BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - The founder of Zoë’s Kitchen talks playing at Alabama, learning through adversity, how football made him a better businessman, and the changing culture of fast casual restaurants.
Highlights from the episode include:
“Even with the success I’ve had in business and what that’s meant for me, personally, financially, to my family and me, nothing compares to my experience at playing at the University of Alabama.”
“The greatest lessons I’ve learned in life…[I learned] on the football field.”
“Sometimes in sports and in life, you end up at the right place at the wrong time.”
“I made the most of it and it meant the world to me. Fighting through that, and not having success when I thought I would, and understanding what that meant to fight through that really paved the way in my next endeavor which was getting into the business world.”
John also shares the origin of Zoë’s Kitchen and how a few family recipes turned into a trendsetting franchise in the fast casual industry.
“What we did was very difficult, but we made it look easy. And that’s always something that gives you a competitive advantage over your competition. We were at the forefront of fast casual food.”
“Kinda like the millions of times I wanted to quit Alabama when I wasn’t starting more and I wanted to quit, and I laid there with tears in my eyes in my pillow at Bryant Hall. I just said look man, you gotta suck this up, you’re not a quitter, you’re not going to ever be known as someone who didn’t make it, who didn’t make it work.”
“I have some weird fascination with wanting to do things that are so incredibly hard. Whether it’s going and running 50 miles in the mountains, or playing football at Alabama, or building a business, I just really enjoy doing things that other people are not willing to do, that are extremely difficult and I take a lot of satisfaction in the fact that I can do that and I can stay focused and do that, and deal with it mentally. When I ultimately have success, it’s not so much about the success itself, it’s more of a success that people are in awe that I’m able to go through those processes and make things work, and how hard it is, and that’s really something that motivates me. I just like doing things that other people aren’t willing to do.”
“I sit here today at 51 years old and I’m thinking if all I did in my life was play football at Alabama and start Zoe’s Kitchen, and it ended here today, then I feel like I’ve left something on the table. I feel like…if I keep pressing the envelop and still strive for greatness and strive to do things that are hard and difficult, whether it’s creating businesses, or creating opportunities for other people, or charities, or whatever it is, that I still feel like my greatest moment is yet to come."
John is out of the food business and is building a new liquidation business in Pelham. John explains what drew him to Mike’s Merchandise, and what you could expect to find if you shop there (hint: you can find basically anything).
Check out the full episode to hear how John has turned the lowest of lows in his life to the highest of highs.
Download new episodes each Thursday this football season. You can find Air It Out on your favorite podcast streaming app.