Working in the food industry isn’t just a job for Shauna and Andrew Smith—it’s their passion.
“Food is love, and our goal is just to spread love,” says Shauna. “Our business was born and bred in Utah, and we’re so excited to pay it forward to those who have supported us from the beginning. We want to give a resounding ‘thank you’ to the community.”
The Smiths founded Four Foods Group in 2009 when Andrew, drawing from a successful background in technology, marketing, sales, and finance, challenged himself to figure out a better way to develop and efficiently run a multi-unit restaurant chain company. Shauna served as the company’s chief merchandising officer for 10 years and was named president in 2018 with Andrew serving as the chief executive officer.
In May of 2020, Andrew joined Mercato Partners founder Greg Warnock as a managing partner of the firm’s new food and beverage Savory Fund. Together, they are poised to invest a fresh new $90 million into the restaurant industry using their experience and a select veteran team of industry professionals from Four Foods Group. Shauna joined Savory as the president of their value add team, working with each of the portfolio brands to increase revenues, to find efficiencies, and to replicate the brand into multiple geographies.
This dynamic duo met while college students in Provo, Utah. “Actually, I was on a date with someone else when I met Andrew,” said Shauna, an Alabama girl. Andrew is a self-proclaimed city slicker from Chicago.
“We met and married and have raised our family here in wonderful Utah. We think it is an amazing place to raise a family,”
They are the parents of two sons, Christian 20, and Tobin, 14.
Andrew’s career started in the tech world, and after several years of running and selling several tech companies, he switched gears following the recession of 2008. He realized that these kinds of companies were much more cyclical due to market swings. Most tech firms were closely tied to the market swings each time the economy was down, and the Smiths wanted something with more stability for their next venture. During that time of evaluation, Andrew saw how restaurants were still booming and people were filling each brick and mortar location amidst the recession in 2008. He realized he wanted to make a career change from tech to the food and beverage industry.
Shauna started their endeavor by opening their first restaurant, which was a Kneaders Bakery and Cafe’ in Lehi, Utah. Soon after, Andrew resigned from his tech company position as CEO and founder and jumped right in, taking orders and working the cash register on his first day, laboring alongside some of their 18-year-old employees. It was a wakeup call for the couple as they both labored the usual 12-14-hour days, but they loved working together on their new venture. They were students of the game, learning everything and anything they could from others in the industry along with a lot of trial and error. Over the next 10 years, the Smiths built 50 Kneaders locations in five states, owned and operated 72 Little Caesars in the southeast, and invested into three new beloved Utah brands. In 2019, they surpassed $1 billion in food and beverage sales, a level very few have ever reached in the industry.
As president of Four Foods Group, Shauna became one of the more influential foods and beverage executives in the U.S. Four Foods Group has been listed in the Top 200 Restaurant Operators in the nation twice, as well as being a multi-time winner of one of the “Best Companies to Work For,” and an eight-time honor roll honoree on the Inc. 500 list.
Shauna and Andrew sold their Kneaders restaurants at the end of 2018 and their Little Caesars stores at the end of 2019. Today, the team is focusing on the three current Savory portfolio brands: award-winning championship barbeque great, R&R BBQ, the original dirty soda drink and treat shop, Swig, and the Hawaiian eatery, Mo’Bettahs. And that is just the beginning. Savory plans on adding two new brands in 2021. As they replicate these brands throughout the U.S., the Smiths will continue to fulfill their true passion and goal; job creation. In fact, over the last 12 years, they have already created more than 26,000 jobs in Utah and surrounding states.
Right in the middle of the official launch of Savory fund, the pandemic hit in March of 2020. “Much like the rest of us, the restaurant brands had to be on the defense when all the directives were coming at us left and right. But it was a rich conversation with our partner, Greg Warnock, managing partner and founder of Mercato Partners, that the tables turned for us after he issued the challenge to ‘transition from defense to offense,’” said Shauna. “We then declared our goal of ‘Stay Safe, Eat Well, Keep Our Teams Working’ to our team and the industry.”
Shauna and the value-add team did the difficult and challenging work of innovating and adapting to the directives to align with pre-established goals. They stood up virtual drive-thrus, amplified online ordering, third-party delivery, and pop-ups in grocery stores and parking lots. The team even came together and created a nonprofit to begin feeding those who had been laid off or furloughed and to support those front-line workers who needed a warm meal through donated dollars. They call it Relief Packs and have fed over 40,000 people in just 7 weeks so far, with more packs going out daily all over Utah.
“We took a hard pivot, and our business looked entirely different. That’s an enormous undertaking for a business to do that, and the credit goes to our team,” said Shauna. Greg and Andrew also committed $1 million cash, along with the partners of each portfolio brand, into an employee relief fund that was strictly allocated to keeping their employees working and getting a life-sustaining paycheck during the pandemic. “Because of that initial challenge to transition from defense to offense, the goal shifted from surviving to thriving,” Shauna added.
With all that success, their focus remains on the people. Shauna often tells her employees, “You’re the reason I wake up in the morning.” They realize that especially in times of financial uncertainty their employees count on them for a life-sustaining paycheck. “It all goes back to the people,” Shauna says. “It’s the reason we exist.”
“We want to keep the economy growing and people working,” Andrew adds. It is this attitude that has helped them persevere over every bump in the road thus far during the crisis. To date, they have not eliminated any positions at each location, middle management or corporate office.
For the Smiths, both food and family are passions. When asked what their favorite comfort foods are, they didn’t hesitate: “Deep dish pizza,” shouted Andrew. “If you haven’t had Chicago deep dish, then you haven’t had pizza. Gino’s East specifically!” For Shauna, it was “anything fried,” and she admitted that “McDonald’s french fries have gotten me through a lot of hard times.”
When it comes to work-life balance, the Smiths take a different approach than many. “I’ve decided that balance is a myth and so I approach it in a different way,” Shauna says. “It’s about triage for me. Who needs me most right now? What is hemorrhaging the most today? Sometimes that’s business, sometimes that’s my marriage, and sometimes that’s my kids.”
Their children have grown up in the family business and know that sometimes their parents have pressing work needs, and the people at their business know that sometimes they will need to step out and attend to their family. Andrew extols the virtues of raising children in this way: “I would suggest that you make any business a family business. Talk to your spouse and kids about what you are doing. Give them details. Then give them updates. Don’t brush them off. They care about what is going on, and you want them to learn to care. This will teach your kids things they will not learn in school.”
Despite the incredible challenges 2020 brought, the Smiths’ future looks bright. “If we can look back and say we created over 100,000 jobs by the time we’re done, and dot the U.S. with incredible new brands, then it will be ‘mission accomplished.’”
Learn more at fourfoodsgroup.com.
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