Perhaps the most important thing to know in order to understand the Briar Group is that it’s a family business, CEO Austin O’Connor says.

“My father Austin F. O’Connor immigrated to America from Ireland in the 1950s,” he explains. “He started in the construction business. He opened his first pub in 1971 though he was really focused on real estate and construction until 1989. Basically, the whole family came to work for him.” This includes brother Kevin O’Connor as well as sisters Caroline Walsh and Shelia Taylor. Austin O’Connor’s background is in the field of engineering, so he brings a logical approach to the foodservice and hospitality business, he says.

Lorne Goldberg had a highly successful record in the finance industry when he started looking into some restaurant brands. Armed with a strong financial know-how and a keen understanding of what it takes to succeed in the restaurant industry, he and his team were able to breathe new life into some underperforming brands, and now Goldberg has a reputation as a top restaurateur. 

With a degree from Temple University with a concentration in finance, Goldberg began working in 1992 for Heitman Financial, a multibillion-dollar real estate investment company in Beverly Hills, Calif. In 1995, Goldberg founded West Coast Capital, where he completed more than $400 million in transactions and built the firm to be one of the leading boutique investment banks in Los Angeles, specializing in mergers, acquisitions and equity financings. In 2003, his firm was asked to sell the Mandarin Express restaurant chain, which he subsequently decided to buy in 2004, his entrée into the restaurant industry. Goldberg’s next major moves were to acquire Leeann Chin in 2007 and Pick Up Stix in 2010. 

Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt is not shy about its growth plans. What started in 2007 as a humble but passion-filled husband-and-wife operation seeks to be a global network of 2,000 franchises in the next 20 years. Danna and Adam Caldwell opened their first Menchie’s in Valley Village, Calif., a suburban Los Angeles community. In 2008, the two brought in experienced business leaders to achieve their worldwide vision. 

Danna and Adam remain the company’s president and COO, respectively, and leverage the expertise of Elie Balas, chairman of the board, and Amit Kleinberger, CEO and board director. In addition to his duties with Menchies, Balas serves as executive director of Ami Adini & Associates Inc., an environmental consulting company. Kleinberger has owned various enterprises, including a senior assisted-living facility, a glass distribution company and a regional chain of cellular communications retail stores. 

Not many restaurants can say they have a famous recording artist on their management team, but The New Miami Subs Grill can. With Armando Christian Perez – also known as “Pitbull” – as its director and equity partner, the nearly 30-year-old company is bringing itself to “the next level,” CEO Richard Chwatt says. “We’re taking an iconic brand and revitalizing it.”

Based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Miami Subs serves a menu featuring Philly cheesesteaks, chicken wings, gyros, pitas, hot and cold subs, and burgers. Founder Gus Boulis started the company in 1988 with a single restaurant, and today it operates nearly 40 locations worldwide.

In 2008, when DLR Restaurants LLC President and COO Ralph McCracken was researching the purchase of Dick’s Last Resort with the investment group Triton Pacific Capital, he would strike up conversations with people sitting next to him on airplanes who had visited one of the irreverent chain’s distinctive locations.

“The first thing they did was smile, and they had some kind of crazy story,” McCracken recalls. “They never remembered what they had to eat, but they remembered they had a great time.”

For anyone who hasn’t been to Dick’s, it’s pretty much like wandering into a Halloween party without a costume. People go there in multigenerational groups of family members, business associates or friends to party with or without their kids – often to celebrate a significant occasion, such as a bachelor or bachelorette party – and have a good time. Carefully trained to employ Dick’s distinctive party hats, jokes and techniques, the front-of-house greeter and servers have gregarious personalities that engage customers and get them laughing.

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