Pick any given day in southern California, and you will find a man on a mission – when he isn’t on his Harley. Joey Gonzalez is the Vice President of Operations for Chop Stop, the breakthrough brand created by Mark Kulkis which is introducing a unique version of chopped salads to the world. He is larger than life, extremely passionate about the brand, and known for his care and commitment to those who join the Chop Stop franchise family.
Chop Stop is a quick service restaurant (QSR) specializing in hearty, healthier salads, or “Chops,” in a variety of signature combinations, or “build your own chop” options. It’s the perfect place to stop when you’re hungry enough to need “more than a salad,” but still really want a salad! Chops fill you up without filling you out, and are all served up in about three minutes or less.
Gonzalez was the first hire of the organization over eight years ago. “My job interview with Mark was in the middle of the construction site for the first restaurant,” he said. Stemming from his 35+ years of experience in full service fine dining, the QSR industry was a new professional space that intrigued him. The Chop Stop vision was presented by Mark Kulkis to him clearly that day, and he has never looked back. The company operates its five corporate stores and franchised locations are expanding across southern California, Nevada, Colorado, Washington, Utah and Texas. With Gonzalez and his operations teams help, the Chop Stop has plans to open 24 locations in 2019 and are well on the way having signed 16 new franchisees in the past 6 months.
Unlike the speedy three-minute service time for customers, Gonzalez and the Chop Stop team took their time with expansion. They didn’t begin franchising until they completed construction on their fifth restaurant and training center and then they started with only two franchisees. “We took it slow, in a very organic way, to make sure we got it right,” Gonzalez said. “We are introducing a new vision of chopped salads to the world. We have a big responsibility to get it right, and that means training and supporting our franchisees every step of the way, so they get it right too.”
This is where Gonzalez shines brightest. He understands the commitment franchisees are making to the brand, sometimes with their life savings. “These are people who take a chance on us. It’s absolutely imperative that we support them and treat them as part of our family.” When asked about a particularly moving story within the business, Gonzalez spoke proudly of their first franchisee.
“Her name is Kelley, and she was a housewife and mom, an empty nester. She was looking for something to do,” Gonzalez said. “This was someone who had no experience in the restaurant business, and needed to learn everything, the basics, from how to interview an employee to how to run a financially successful restaurant. We held her hand through the entire process.” Gonzalez said she took to it like a fish to water and is now a beacon for the brand, who has just opened her second restaurant and has a third in development.
“I’m watching her do it all on her own now,” he said. “She’s the one talking to vendors and making sure the building is right and making the decisions. It’s so neat to see her building a restaurant. She’s learned so much. She’s a pretty awesome lady.”
It’s easy to understand the success of those that come out of the Chop Stop training program. Gonzalez has thought of every detail, right down to the kitchen layout in their training facility, within their Glendale restaurant. “I’ve seen enough times in the restaurant business how training stops during a rush, and trainees get kind of pushed aside until the rush is over,” he said. Gonzalez wanted better for Chop Stop franchisees, insisting they have an opportunity to keep learning especially during high traffic. His design includes two full production lines and prep areas. “With two lines, that doesn’t happen here. That way we are still taking care of our customers and our franchisees are getting non-stop training, always learning.”
Gonzalez is as enthusiastic about the future of the Chop Stop concept as he is about the Chopurritos (his creation of warm rice and bean bowls) on their menu. “We are looking for people who have a passion for what we sell, who enjoy healthy eating, who want to see this brand grow and be successful.” According to Gonzalez, the key is having patience. “It never happens as fast as they want it to. It’s a long process.” He advises potential franchisees looking into any concept to do their due diligence. “Make sure your finances are set so there aren’t surprises, and be all-in, committed 24/7 to making sure the business gets up and running.”
That’s exactly what Joey Gonzalez does every day. He rides his Harley, he eats chopped salad, and he works tirelessly each day to welcome new franchisees to the family that is Chop Stop.