After six moves in 14-plus years managing corporate restaurants my wife had had enough of it. Hurricane Katrina had devastated the area a little over a year ago and I was getting job offers (good ones) to move again. But she didn't want to leave home, especially in the condition it was in. She put her foot down not knowing what lied ahead for us. She takes no credit for inspiring me by saying, "Open your own place, be part of the rebuilding" but she did.
Phil's Grill was born with the seed planted that we would give back! My company has seen its share of success and it's also suffered some pretty significant failures. But what hasn't suffered is knowing that no matter how hard it gets from day-to-day, when you help others you're a success. That's what works for me.
A year after I opened I started a tradition of celebrating National Burger Month with a month-long charity event. I was introduced to New Orleans Saints legend Deuce McAllister and his team at Catch 22 along with some local media celebrities and very boldly asked if they would help me. The first year we raised about $4,000 for Deuce's foundation and had a lot of fun with it. The next year I wanted it to help more locally. I decided I would find a local cause that needed help. I was introduced to Gina Lorio at The Miracle League of Greater New Orleans. I was thrilled that she was so excited and willing to help my company help her cause. It's grown each of the past 5 years both in monies raised ($20,000 last year) but also in a true salvation for me and the company. I mean that literally. In six years I've opened four restaurants, closing two. I've racked up a lot of debt. I've disappointed (understatement) investors and struggled to pay the bills at times but no matter how bad things have been from time to time when some of these kids come in and they tell me or their parents tell me how much they love playing ball. Or to find out Gina has started a soccer league as well. It drives me to keep grinding in one of the most difficult economic times in our history to keep giving and keep helping those that aren't as fortunate as I am.
They say small business is the back bone of America. Sometimes I feel like a pinched nerve! I know The Miracle League has some bigger corporate sponsors than my little $2.4 million company. They probably don't need me as much as I need them.
So what works, in my opinion is making certain that no matter how big or how small your company is carve out a piece to give back to the community that supports you. I call it PHILanthropy in part to be funny but also to put ownership on it. Community is a core value I built my company on from the seed planted by my wife who had no idea!
This blogger graduated from Goldman Sachs' 10,000 Small Businesses program. Goldman Sachs is a partner of the What Is Working: Small Businesses section.