Z.E.N. Advisor: Charles “Chuck” Frank

Prego. Chianti. MacArthur Park. Tutto Mare. Il Fornaio. Johnny Rockets. What do all of these California restaurants have in common? One man: Charles “Chuck” Frank.

In fact, these are just a handful of the restaurants that Frank—in roles that range from director to chief financial officer to chief operating officer to president—has steered toward success in his nearly 35 years in the business.

Now, along with Bob Spivak, the founder and chief executive of Grill Concepts Inc., Frank has launched Spivak & Frank. The company develops restaurant concepts, overhauls existing eateries, evaluates potential acquisitions, and aids with growth or exit strategies.

“Often when you hire a consultant, you’re bringing in somebody who has only seen the industry from the outside, looking in,” Frank says. “But both Bob and I have been on the inside for decades. We’ve had one proven success after another—and now we’re eager to share our expertise with others.”

A graduate of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and a CPA, it was never Frank’s plan to become a restaurant entrepreneur. “I’m an operations guy, says Frank, 59. “What business I went into was irrelevant to me—it could have been widgets for all I cared.”

That is, until he got bit by the restaurant bug.

“Once you get it in your blood, it stays with you,” Frank says. “It’s a people business, so it’s fun. But it’s also a tremendous challenge.”

Frank’s route into the restaurant business was serendipitous. His father happened to be in the office of Jerry Magnin, owner of the Polo/Ralph Lauren store in Beverly Hills and a partner at Spectrum Foods Inc. (a multi-unit restaurant company), when Magnin mentioned that he and partner, Larry Mindel, were looking for a controller for Spectrum.

“My dad knew I was bored working as an accountant and suggested that Jerry call me,” Frank says. “I got on a plane in snowy Philadelphia, landed in sunny California and before I knew it, my wife and I were moving back” West.

Frank spent 16 years at Spectrum Foods, serving as its CFO, COO and president, and helped the company expand from four to 16 restaurants.

Indeed, helping companies grow became a specialty of Frank’s. After leaving Spectrum, he started CAF Restaurant Services Inc., a restaurant-consulting concern. His first call was from Ronn Teitelbaum, the founder of Johnny Rockets, at the time a fledgling four-unit restaurant chain that, according to Frank, “had a great concept but was not well managed.”

By the time Frank left Johnny Rockets eight years later, 100 locations had sprouted nationwide; today, there are more than 200 around the world.

Frank also served on the board of directors of Grill Concepts Inc., whose portfolio includes 25 The Grill on the Alley and Daily Grill restaurants. Then, after being hired as a consultant at Il Fornaio by his former partner, Mindel, Frank became the company’s president and chief operating officer during a rapid growth period.

“The hardest thing a restaurateur does is go from one restaurant to two,” Frank says. “That takes a real skill—knowing how to clone yourself effectively.”

In 1994, Frank became president and chief operating officer of MSA Industries, the largest distributor and installer of commercial flooring in the nation. During his tenure there, sales soared from $45 million to $300 million. MSA was eventually sold to DuPont. He then became a partner in the Parkside Group, a private-equity investor that purchased and operated MacGregor Golf Co.

Still, Frank has always kept his hand in the restaurant business—which makes his new venture with Bob Spivak seem so perfect. “I’ve never gotten away from it,” Frank says. “And I wouldn’t want to.”

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