make everybody else around you have more fun than we did.
Section two doesn’t mess around.
We had certain Jazz superstars being Jazz fans for so many years. One of them was Jeff Hornacek, who came to the foul line every time with the specific disciplined, exact same routine, bounced the ball three times, spun it, wipe his forehead, and became one of the legendary free throw shooters in the NBA history.
As a bowler, what routine did you go through when it was your time up on the lane? What did you do mentally to prepare you for that next roll? How did you connect your head with your heart, arm, and fingers, putting all these different equations into play that you say humidity and the rotations of the ball? Teach us because that’s significant to the following questions. What routine did you understand, learn, create, and follow at such a young age that prepared you for what you’re doing now?
You also have to realize that it took me time and years to understand how to tap into my heart and understanding. I went dark. I didn’t high-five you. I wasn’t winning sportsmanship awards. I walked in understood my environment and checked out. Nothing else mattered to me but winning. I never won a sportsmanship award. I’m a huge team player. I love my community. I love my teams and I stand up big, but bowling is a solo sport. The reality is there were team events that were secondary to the main event.
To me, I was always your friend until the lights turned on. When my feet touched the wood, it was all business from a young age. The reality is I didn’t look and talk to you. My whole goal was to put you out of your misery as quickly as possible. When you put yourself into a space like that, where you realize that it’s your access to not only winning but to change your legacy forever, I realized that at a super young age, that it was my shot.
Did I believe it would be my entry into entrepreneurship? No. What I do know is I put myself into a place where my only outcome was to win every time. If I didn’t win, I went back to it. The first thing mentally is I checked out. The rest of the environment became blurry. It’s like when you see photography and they zoom in on the main plate, but everything else behind it blurs. That was it.
I saw the pins. Everything else to me was a blur. That’s true. It’s why I don’t do it recreationally. I don’t know how to show up and have fun with friends bowling. Showing up, drinking beer, and bowling with friends is not an option for me, even now. I don’t do it. I honor it. I support it. I love it, but it’s a dark place for me. That may not have been the response you were looking for, but that’s true.
It’s where success and significance begin and end. Think about it. We’ve heard therapists, coaches, and all the experts say, “You got to be present at the moment.” The question is if you find someone, maybe it’s yourself who’s not present at the moment, it’s because the present sucks. We medicate or we try to live in the past, which causes depression and regret or live in the future, which causes worry, stress, and anxiety.
If you’re present in the moment and you can block out the rest of the world and focus on it, what can you do now? It’s amazing how now turns into the next right now. No matter what your past has been, you have a spotless future. You can’t always control what happens, but you can always control what happens next. Don’t ever again make apologies for being the intense dude.
In football language, you showed up with that line of scrimmage in a bad mood every play. If you weren’t mentally prepared, you make up stories. “That guy across from me, with that offensive tackle, raped my sister. I’m going to teach him a lesson.” You block out the crowd noise. I get it. Teach us. Keep going.
For me, it was clear. I referenced this because I connected a lot of these dots years later. It was alignment. I had some God-gifted talent. There was an ability for me that my hand and eye coordination is still pretty remarkable, given the fact that I don’t work on those things consistently. Beer pong, I’ll smoke you. If I stand in one place and I start hitting the basket, I’ll hit the basket over and over again. I have the ability to control it. I also trained my muscles. My hand grew crooked. I trained my fingers not to bend. That creates more friction. You’re all broken up.
The reality is I trained the muscle. Do you know your trigger finger with the gun? I had to learn those motions. You can’t just point the trigger so easily. Working with Jimmy Story and others, and understanding the mechanics of shooting, that’s been a process for me because I’ve had to retrain the right side of my body to do that. I’m so used to this finger not doing anything to that’s the one that’s supposed to pull the trigger.
It’s an interesting dynamic. The point here is that sport taught me so much, not only from being goal-oriented and disciplined. I also fractured my pelvic bone from repetitive motion. My muscles pulled my pelvic bone apart when I was fifteen because all I wanted to do was to bowl. Nothing and no one else mattered to me. I say that candidly.
I was in a dark space that you hear the greats talk about, a space that you can relate to. I can relate to being in a place where you are so committed to the outcome that you can taste, feel, and walk it. I could picture myself holding the trophy before I had it. I can tell you based on the ratio of how much I wanted and others people didn’t. The fact is that it was rare in my sport at that age and especially in our market.
To your point, it’s rare in every sport. That’s why you read Tim Grover’s book, Winning, and he focuses on Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and D. Wade and explains what made them different.
He references those individuals as cleaners.
He would say to all of us, “What is happiness?” We say, “It’s joy. It’s fulfillment.” He said, “It’s pain, work, and sacrifice.”
Unless he said, “What does winning mean to you?” I’m so glad you bring this up. I took a couple of quotes from him and took my crew through them. I went around the table and asked each person at the table, “What does winning mean to you?” I gave them a few minutes and came back to it. There was a lot. I got my chance and I’m getting emotional. It’s on film and the whole team is there. I’m talking about the fact that it’s lonely, painful, and dark because I know what you go through to compete at that level.
Learning a specific yet general set of skills and going all in can change your life forever.
My family didn’t have a lot of choices when I was a kid. My dad had worked out trades and all kinds of stuff, either repairing machines or providing fasteners or things like that to pay my bowling bill at the bowling alley as a kid. In the hallway, I can’t tell you how many holes I put in the wall. I would be on my knees with a mattress or pillows at the end of the hallway and I would roll the ball down the hallway at home. I wore the carpet and furniture out because I wanted to be so good at my mechanics.
You get in that machine play, but I would do that until I would peel blisters in my hands. I would learn how to retrain that muscle so that I wouldn’t earn the blister. I don’t want to build the callus. I wanted to understand what I was squeezing the ball because anytime you squeeze, you create more friction that jeopardizes the revolution and your consistency. I basically turned myself into a machine.
I was appalled. I played football for several years and the first time I sat in the stands as a fan, I was appalled at how oblivious these folks were. I learned quickly to remind them that not every play is designed to score a touchdown. There’s nothing more insignificant than the halftime score and momentum is only as good as your next play.
There are all these wonderful metaphors and lessons from football, but the thing that blows my mind that consistently happens in every single sporting event is someone would say, “I would give anything to be Tiger Woods or Michael McHenry.” The comment and the response based on what you’re teaching us has to be, “No, you wouldn’t, or you would have.”
By the way, entrepreneurship happens to be my favorite sport.
You turned it into a game.
I see it every single day in business and in people’s lives. I see what people go through. I’ve seen what I’ve gone through. I understand the wake I’ve created and the wake that I’ve smoothed. I understand the journey from, “How do I tap into my dark side?” because it’s never going away. It’s in there and it comes out every time something competitive is in front of me.
You say, “You’re the ultimate Jazz fan.” I’ve been a season ticket holder for one year. Think about that. That’s year one for me. When I got to that stadium, I’m your biggest fan. I made sure every player, cameraman, and concierge know that no one loves that team in this community more than I did. I honor those guys. I don’t care if you’ve been there for 30 years or 10 years, section 2, row 2 is my realm.
Let me take us a little deeper. Statistics indicate that 80% to 85% of family-owned businesses go bankrupt by the third generation. That’s because this young generation goes from an opportunity mindset to an entitlement mindset. They refuse to subscribe to the same core values, work ethic, sacrifice, service before self, and customer experience that grandpa and grandma subscribed to that allowed them to dream the dream, build the business, grow the business, and pass it on. I’m a motivational guy. When you say, “The dark side,” it is not the dark side. It is the bright side.
This is my point. It is such amazing information that you’ve already disseminated. That’s one of the core values and one of the most illuminating truths that every entrepreneur must embrace if they want to be successful and then take it to the highest level of significance you have. That’s what’s missing in these third-generation family-owned businesses that go bankrupt. Can you teach or train it?
Here’s what I’ll tell you as someone who leads young teams. There is a high level of sophistication, experience, and academics in certain strategic positions in my teams. The majority are these are first jobs, in transition, and college students that are serving tables. My businesses are a stepping stone. How many people do you meet that have what works in restaurants? It’s almost everyone. They’ve been bussers, dishwashers, servers, bartenders, bar backs, hosts, hostesses, cooks, and chefs.
There’s a reality that works. I’m in this business because it affords me the true opportunity to work with all walks of life. That’s important to me. I love that. I also loved that my business doesn’t care who your family is. It doesn’t matter what neighborhood you live in, what school you went to, or what your background is. It cares about how you show up. When you asked me, “What is the big denominator?” The first one is what has softened society is that the majority has forgotten how to work.
Our grandpas and great grandpas are upstairs and they’re rolling around in their graves right now, saying, “You’re all a bunch of cowards.” I say it the way it needs to be said. I feel like I have stewardship. I have a responsibility to pass that on. As a Millennial who’s sitting here, works his ass off every single day, rolled up his sleeves, and has completely disrupted the family tree, I’m that guy. I’m the guy who decided it was going to be different. I’m the guy that said, “I’m going to go and make this difference and make this impact.”
There’s no question that there are casualties. There’s no question that one side of my family looks at me like all I do is work. One side of the family believes I owe them everything, and the middle layers teach me. My responsibility now as a father, neighbor, community member, and influence potentially is to share the message that I believe the biggest common denominator of the successful is work ethic. You can teach people how to work. You need to do it in the fundamental years. It’s why my daughter is eleven years old and works twice a week.
I have no problem with anyone who wants to challenge me and try to say, “Child labor,” and put me in a courtroom. ” I can’t wait for that day because I will fully justify and prove that is what’s necessary. Summer ended early for me in week one. My grandpa put me to work. I see it generationally. When my grandpa was healthy enough, the first layer of grandsons and granddaughters are a pretty overachieving group.
I’m talking successful, successful CPA, successful developer, successful professor, successful restauranteur, and the list goes on. I see the next layer. They didn’t quite get that development. They’re still good kids. They’re my family. I love them, but they’re 25 figuring out what they’re going to do, and 30 starting to get into it.
At twenty, I was hell-bent. At fifteen, I was young and competitive. At 30, I was like, “I’m going to make as much money in order as many choices as possible, no matter what.” Now, I’m turning 40 and growing up learning how to work super hard. I wasn’t the smartest kid. I’m still not the smartest one in the room. I appreciate that, but a few people, if any will ever outwork me in something that I’m passionate about, whether that be athletics or I’m running the Spartan.
My goal in Spartan was to finish. Now, my goal in the Spartan is to place in my division, where there are guys and gals who dedicate their entire lives to it. I hired a team around me and I show up every day. Did I want to get up this morning at 5:00 AM and run to the reservoir back to the parking lot, and then start my day? No, honestly, walking and talking with some friends would be way more fun, but I did that because, at the end of the day, I’m going to show up for myself. I’m going to keep that commitment to myself. That work ethic is a huge deal. I have a responsibility.
Elle said to me, “Dad, none of my friends work,” as I’m driving her with me. Typically, she’s pretty excited. This year, there’s no doubt she’s excited about it. Last year, towards the end of the summer, she’s like, “Dad, none of my friends work,” and I said, “They should so let them know. They’ll start around $7 to $10 an hour.” We talk philosophy. We set behavior and mindset. We get with mentors. They clock in and clock out. They communicate with their leadership.
I pay, but Elle doesn’t know that Sunday’s Best or The Oaks not paying her right now, but she shows up. She’s expected to execute like the rest of the team at eleven years old because I believe that those are the fundamental years that we learn how to apply our effort and learn the disciplines. I believe that you can retrain, establish, or maybe even habilitate because if you don’t know it yet, then you can learn it.
Unlearn and relearn it.
That, to me, is so important. Show up and be unwavering in your commitment and pursuit. You do those and you have a tremendous head start on the majority.
With your restaurants and seven major brands and employing over 2,500 folks and job creations, I want to take us back to that comment you made that this is a transitional job or a stepping stone opportunity for people in college to find themselves and graduate, pursue their dream, career, and get the job that they dream about, not the job that’s left over.
What you’ve got going is the ultimate training program. You’ve got the ultimate software package that ties humanity into the human spirit that proves true. Even though they’re working in your environment and you’re focusing on what you want to do to, build your brands, and disrupt the marketplace, which you’re so successful with doing as a restauranteur. If they pay attention, listen, and learn about going to that dark space that we’ve now illuminated as the light space, the right space, or the positive space. Because you did it, they can also do it if they are willing to think as you think and put in the work ethic and the focus and the discipline necessary.
What’s beautiful about being a teacher and a coach in many ways is that the greatest beneficiary of that development is the teacher often.
Even though they think it’s a transitional job, it’s one step in their transition knowing that you don’t begin with the end in mind. You begin with the why in mind. Let’s take us back to when you were bowling at Classic with a giant bowling pin on State Street, and what happened as you became a bowler and as you had an opportunity to start the bowling piece at Fat Cats. I don’t want to play the game without you teaching us the parts of the game.
Take us all the way back in the mindset with the work ethic focusing on the dark space and blocking out the rest of the world. You went from here to here. You’ve got the opportunity to be introduced to the restaurant world based on what you learned from bowling. It immediately and automatically transposed into being one of the greatest entrepreneurial spirits I’ve ever met.
Thank you. What you’re talking about is the reward center. That’s what we’re talking about now. That’s why I believe I’ve been a disruptor in the space and why I’ve been sneaky good as a restauranteur and now concepteur. My goal is to build and create opportunities for others through my vision. My actual goal is not to gather a bunch of great servers around the table. My goal is to gather a bunch of great people around the table and teach them how to be even better.
It’s that platform or stepping stone. Many of which started with me as a server making $2.15 an hour, and now are making $125,000 a year. When I hired you originally, this was your first job in the states. You’re here on a work visa. You’re making $10 an hour. Now, you own part of your own restaurant and you’re making $150,000 a year and you’ve moved a quarter of your family here and created that opportunity, legacy, and lifestyle.
Creating and building better people is my selfish reward center. You’ve read about this and been with me enough to know that I act in this form. The greatest investment is the one that we make into others. I truly realized that this happened from a few people believing in me and giving me a shot. Applying myself and executing that vision and opportunity changed my life forever and not just economically but emotionally, physically, and mentally. I realized that if I can do it, I know anyone can do it. I know where I grew up. I know the choices I had and I didn’t have. I also realized that I barely graduated high school.
My friends thought seventh grade would be my senior year so we can relate on that level, too.
The reality is that learning a specific yet general set of skills and going all in can wildly change your life forever. I teach people every single day. I teach coach and lead.
That was another reason he gave himself to show health his guns.
You would know this being a coach in many ways. What’s beautiful about being a teacher is that the greatest beneficiary of that development happens to be the teacher oftentimes. I saw this stewardship and responsibility to help other people truly win because of what it’s done for me. As I gather people, as we built these tables and well over 150 team members at this point or close to it, my direct layer, if you sit at my table directly, you have to be relentlessly committed. Otherwise, it will be exhausting for you.
Otherwise, if you challenge the philosophy, you won’t last. If you believe in it, you are all in. The ones that believe in it take full advantage of it. They realize that I’m not selfish about the business that we create. I’m abundant in the opportunities that we create and the outcomes we earn together. That, to me, is a recipe. The method is our activity, but the cake that we bake together tastes good.
To me, it’s about championing others to their fullest potential. It just so happens that my mission is to champion others to their full potential that I’m on my game every day. I feel like this is a dad comment, but I’m a dad. I’m the world’s greatest girl dad. I’m turning 40 and I am sharper, healthier mentally, physically, and spiritually by a mile than I was at 30.
At 30, I was relentless. As a kid, I had very little which made me dangerous. I didn’t have a lot of choices. I was relentlessly committed. I wanted to make as much money as possible. Having my house in order makes me unstoppable. It’s why I sleep like a rock. I have all these secret weapons that you earn over time. I meet a lot of entrepreneurs, people in my business are stressed out all the time, have high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, and they’re on meds.
My medication is I hike every single day and I get an ice bath every single day. I never wake up or go to bed without telling the people that I love, that I love them. In between, I’m going all in. This is what is within your direct control. If you’re going to eat bad, treat your body bad, and treat your people bad, then your outcome’s going to be bad. Hopefully, you love yourself more than you love anything else, because if you don’t love yourself the most, you can never give that to anyone else. I hard fought that for a long time.
What matters most is what lasts the longest.
Some of the times that I’ve made the most money in my life, I’ve been the most alone. I’ve stood in that space and that wasn’t too long ago for me. During my journey being separated from Kristi and the realities of the relationship and a lot of stuff that went on there, I had to get clear. I jumped on the phone with a mentor and friend. We’re talking about potentially coaching and getting on board. The guy’s very present to everyone, but a lot of people know him in the Utah market. He’s got a great presence.
He starts questioning me and said, “I’m not going to teach you how to scale your business or make another $1 million. You have that like on lock. No one’s going to teach you that, or at least I’m not going to teach you that. If you want to get serious about becoming your best version, about not working on this self-convincing or artful self-narrative that you tell yourself, and you tell the people around you, but you want to get serious about your life, I’ll do it with you.”
He asked me a series of questions and I didn’t have the answers. He said, “As soon as you get those answers, we’ll go to work.” What was interesting is I was about to wire this guy $60,000 to work with me. He said, “I’m not working with you until you can answer these questions.” He became a friend during the process. I never wired him the $60,000. We became friends. We’ve talked about ventures together. We’ve worked on it. Of all things, he sent me a message and said, “I’m proud of you. I can see the work that you’ve done.”
I say all of this because we spend all of this time, “Let’s create this great brand. Let’s create these great revenue streams. Let’s have these big impacts.” At the end of the day, if you have this character and that character, you’re alone and miserable. There’s health and well-being in learning how to be alone. I’m a bit alone. “You have a dark spot.” There are not a lot of people that can live in that danger zone with you. It’s understanding how to balance that. I found myself going, “I don’t want to be alone. I want my family.” I’ve realized that I put everything in front of them.
You’re meeting the father that grew out of being a great provider and is turning into a great father. You’ve got to meet that transition. A few years ago, unless you’re talking strictly business, I would have no business being on your show. I didn’t give myself a chance to think about those other things. I compartmentalized that, but now there’s weaponizing in having your house truly in order.
You’re making me and all of our readers reflect. The guy who was in high school, at least at the beginning of college, I would’ve never wanted to be friends with him. It’s one of those we do validate that we become the average of the five people we associate with the most.
I discounted that for so long. People are like, “Build your network, do this.” I’m like, “I don’t want to build a network with a bunch of people.” Now, I want a network of people that I love and trust, that I want to be with. I started manifesting it. “How can you have a great marriage if all the people around you don’t honor it? How are you going to be a great dad if you don’t hang out with great dads?”
By the way, I was good at surrounding myself with business icons that put everything aside for their business. I understand that there’s a price you have to pay. I don’t believe anyone creates real sustained success without that, but I do believe there’s a counterbalance. I do believe when it’s time to be dad, husband, boyfriend, girlfriend, partner, or whatever it might be, I go all in. I have relationships that I believe are very important to me that I sabotaged over time. I have some things to repair. I have zero regrets because they all taught me. I’m the guy who’s been fired, cheated on, cheated, sued, broke, and all of those things.
There’s a responsibility in following that. Do I honor and respect those versions of my past? No question. They’re like me where I am. Would I change my journey? No, because that’s a part of who makes us who we are. My childhood and being the asshole that I was or considered to be a bit of the asshole that was highly competitive, that put nothing in front of winning, I won’t change that. Those choices have afforded me the opportunity to put my arms around the neighborhood. It’s a big reason why I’m in the restaurant business because it’s connectivity for me.
I plan and will continue to plan, execute, provide, and create the most connective and biggest diamond room tables in every neighborhood that we serve. It’s a part of my life mission now. Some of it candidly is checking some old boxes, high-fiving some people that I know deserve it or people that would appreciate it. It’s my way of reconciling the past as well as knowing that no one else in our market can do it as good as me and as good as us in creating space. My places are about being seen. Food is romantic. Engagement is romantic. It’s a sacred duty, but we eat to celebrate. We eat to mourn. It’s emotional.
No matter what you do, move with your entire heart.
It’s not a return on investment when someone brings a business transaction to your restaurant. It’s a return on experience because they’ll remember.
It’s a sacred duty in many ways. I understand the responsibility of being in that place of normalcy. I know the responsibility of being the place of what’s familiar under times of good celebration and oftentimes under uncertainty. We saw this with the pandemic and what happened over the course of the last few years. There were times in downtown Salt Lake, Broadway, and State that I was the only person out there that I could see.
My truck was the only thing parked on the sidewalk, loading meals, and delivering them to a hospital. I know it because I was the only one down there. I could park on the sidewalk on Broadway and State Street a few years ago, and I never got a parking ticket. No one cares because no one was walking on the sidewalk and that’s reality.
We all have a reputation, a past, and a journey. A lot of people seek a destination. To me, I just execute the plan. It gives you a different level of confidence when you’re very clear on what success looks like. As I’m knocking on the door of my 40th, I can say that this decade was the most important decade of my life. I was at my highest so far and at my lowest in this decade. I had more life-changing events in this decade than ever before. I invited and removed many people from my life.
I harvested and manifested greater relationships. I fought for new versions and true self-awareness. That’s probably one of the biggest takeaways in this decade for me. I feel like I’m as youngest could be. In this decade for me, becoming self-aware is such a weaponizing opportunity. I don’t say that with a negative. I say that with the most positive because as you become more and more self-aware, you realize who you want in your life. You know what want. Not in terms of people and things, but what makes you who you are. We got to own those intricacies. No two of us are the same in any way. Whether people want to know that or not, self-awareness is a remarkable attribute.
There are many things that are pinballing through my mind. One of the major purposes of having a show or having someone like us speak at a convention or whatever is to share an experience or tell a story that triggers in that reader something in their own life. They say, “A-ha that happened to me. I could do that, too, by checking the box.”
Back to our conversation about being present at the moment, how many times do we celebrate being a multitasker, which is what an entrepreneur thinks they do? They think they exchange time for money when that’s the worst thing you could do. You get married to your business and lose everything that matters. A true entrepreneur understands that you exchange ideas for money. There’s no such thing as a financial crisis, only an idea crisis. Ideas create income.
You’re the master. Your reputation is to challenge the status quo, disrupt what everybody else is usually doing in the restaurant business, but not think like a multitasker. “I’m so stressed out. How can I do this? I’m losing my family. I’m losing my this and my that.” What would happen if we started thinking like a juggler who controls the ball? A juggler only controls the ball in his hand. Once you let go of the ball, you’ve relinquished control. Why worry about it?
If you need to catch the ball and be with Elle, your daughter or be with your wife, and be together as a family, and focus on one particular manager of one of your amazing restaurants. You have this ability to segregate and compartmentalize your priorities and focus on what needs your attention right now back to, “It doesn’t matter what I rolled last time. This is a brand-new ball of opportunity, and I still got 2 pins on this side of the lane and 2 pins on this side of the lane, the famous split.”
Mathematically and passionately through space repetition learning, you can figure out what you need to do right now to take out all four pins. I congratulate you on that. You epitomize the six degrees of separation. I as well. I know I’m a professional speaker and in the Speaker’s Hall of Fame because of 2 or 3 key experiences in my life where Zig Ziglar believed in me, who introduced me to someone who introduced me to Nancy Reagan, who invited me to the Reagan White House to take Mrs. Reagan’s Just Say No Program to all 50 states, which illuminated and opened up another experience and another opportunity.
When I look at my career, I can boil it down to a maximum of six key individuals who provided six key experiences that changed my stars that put me in a different direction. As we wind down our time together, I’m begging you to take us back to your work in this bowling alley at the time and what that one degree of separation did or another degree of separation. They cut you back on how much money you were making in the pro shop by giving you an opportunity to do this and do that.
Take us on that step-by-step journey because I would be remiss as an interviewer if I didn’t aluminate to my readers, followers, and my subscribers the reality of how you got to where you were and it wasn’t that hard. It required hard work and everything you’ve been teaching us, but it wasn’t rocket science. I want people to click off this show and read it again and again, and realize that no job is a stepping stone job.
If you focus on right now, you’re making $7 to $10 an hour, you show up at my table, and you think I’m high maintenance as a customer, you shouldn’t be working there. You got to be all-in. Teach us about being all-in at every phase of your entrepreneurial journey. You got to tell the story. It’s unbelievable. It’s simple if you’re willing to put in the hard work.
There’s a simplicity to it. There’s a great book out there called Insanely Simple. They talk about the realities that keeping things simple and how you can create a masterpiece. It is pretty simple to articulate. There were a handful of moments and experiences in my life and individuals that believed in me and believed in a potential that I didn’t know I had.
It’s championing others to their full potential, but it started with my grandfather. I get a little emotional still because, at 8, 9, and 10 years old, I remember what it felt like. I had a 15-pound sledgehammer and I’m knocking out driveways and steps. I’m working excavating in the summers and my grandpa’s paying me $5 an hour at the time. He’s principally not only teaching me hard work and physical labor, but the conversations and the dump truck with my grandpa were shaping me as an individual.
My dad and my mom, they’re out working. They’re trying to keep the lights on the house. They’re working two jobs. They’re doing their things. I grew up in a split family. My grandfather had the time, patience, and experience to be able to mentor me. He not only taught me how to work hard, but he taught me the importance of hard work. The conversations and philosophies were around that. I still have that sledgehammer. It has a piece of tape on it that says, “Bertha.” In fact, it’s about to hang above my desk in the new office because it creates the association of hard work for me.
The next one is that a gentleman named High Hudson saw potential in me. He was a professional bowler. My parents were split. I bowled at the Ritz Classic. I was eleven at the time. My dad bowled late Friday afternoons with my grandparents. They went up and got their pitcher of beer and a basket of French fries. There was nothing else for a kid to do in the early ’90s in a bowling alley because you couldn’t even play pinball because the pinball machines were in the bar.
You had three options, you bowl, ate at the snack bar, or played pool. I became a bit of a pool shark as well, but it took that guy seeing that I had a bit of a natural ability. He walked up to me one day and said, “You ever thought about doing this?” In my mind, I’m like, “No.” He’s like, “You should.” That opportunity, he saw something in me. He knew that I had enough timing and natural ability that if he could mentor me, I could become something.
I started vacuuming the floors in the pro shop. I started sanding and repairing bowling balls. He was a successful car salesman. I had no idea these fundamental years, I’m in there trying to become a pro bowler, and he’s teaching me how to be a salesman. I’m learning from a successful used car salesman at 12, 13, and 14 years old, how to sell bowling equipment, and become a professional. That’s a recipe.
I then had another mentor, Sean Collins that walked into my life out of nowhere. This dude had no reason to talk to me. I had no reason to talk to him. He was Co-Founder and Creator of Fat Cats and he’s the Chairman and CEO of Costa Vida now which is a $200-plus million company. He walked into my pro shop one day and I was renting a space from him. There’s a lot of stuff in between. He called me right out and said, “You’re way too talented to manage this pro shop.” I was offended. “This is my whole life. What are you talking about?”
I had one conversation with him and I never looked back. I turned the page. He saw potential. He said, “Give me 30 days.” The few years changed my life and my family’s life forever. He saw that potential in me. He saw I could do something. When I stepped into it, I knew nothing about the food business. I had never managed a team beyond the four other people plus me on a bowling team. I stepped into that and every bit of the leadership that he saw in me, I had and applied.
It was in the restaurant and bowling alley, where he said, “Leave the pro shop and come and manage this restaurant?”
He said, “We have this vision,” and back then that vision was Costa Azul, which is now Costa Vida. He said, “We want you to be the first general manager of a Mexican restaurant in a bowling alley.”
At what age?
Only take direct control of what you have direct control over.
I was 20 or 21, somewhere in that range. I went all in. Trust me, I failed way more than I won, but those few wins were substantial. Those failures created that person. When I got into that, I had no business being in the restaurant business, honestly. I had no business being in the brand business. I didn’t even know what that meant. I couldn’t even spell entrepreneur back then. The reality is that I became obsessed with success and impressing my mentor. You fast-forward to the space that we sit in now, and those next series of mentors, those individuals, and the many people along the way, those people that touched me, but those three were like the pivotal.
A lot of people invested, believed, and supported me. My dad is one of my biggest cheerleaders. He has the most massive heart. He calls me every single day for no other reason. If I don’t answer, he leaves me the same six-second voicemail every single day. Every single day he calls to tell me he loves me. My dad doesn’t think the same way about business and success. My dad just has a massive heart. He’s comfortable. I’m not comfortable.
When I become comfortable and complacent, I’m self-sabotaging. Now, I feel like I’m clear. I feel I know my responsibilities. I feel like where I am. Someone saw that potential in me and I took full advantage of it. When you say like, “What do you revisit in this episode? What do you read for?” I believe that there are a few lessons here.
The first one is whatever you commit to, commit an unwavering pursuit. If you make a commitment and that investment, go all in. If you make a commitment in that relationship, go all in. If you commit that you’re going to remove that from your life, go all in. If you commit that that’s going to be a part of your life, go all in. Whatever that is, commit all in, all the time. Move with your entire heart, no matter what you do.
The next one only takes direct control of what you have direct control over. When you talk about a society of entitlement. It’s because society’s entitlement wants to have a comment, opinion, or reality of everything. Those that are empowered realize that they have a specific reason and purpose and they’re all in. Many of us want to control the ocean instead of learning how to surf the waves and anticipate the weather. Get on the right length of a board, put the right wax on, and get after it.
Don’t run from the storm. Learn how to dance in the rain.
Run towards it. The other side of it, too, is that sometimes you got to paddle with both hands to catch the wave you want. When you’re unwavering, you’ll get there. I don’t care what you do. I don’t care if you want to be a doctor, brand builder, chef, lawyer, fireman, influencer, mom blogger, or dad. I don’t care what it is be unwavering in that and make sure that you’re always paddling with both hands to catch the wave you what, but here’s where I am now. This is true.
When I listen to you talk about your daughter, when I listen to you talk about my daughter, when I listened to the conversations with the guys that I hike with every day, I feel like the next big mentor, the next big shift in my life is going to be a dad. There’s a dad that’s showing up in my life now who’s going to help me see that my work is about being the best girl dad there is to my little girls. I make sure that I’m that guy. When they’re grown and continue to progress through this life, I feel like this next journey for me, this next person that’s going to show up that I’m manifesting is recognizing that everything that’s led up to now is principally there for me to guide, to be the lighthouse, and to be the beacon.
I wish I was telling you more about brands and the restaurants, the newest brand that’s going to open a few months from now, and the next ones that are coming out. I feel like I’m ripe. I’m in a transition now. There’s a reason why I feel like I’m in the best shape of my life. I’m not the lightest. I’m not skinny or fat, but I am more physically and mentally capable than I’ve ever been. I also put more work into that than ever before. I’m excited to see how the rest of this journey plays out. I’m excited to wake up every day. I’m not taking it for granted.
One of the best songs I’ve ever written used to get a lot of radio play. It epitomizes you. I wrote it about my sweet dad. You’ve never used the word father and the lyrical hook of my song, Special Man, “Any male can be a father, but it takes a special man to be a dad.” I’m so glad that we had this opportunity to chat so people know the heart and soul behind an entrepreneur. When you go to any of your restaurants, the interesting thing to me is that there’s always the same exact return on experience regardless of what’s on the menu and that is a complete reflection of you.
I know that every single person subconsciously has been trained to treat everyone as if they’re the most important person that’s ever walked in that door because that’s how you treat others. It’s an honor.
We talk about this with our team and our philosophies, but there are 4,700 or so restaurants and bars in Utah operating. When someone walks through our door, it’s 4,700 to 1. We don’t take it for granted. We don’t take the breath, opportunity, and vote of the wallet or the advocate for granted at any point, but when we do, we own it.
Tongue in cheek, this is the funniest experience, but the most profound way to conclude this entire episode with Michael McHenry. They are expensive restaurants and you pay for what you get. I go to one of your restaurants. It’s a business meeting with five people who’ve come in from out of town, and I pay the bill. I had to finance it. We had to tip very well. I run into these guys about three weeks later and not one of them remembered my name. They introduced me to someone else and said, “This is the guy that took us to Provisions. This is the guy that took me to Sunday’s Best.”
They remembered the experience in your restaurant over the conversation and business transaction that we engaged in. If that’s not the best marketing story you’ve ever heard, “I remember he took us to,” because of the experience and the return on that experience. I thank you for your training, your life, and your love. The best part about it is that we’re friends off camera and I can’t wait to spend more time with you and your family.
Likewise. I appreciate the space. I appreciate the opportunity to be real. I didn’t come in here with anything on my head or mind, at least of what I knew. You didn’t send me a list of questions in advance. In fact, those are the best shows, the ones where you sit down, you get after it, and get in the flow. I’m realizing more that my shows, my experiences, and my engagements in these public forums are becoming less about the brand. You can walk into my restaurants and experience that. If you want a case study on how to do it, walk into Sunday’s Best. I say that candidly. If you want to understand how to build a brand for people, that’s the one. Everything is there.
Dirty Bird is not bad.
Go see it. They just opened in Centerville, a two-lane car with the drive through and it’s going nuts. It’s getting on these platforms and having an opportunity to speak from the heart, not worried about what gets published or how it needs to be cut. There was a time in my life when I’m like, “Send it to me in advance. I want to listen to it.” Whatever you cut from this and you get out, I stand behind because I’m saying it with an open heart. Thank you for giving me that platform.
You brought up another conclusion. If you show up at a restaurant for a meal with 3×5 cards, “Nice to meet you, Michael McHenry. It is so good to be with you.” You reach into your pocket and pull out 3×5 cards to respond. If that’s not the world in which we live, I don’t know what it is. It’s so refreshing to have someone who is off the cuff, who’s always the same offstage as you are on stage or in the kitchen, as you are out serving the public. I honor you. That’s the best compliment I could pay you is that you are the same exactly at the Jazz game, in your restaurant, in a show, and on the street.
It might be exhausting from time to time, but it’s who I am unless I’m sleeping. This is exactly who I am.
I can’t wait for you to be back. God bless you. Hopefully, you read every step-by-step process and system of success that you illuminated much more than I anticipated. You exceeded our expectations like you always do.
That’s what we do. Much love all. I hope you enjoy it.
About Michael McHenry
From selling his first self-built business at the age of 19, Michael has made one thing clear – a “good business only scales or sells.” Over the past decade, this 39-year-old industry disruptor has built a world-class team and honed skills in all aspects of experiential brand and concept creation, culture building and high-performance operations from start-up to multi-million-dollar enterprises. Michael’s dedication to “championing others to their fullest potential” is evident having created more than 2500 jobs, 7 viable brands and opening more than 65 restaurants. Michael has a gift for influencing others and creating one of a kind brands. National award-winning concepts under TMG’S crest have changed the course of the restaurant industry.