A Server's Journey

Meet Rocky DeStefano

April 26, 2018
A Server's Journey
Meet Rocky DeStefano
Chapters
A Server's Journey
Meet Rocky DeStefano
Apr 26, 2018
Rocky DeStefano
Rocky Destefano talks servant leadership and how to make people's stories better.
Show Notes Transcript

Chick-fil-A Owner Rocky DeStefano introduces his unconventional journey from an adrift youngster with a knack for trouble to a successful, people-driven businessman. In this pilot episode of A Server’s Journey, follow Rocky and co-producer Larry King as they discuss growing up with immigrant parents and accidentally finding faith while milking the clock.

Speaker 1:
0:02
Welcome to this edition of a server's journey with rocky destefano. Rocky does the final's going to server since its early days of working behind the counter at a chick fillet store in south Florida today. He has a successful restaurant of his own. Rocky is called upon by the chick fil a family to help in the development and staff training around the country from being a leader in a server himself. He likes to talk about leading yourself. A few, many, and an organization. Recently, rocky was selected to be selected for to local service awards from the cornerstone hospice as man of the year and from the Chamber of Commerce as citizen of the year in the Greater Orlando area. He was surprised and honored by these accolades. Good Morning Larry. Thank you so much for that introduction. I appreciate it very much. What a journey you've been on already. Yeah, well I think that has to do more with how old I am than anything else to go.
Speaker 1:
1:01
Come on. So this is episode one of the new podcast called a survivor's journey. Yeah. And where's it going to take us? I am so excited about this journey that we're about to take and I hope that we get just hundreds and thousands of people to come along. It is something that I am passionate about and I truly believe in a survivor's journey. It's really for anybody in any level of leadership, whether you're the CEO of a $9,000,000,000 company or a mother who's leading our household. Um, I think that life is full of stories and I hope that together on this journey we're going to make a lot of stories better. So I think it will be great and help for, for us to meet here each week at this time. And if you miss a session, remember, you can always check back on the episode log and check in at anytime.
Speaker 1:
1:54
You don't have to get to know rocky. Can I call you a rocky by the way? You can call me rocky Rocco, whatever, whatever, you know, I thought it'd be a good idea just to get to know you a little bit. So we're. Where did your journey start? Well know I was born in Cleveland, Ohio and my parents are Buckeye. I am a Buckeye and, you know, proud Buckeye. Um, you would never miss those football games, you know, it's the one winning team we have. My parents were immigrants from Italy so that without a doubt, flavors who I am and how I was raised, my parents moved to Florida, Sunny Florida. They got tired of the winters in early eighties and I was kind of a, a kid that was a little bit of drift I would say. I was trying to figure out my way. My parents were great people and they gave me as much guidance as they could, but they were still learning.
Speaker 1:
2:53
What did you America, what do you mean by you were trying to find your way? What? I wasn't really a great. Um, I had a, a knack for getting in trouble, a kind of being a knucklehead and my parents, as I said, they gave me a lot of guidance and a lot of real tough love, you know, they were still learning America too and kind of its ways. So you're in high school? Yeah, I'm in high school. They put you to work at. Yeah. So that was definitely something that was never open for debate. You got a job and you know, if it didn't help you earn money or have a career, then why are we doing it. That was their mentality. You said your parents were immigrants. Was your family, were you helping to support the family at that time? So we had a large family.
Speaker 1:
3:39
I had four older sisters and myself and uh, one, one wage earner a, everything was a little bit of survival, but without a doubt, you know, we lived in, in Cleveland, we lived in this little pocket where a less than a quarter mile away where my, both my grandparents, uh, three of my aunts and uncles and my dad was the gentleman they called for everything and anything. So yeah, we were supporting a lot of people I think, okay, you know, you're, you're in south Florida, you get a job at Mcdonald's. I do. Right. And my dad said, get up and go to work. He was a, he was kind of tired of me laying, laying around being a lazy law. Again, this is, you're what, 16 years old. Yeah. And actually, I think I was 15, so I'm sure we probably were breaking a few laws back then.
Speaker 1:
4:26
Um, but, you know, hey, we had back then and so, you know, I, I, I got a job at Mcdonald's and if I were to describe myself to you, I, I, I had to be the worst team member, worst employee that they had probably ever seen. I, again, as I mentioned before, I, I got in trouble a lot. I was always up to something like, to have a lot of fun and a lot of times that was at the expense of, of Mcdonald's without a doubt. And I didn't have a great work ethic as much as you think I would because of my parents. I really didn't. I was lazy, misguided, didn't have a lot of direction at all. So what happens at a Mcdonald's? So I, uh, you know, this was back in the day before a phone video, thank God, but in a, in a dramatic Hollywood script ending, I was fired for hitting a customer with something.
Speaker 1:
5:24
Uh, I believe it was a sigh, a sauce. I'm not sure what sauce it was and it may have been the sweet and sour sauce, but I didn't intend to hit them. I intended to hit one of my friends at work, but. So you're goofing around. I was goofing around pretty, pretty. Yes. So, you know, I was asked to leave very, uh, very, very urgently and they kick you out. They kicked me out. Yes. That says true. Wow. So a boy. I was afraid Larry at that point, because I could not go home and tell my parents. Not only was I a worthless, a terrible worker, but I had been fired from Mcdonald's. It just would not have gone well. So where did you go? Uh, well I got up everyday after school. I packed my uniform, like I was going to work several, several times.
Speaker 1:
6:08
I even put it on and left in my car and had a change of clothes and boy, I pounded the streets looking for another job because I thought if I come home with another job I probably won't be harshly punished. Yeah. Um, so I got lucky. I, after two weeks I had no idea what I was going to do, I couldn't find a job and I wandered into the arcade in our local mall and I came out of the arcade. I was really just killing time and I remember seeing the storefront that I didn't know. I really didn't know what it was. And it was like the skies opened and it was chick filet. It was a directly across from the arcade while. And this was in the mall. Yeah. And so I said, hey, what the heck? I'm here. I got to kill time.
Speaker 1:
6:53
Let me go in there and experienced as a restaurant. Right. So I, I went inside and I asked if I could speak to the manager, and a gentleman named Joe Denardo came out and uh, I said, can I fill an application out? He said, yeah, let's, let's sit down right now. Which I was not prepared for. I, he took me off guard a little bit with that, but he came out and sat with me and man, we realized we had all these connection points. He was the son of an Italian immigrant. First Generation American, like me, he actually was born and raised in Cleveland, just like me. Really a hop skip away from where I was raised. Um, man, it was just such, so many connecting points. He asked me this question and I'm convinced that it's part providence that I answered. Honestly, I haven't mentioned this, but I had a pension to find trouble and I had a very willing nature of lying.
Speaker 1:
7:54
I lied a lot even when the truth would be easier I think. And I don't know where I got that from, but I did. So he asked me if I called Mcdonald's and ask them what type of employee you were me, what would you say? And I don't know what happened, but I do believe there's a certain amount of providence because I looked at him and I said, Joe, they would tell you that I was the worst team member they'd ever had and that you should avoid me at any cost. Wow. What a statement. Absolutely. But providential. Yes. I thought he said, okay, I'll give you a call. And uh, we'll see. And I, I thought that was the nice, polite kiss off and um, I was shocked the next day when he called me and he offered me a job and uh, that's kind of been the biggest, a bit of luck I think I found.
Speaker 1:
8:46
So that was the early days of working behind the counter at full, fully in south Florida. Yeah, absolutely. And uh, you know, it was, it changed my life. I'm Joe and his wife and his family were almost the antithesis of my family. We were both Italian immigrants. We were, uh, you know, very deeply rooted into our culture and our family. But Joe was this amazing guy. He was easy to speak with. Um, he was a hard worker. He was a servant leader. He absolutely cared for his people even even more so, his wife cared for his people. And uh, Joe began to slowly but surely chip away at some of my inadequacies and really build me up into something, uh, of, of what I was to become. So you are now a successful restaurant owners chick fillet. Yes. The journey has been quite broad. Absolutely. You know, the, the next chapter, maybe the next big event was joe had really begun to change me.
Speaker 1:
9:54
I'd been accepted by his family. He was absolutely convinced that I had to go to college. Now my parents were 100 percent behind that bandwagon, but at that point, you know, at that age I was not listening to my parents as well. And you said you weren't that good of a student, so how are you going to get into college now? I was a, uh, at, at best a C, b student, but I also didn't really apply myself. But so joe, uh, had heard about a scholarship that chick filet offered to a small school in Georgia and he literally took me and my best friend and drove us up there to visit the campus and uh, to apply for the scholarship. And it again, probably the second thing in my life that really changed me. I assume you got the scholarship? Yeah, I did. And I'm not quite sure again why, uh, I think that, you know, people who gave me these chances, they saw something in me that I don't even know if I saw in myself at that point, but I, or maybe I just fold them, but whatever happened, they, uh, they allowed me into their school.
Speaker 1:
11:01
Okay. And you completed four years of Cadet? Yeah, I did. And you know, I became a great student. Not only a good but a great. I finally started catching a vision that wow, I, I could, I could be something, I could do something I could change. Uh, you know, where I came from. Were you still working with chick fil a at the time? Yeah, I did. I continued to working at art school. Yeah, different operator, a different store. But I also drove a bus and I also was a janitor. So in order to, you know, they gave me a scholarship, there was still a whole lot that was uncovered. So, uh, I worked three jobs really to kind of like get by. Okay. So you got through college, you graduated, then you went onto what law school? Yeah, I got a scholarship. Yes, rocky law and now I can see the shingles.
Speaker 1:
11:46
No, I mean I think it was probably the, you know, John Garretson books that really encouraged me. That law was what I should do, but I got accepted into law school and actually got a half tuition scholarship which helped a strange the same school. No, I'm sorry. It was not actually, it took me down to south Florida dual enrollment with St Thomas and University of Miami. And so you were such a great law student. You just loved the law. Right. Okay. So that's, that's partly true, Larry. Thank you. Forgive me credit. I, I love the study of law, but I began to realize I didn't want to be an attorney and, and nothing against the attorneys. I, you know, I have one I think every smart person does, but I just realized it was not going to be a good fit for me and who I want to become.
Speaker 1:
12:40
So I was lost again. Really? Yeah. So didn't aaa put play a part here? So yeah, it was really odd. I was in between my first and second year, I was doing a grand opening for chick fillet, helping them open a store and I was approached by a Home Office employee as a staff member and he looked at me and he said, why are you not with chick fil a? And I said to him, man, that's a good question. And so I began to apply to become an owner operator, Franchisee at chick filet. And did you go to the store? Oh boy. They made me work for it, but yes, I did. I was accepted into the program, left law school, and have never looked back. I traveled for several years running very hard stores to run for chick filet kind of resuscitating the stores. And you were all over the country who wasn't that broad at that time?
Speaker 1:
13:37
No, no. We were probably around 300 stores and nobody really knew who was chick filet. Exactly. Nobody really knew who chick flay was back then. Um, but you know, more than anything, I was attracted to what Joe was. To me, the impact and the influence that Joe was to me. I met the founder of chick fil a true at Kathy, and he looked at me and said that, you know, our mission is to glorify God by being a faithful steward of what we've been given and to have a positive influence on people that we come in contact with and man, for a kid who was lost and unsure, uh, I was shocked that there was nothing about selling chicken or making money in that statement and it really, it, it resonated in me in a way that nothing else really had. Now that we got that out of the way, I know you're a serving person.
Speaker 1:
14:30
Absolutely. And there's more to just work in business. Uh, what about your family life? When did you meet your wife? So I met my wife at college. Uh, thanks again to that scholarship. So you're seeing a consistent trend. I wandered out of the arcade. I saw a company I didn't know I got a job. I got a college degree. I met my wife and I found my career all from a trying to avoid getting in serious trouble for my father is walking into a store. Yeah. So how did you, what about your family life? What, what, what do you do? You're a successful businessman. Yeah. You got a family to run and I'm even more proud of that. I have been married now 26 years. Congratulations. She's a wonderful woman who puts up with me and uh, that is a full time job. I have three great daughters and they don't even realize how big of a part of my life they are.
Speaker 1:
15:32
Um, they are everything to Tricia and I and uh, we had been blessed beyond measure. You have a spiritual life as well? Yeah. How does that fit into this journey? I was a Catholic kid. Uh, you know, we went to church every time the church was open because we were, we were supposed to, but I didn't really have any faith in my own. Joe and his wife led me to a relationship with God. Um, and it was different than what my relationship was. A, it was more one of we have to do this, uh, Joe and his wife, it was more of we get to do this. So they had another profound effect on me in helping me figure out my faith journey to. Well, tell me about the time that Joe approached you regarding your spiritual life. Right? Yeah. So, um, I had, I had begun to change.
Speaker 1:
16:25
I had become a very hard worker for Joe and mostly because I love Joe. I didn't want to let him down. I knew that this was his livelihood, so I did become a much more dedicated team member, but I still had my lazy side and so one day I was coming off break and didn't really want to go back to work and I knew that if I got, Joe started talking about God that I could kind of milk the clock for a little bit longer. And so I did. I started a conversation with them, a very open ended question and I remember 30 something minutes later going down stairs, back to work and realizing that I had to change. So that was the beginning of my faith journey. So you're a successful businessman, you have a very good store. Yes sir. Why are you so involved in leadership and developing other people?
Speaker 1:
17:17
And guiding them, you know, my, my first several years of, of being an owner operator, um, I was able to kind of muscle it myself. It was really my efforts and my hard work and uh, I could do everything better or so I thought I'm in, you know, God began to change me. And the business began to change me because the scope and the success of chick filet, uh, began to become astronomical. It just was up into the right and I realized I couldn't, I couldn't handle this myself anymore. And so I was going to have to change my leadership approach or I was going to die of a heart attack over a chicken cooker in the back, that kitchen. So, you know, I, I really began to say, okay, so what are, what are the things that I have, what are the assets to our store?
Speaker 1:
18:09
And we had a lot, we had great food and we had a great brand and it was a strong brand that was becoming very, very popular. But my greatest asset was my people, the people that were working for us and who just like me with Joe, they were bought in and they were bought in because they knew that I cared and I love them no matter what they did or, or, or who they were. I was more interested in what they could become than necessarily who they were at the moment. And I think that was what Joe saw in me. He, he, he did not see a good team member. He must have saw somebody who could become a good personally. No. I know you interviewed people yet today. Yeah, I, yeah, I do use. Do you see rocky walking in yourself? Do you, do you understand that question?
Speaker 1:
19:04
Sure. Do you see that? So I, I definitely have my heartstrings are always pulled for that young young man or young woman who didn't have the ideal. A Norman Rockwell kind of upbringing who may be, have had, has been through a little bit. Um, yeah. I always think what could they become, you know, what, what could we help them become know as any. Can you give an example of someone that you saw like that and what have they done yet? You know, so we've last week we've had four of our team members that started when they were 16, 17 who now own restaurants have their own. So yeah, I, I seen a dramatic impact and, and of course it's not just me, it's really chick fil a as a whole, but, but it is a lot of the things I believe in and the things that we teach and we preach within chick filet and also at my store.
Speaker 1:
19:59
And has anyone really gone to higher levels beyond the store? You know, we have had team members who are helped. Oh, President Obama ran his campaigns and I think we know that he was successful. He got elected twice A. We've had game designers that were the impetus behind a rock band and guitar hero. And I've gone onto wildly successful careers. Um, we've had politicians come out of our stores and attorneys and then we've had some really great leaders of chick flay restaurants too. And I don't want to minimize that. Well, it looks like this is the start of a journey. Yeah, absolutely. And I said this is just one step at a time and I believe what we're gonna do is we're going to be able to pull some of these other leaders in to share what story has been. Absolutely. You know, my hope and again, is it, it's great if we can apply this to business, it's great.
Speaker 1:
20:56
And you know, one thing I want to point out is profit isn't a dirty word. It, there's nothing wrong with making money or being successful business. If you look at, um, blake, I believe his name, blake mycoskie from toms shoes, which I think everybody know. Yeah. So, you know, his idea was to help the world by running a great business. And you know, he started in 2006, I think he's given out $40, million pairs of shoes and a has attributed 335,000 weeks of clean water and I'm restored eyesight and gotten glasses for hundreds of thousands of kids. He also made $390,000,000 as a company last year and is wildly successful. So those, those things are not at odds, but whether you applied at business or whether you take it to your marriage or, or your, how you raise your kids, there are some points that are consistent in no matter what we do.
Speaker 1:
21:59
And I think those are. I look back, why did I not care and Mcdonald's and why did I care at chick filet and it was because somebody cared for me and somebody saw something in me that I didn't even see in myself and he almost willed me to become this person that I could become. So I hope we do that for a wife to a husband or a father to their kids or, or to your team at, at work. Uh, that's the journey. I hope that we progress. That can be on. Yeah. Well listen, you can check out the website. The website is called servers journey.com. And we'd like you to subscribe to the podcast weekly because each Wednesday the podcast will be here. Ready for you. Yeah. And you know Larry, one, one last thing, I, I hope he sensed the passion that, that I have.
Speaker 1:
22:53
And Larry has, and we're going to be introducing some guests toast also, you know, we're not just doing this for, for no reason. We really feel that in the world today. There is darkness without a doubt in this world today. But we see it a brighter future. And, and we think it's really all around this idea of being a servant leader and getting the best out of people. You know, I hope that together we're going to make some amazing stories come true. So until next time that I'm rocky deaths to final. And I appreciate you listening.