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Finally Focused: Jeff Sinelli

Finally Focused: Jeff Sinelli

How an encounter with a bee helped a serial entrepreneur define his future.

Last summer, I was walking down Dune Road in Westhampton with my wife, Courtney. We were having a board meeting, which is what we call it when we're talking about business. I was having some anxiety, because the wheels in my head were turning — they usually are — about some new opportunities, as well as the growth potential of my existing companies, Which Wich and Burguesa Burger, two national restaurant brands for which I serve as CEO.

The thing is, I'm a bit of a serial entrepreneur. I take pleasure in creating, most notably restaurant concepts. While firmly entrenched with Which Wich, a concept I launched in 2003, I founded Burguesa Burger, in 2009. There is a vault of ideas locked inside this brain of mine, and sometimes I find it impossible to resist opening it up and taking a peek.

While we were walking, I turned to Courtney and said, “I'm about to tell you something I've never told you before.” Her face turned white. I can only imagine what she thought I was going to say.

In typical Jeff Sinelli fashion, I paused dramatically, gathered my thoughts, and looked her right in the eye. “I'm going to focus on Which Wich and make it the world's greatest sandwich brand.”

At the precise moment that I made this bold declaration, we heard a buzz. Before I could figure out where the noise was coming from, I got smacked in the face by what had to have been the world's largest bee. Literally I was knocked off the road, and my sunglasses were hanging off one ear. I'm telling you, it was a big bee.

“Do you know what that was?” Courtney asked.

“I think so,” I replied. “It was the biggest yellow and black bee I've ever seen in my life.”

“The universe is trying to tell you something, Jeff — something I've been telling you since you started Which Wich,” she said. “You need to focus.”

Why is the bee significant? Well, black and yellow are the colors of the Which Wich brand — colors I wear head-to-toe every day. Not only had this creature buzzed me while I was making this life-changing statement, but it was also the colors of the brand I had decided to commit to.

Since that day in Westhampton, I've made a conscious effort to say no to all opportunities and business ventures outside of Which Wich and Burguesa Burger. All of this is bittersweet for me, of course. I love to create, and I thought that meant creating brands like Genghis Grill (my first national restaurant concept), Which Wich, or Burguesa Burger. People are always asking me, “What's your next big idea?” The answer I give now is, “Which Wich is the next big idea. We're taking this brand worldwide.”

The truth is, I don't need to launch new brands to satisfy my need to create. In addition to international expansion, there are so many opportunities within Which Wich, such as building new stores nationally, product innovation, our commitment to guest service that we call Sandwichfaction Guaranteed® — all of these contribute to increased sales and profitability for the franchisees that took a leap of faith to build a life with this company and me.

The proof is in the results. We're exploring markets outside of the United States, we've made strides with menu innovation, we've committed to charitable causes such as ending hunger and obesity, sales are up more than 15 percent, and franchisee satisfaction is at an all-time high. Now that I am focused, decisions come easily.

Recently we had a brand day and came away with a Which Wich credo: Some want to make superior sandwiches. Some want to make the world a better place. We want to do both.

It's a powerful statement, one that I know we can live up to. With this renewed focus, I can say with confidence that Which Wich is a lifelong journey, and I intend to paint the world yellow.

And I owe it all to a bee.

Jeff Sinelli is the creative genius behind three restaurant concepts — Genghis Grill, a Mongolian barbecue chain that he sold in 2003 to create Which Wich that same year. In addition to this 130-unit sandwich concept, Sinelli launched another brand, Burguesa Burger, in 2009. The Latin burger concepts has five units. All of his concept have created a lot of buzz.

TAGS: Operations