Dave Manuchia may not be a household name, but he has played a big role in the restaurant industry for the past 40 years.
Among his many accomplishments, Manuchia was one of the founders of the Olive Garden franchise.
“(I) got a degree in business, got an MBA and ended up working for General Mills — General Mills restaurants back then — here in Orlando, when I moved to Orlando in 1981,” Manuchia said. “So we were doing accounting, and all of a sudden, this guy came through my department and sat there for two days. (He) left. Two months later, he called. He goes, ‘Hey, remember me?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He goes, ‘We’re starting this new Italian chain. I’m the first employee. I have one other employee, and I’d like to bring you on the team.’ And he said, ‘You know, if it doesn’t work, we’re probably all going to get fired, and I can’t give you a raise,’ and I say, ‘Oh, man, let’s go. Let’s try it.’”
What followed was a flurry of 120 work weeks for the small team working to create a new restaurant chain.
“We each had our own booth to sleep in and our wives didn’t see us,” he said. “They’d have to show up at 11 o’clock at night to say ‘hi.’”
Manuchia said everyone involved played multiple roles in making the chain a success.
“I was the CFO, administrative guy, policy guy, taste tester, dishwasher, you know, whatever it took back then,” he said. “I was the Ringo Starr of the group. I was in the back, just keeping the beat and made sure all the paychecks went out, and bills got paid and all that kind of stuff.”
Manuchia ended up staying with the company, which would eventually become Darden Restaurants, for 11 years before striking out on his own.
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In 1992, he started Restaurant Partners, Inc. The company operates and manages restaurants around the country. It also provides consultation and support services for chefs and other restauranteurs.
“One of the things that I learned at Darden is you have to have an infrastructure to support a restaurant business,” Manichia said. “You can’t just be a chef and have a great spaghetti recipe. That’s fine, but what about paying the bills? What about the rent, what about all those things — taxes and all? So we set about to set up what we call a ‘chassis.’ Our chassis has marketing operations, policies and procedures, purchasing, accounting, HR — that chassis is now available to all our clients and all our managed properties, as well as our own properties.”
The businessman said his company’s structure supports several one-off businesses, but it has also helped restaurants expand their footprints and grow into chains.
“We can’t guarantee success, but what we can guarantee is the foundation that you can worry about doing what you do best and let us take care of everything else,” Manuchia said. “And that’s worked out really well for a lot of folks.”
On the latest episode of Florida Foodie, Manuchia talks about the changes in the restaurant industry over his career. He also talks about how his restaurants are weathering ongoing inflation and supply chain issues.
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Florida Foodie is a bi-weekly podcast from WKMG and Graham Media that takes a closer look at what we eat, how we eat it and the impact that has on us here in Florida and for everyone, everywhere. Find new episodes on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you download your favorite podcasts.