When CFO Robert Linder highlights what distinguishes the dining experience at Lazy Dog Restaurant & Bar, it’s easy to imagine him as a friendly host escorting us across a lively dining area filled with spirited patrons.
“I love the hospitality industry, and I didn’t always know why—but I love to host and I love the interaction and taking care of someone and helping them to discover something new,” says Linder, whose words draw our attention to the universal splendor of dining out and its bitter absence from our lives during these past many months.Read More
From the start, we knew that our discussion would become focused on the pandemic and its impact on Lazy Dog’s business, yet we couldn’t help but want to linger as Linder listed the popular menu items from the restaurant that currently serves customers at 39 locations in seven states.
In the end, we left it to Lazy Dog’s CFO to transport us back to earth with the not so enviable time of arrival being March 2020.
“It’s hard not to point to something in the past year, given all of what this industry has gone through,” says Linder, when asked to share a moment of strategic insight that he’s experienced during the course of his career.
Looking back, Linder recalls the first 48 hours when shelter-in-place orders were being issued in California and the full magnitude of the decisions that would need to be made began occupying the thoughts of Lazy Dog management.
“We knew that our cash burn rate would be significant, and the thinking was around how we could adjust our costs as quickly as possible in order to survive,” explains Linder, who observes that survival demanded a wide and aggressive workforce reduction but Lazy Dog management remained uncertain about its response and considered whether several waves of layoffs over a period of weeks might permit the business to “buy time” and allow management to revisit the question of layoffs again in the future.
“What we realized was that the outcome that would be most kind to our people was the one that would offer them a job when we came out of the other side of this thing,” comments Linder, who notes that management rejected having several waves of layoffs in favor of one large one.
“This was one of the best decisions that we made because from that time forward we have only delivered good news to our people and have been able to say, ‘Hey, we’re bringing some people back’ or ‘Hey, we’re able to restore a portion of your compensation,’” reports Linder, who adds that Lazy Dog has continued to pay health insurance for those who have been laid off.
Says Linder: “For me, that 48-hour period showed why you can’t run away from a hard decision as a finance leader.” –Jack Sweeney
CFOTL: Tell us about Lazy Dog and what sets it apart from other casual dining experiences …
Linder: Lazy Dog is an experiential and next generation casual dining brand. We serve handcrafted American food and drink. When you walk into the restaurant, you get this small town mountain vibe from everything from the rustic social setting to the friendly service. It’s just a great place to go with friends and family and have a meal. That’s kind of who we are. At the cornerstone is a great restaurant experience, a very large menu, so that there’s something for everybody, and it plays across multiple generations really well. We have 39 restaurants across seven states. Our roots are in southern California.Read More
A lot of restaurant chains our size, even at 39, may still be geographically limited, but we’re across seven states at this point and building a restaurant in Boca Raton, Florida, right now, which will be our eighth state. Nevada, Illinois, Georgia, Virginia, Texas, Colorado, and California are the other ones. That’s where we’re at today. Frankly, we see ourselves growing across the country. Given our success in all of the states that we’ve played in so far, we recognize that we really can go just about anywhere and be successful.
Chris Simms is our CEO and founder. He’s a third-generation restaurateur. His dad, Tom Simms, was the founder of Mimi’s. His grandfather had restaurants in southern California. It was one of the things that connected me with him because my background is third-generation in restaurants as well, in a different capacity than Chris. So, clearly, restaurants are in his DNA, and understanding the industry is something that I knew that he had as a leader and could use to help us grow this company.
Value Quote: “When it comes to growth, we’ve been experiencing a 20% trajectory for the past five years. Obviously, there been a little bit of a pause as we get through COVID and the uncertainty of where things are headed, but we are looking at returning to that 20% growth in the future.”
Lazy Dog Restaurant & Bar | www.lazydogrestaurants.com