A natural entrepreneur, David Pettit owns and operates five LIME Fresh Mexican Grill locations across South Florida. Over the past 17 years, he has supported the brand’s evolution through franchise development and construction and by focusing on human resources and accounting.
Throughout his career, Pettit has encouraged internal professional development among his teams and prioritized giving back to the community through the LIME Chips In initiative. Prior to his role as a restauranteur, Petit opened a financial services firm in 2002. Pettit graduated from the University of Georgia in 1997 with a degree in finance.
Follow LIME Fresh Mexican Grill on Facebook.
What You’ll Learn In This Episode
- LIME over the last 15 years
- Pembroke Gardens
- LIME’s company culture
This transcript is machine transcribed by Sonix
Intro: [00:00:01] Broadcasting live from the business radio studios in South Florida. It’s time for South Florida Business Radio. Now, here’s your host.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:14] Lee Kantor here another episode of South Florida Business Radio. And this is going to be a good one. But before we get started, it’s important to recognize our sponsor. Diaz Trade Law, your customs expert today on South Florida Business Radio, we have David Pettit and he is with Lime Fresh Mexican Grill. Welcome, David.
David Pettit: [00:00:35] Thank you. I’m glad to be here. I appreciate you having me on your show.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:38] Well, I am so excited to learn what you’re up to. Tell us about Lime. I know you’ve been in the market for a while, but here are things are growing.
David Pettit: [00:00:48] Yeah, it’s been a great ride. I mean, we’re in the process right now of celebrating our 15 year anniversary at our Pembroke Pines location, which is the first was the first franchise location in the brand. To take listeners back a little bit to the history of line. It started in 2004, the South Beach location on Alton Road, which is a corporate store. My business partner and I, Nick Burrows, had an opportunity to partner in a corporate store with the original founder back in 2005, which was in North Miami Beach. And then subsequently we had a desire to franchise. And so I come from a financial services background. I own a financial services company here locally in South Florida. Nick actually is a CPA and comes from an accounting background, but who knew what we had the desire to get in the restaurant business. And so we approached the owner, John Kunkel, and we were partners with and said we’d love to franchise. And so back in 2007, in December, we opened the first Lime Fresh Mexican grill location in Broward County. But it also happened to be the first franchise location in the brand’s history. And so from there, the brand has grown. We’ve been involved in both owning and operating off and on nine different locations. Currently, we own five. There’s an additional eight locations in Dade County owned by another franchisee, and there’s one location open in Orlando and a second one on the way. So the brand is healthy, the brand is growing, and over the last 15 years we’ve got a lot of successes and we look forward to celebrating that actually here on February the fourth at our Pines location, which should be a great event.
Lee Kantor: [00:02:36] Now let’s talk about just going from a business owner, and you weren’t in the restaurant business, so you were something was attractive to you. What kind of caught your eye on on the first lime that you were like, Hey, you know what? This is something I want to get involved in because I’m sure in your life you’ve been to lots of restaurants and you didn’t have those conversations with the folks in any of the other ones.
David Pettit: [00:02:58] Yeah. So you’ve got a little bit of an interesting perspective with Lyme. I actually got to know the owner through the financial services practice. I was always into having food that was of great quality but at a good price with good service. And so those are kind of the three things that led me to see, Hey, lime looks attractive. And then from a business perspective, from the time the doors open, they were extremely busy. So you put that combination together as an entrepreneur with a good product, with a good business. It certainly peaks your interest. And so we kind of like I set out an opportunity to invest from a financial standpoint in the second ever location in North Miami back in 2005, and that gave us some insight into the successes that Lime look like was having, but also looked like they were going to have. And so we then kind of went head first, opening the plan, the Pembroke Pines location, and then subsequently a few years later opening in Plantation and then kind of going north from there.
Lee Kantor: [00:04:09] So and initially, were you thinking at all times, okay, this is going to be a franchise, so I’m going to build systems and documentation in order to replicate and to have somebody else be able to run this, you know, out in the wild without our help. Like, what was your thinking always kind of to scale or was it something that just organically grew when you were seeing the demand of those initial locations?
David Pettit: [00:04:33] Yeah, I think there are always a vision to try to scale it, but at the same time we always wanted to do it properly. So certainly the systems were put in place from the very beginning because if you want to run a restaurant successfully, you’ve got to have those systems in place. And so they were in place. And as we continued to grow and went from one or two units where you kind of can micromanage as an owner and make sure that all the T’s are crossed and the I’s are dotted to now going to managing seven, eight, nine locations, you’re now in a position where you’ve got to make sure that you have systems in place that can be replicated. So when a guest goes from store A to store B to stored C, it has the same feel as it did from the original unit all the way back to 2004.
Lee Kantor: [00:05:25] Now, do you have any advice for other business owners that are thinking about scaling to help them scale the corporate culture, the company culture, so that it does feel the same, so that people are are kind of the customer experience feels the same wherever they go.
David Pettit: [00:05:42] And I think that’s a great question, and I think it’s something where we’ve had a lot of successes. Certainly there’s been a learning curve as well. I think the main thing that we’ve done that’s been really important is to use a baseball analogy. We’ve kind of built ourself like a triple A, a, a, a single a team and then kind of work those employees up to the majors. We have a lot of homegrown talent. And so we’ve taken a lot of our early employees. We’ve kind of identified the best of that group, move them into a shift leader role, kind of went ahead and identified the best for that group, then moved them into a management position and then from that group identified our general managers. And so I think one of the proudest things as an owner that Nick and I take away from this entire experience over the last 15 plus years is the fact that we’ve been able to take some of these hourly employees, move them through this system. And today, all all of our general managers at the five locations that we own and operate, all were once hourly employees. And a number of them have been with us from now more than ten years. In fact, the general manager that’s in our Pine store was an hourly employee who moved up through the system. And now, 14 years later, she’s the general manager.
Lee Kantor: [00:07:04] Now, does that same strategy help you get franchisees, new franchisees, or is it something that franchisee coming into a line has to understand? Okay, if you want to scale the way the owners have scaled, you have to be patient and grow your own.
David Pettit: [00:07:23] Yeah, well, I mean, certainly you want to bring the culture. So, I mean, obviously you’re trying to impart your knowledge to any of the units, whether they’re corporately owned or franchise. We we have meetings all together, corporate and franchisees, on a fairly regular basis. We actually do a bi weekly call. So I think one of the things we try to do within our organization is on a quarterly basis, we try to go ahead and get our staff, our owners, our HR department and our catering folks all in a room with the people that we identify that could be promoted soon. And so it allows them to hear, to kind of hear from the horse’s mouth, like, here’s what we expect. And so we want to again, go back to delivering a great product at a great price with great service. And we feel like if we do that consistently, it builds sales. And certainly it’s built the growth of lime over the last 15 plus years. And so I think one of the other things that’s really important as we grow is to continue to see our menu evolve. And so there’s a pretty big emphasis right now on that to kind of take all the things that are great about lime and obviously continue to use those. But then also we’re always looking to add things that are better where we can improve and bring new flavors and new tastes and to our guests that they might be excited about.
Lee Kantor: [00:08:51] Now, as you expand throughout Florida and eventually, I’m sure to other parts of the country, are you enabling some of your franchisees to maybe experiment or make suggestions to corporate so that you can kind of use what’s happening in their region or area to help grow your menu?
David Pettit: [00:09:10] Yeah, absolutely. I mean, there’s always there’s always feedback and there’s always innovation. I mean, a lot of our best suggestions have come from guests and from our staff. You know, you have staff who have been with you a long time and they want to experiment and say, Hey, what do you think of this? And what do you think of that? So we’re able to take a menu item where usually a lot of times able to run it as an LTO or a limited time offer so that we can get a temperature for how our guests feel about it. And then if it’s something that they really like, then we’ll move it on to our menu on a permanent basis. And so certainly as you grow, you want to take more and more of those suggestions into account. And the more people feel involved, the more employees feel involved in any organization, I think the more buy in you get, the better culture that you develop.
Lee Kantor: [00:09:59] Now, how does Lime immerse itself in the communities that you serve?
David Pettit: [00:10:05] Yeah, that’s always been a really big part of the brand. I mean, going back 15 years for our Pembroke Pines store. One thing that Nick and I really wanted to focus on is how we could give back to our community and really be involved. And so we really focused on three things. I would say we focused on sports teams, local sports teams for youth. We focused on schools and we focused on non-profits that were some things that we were excited to support. And so through that, when someone went out into the community, their kid, they’d go to their child’s school and they’d say, Oh, well, I’m sponsoring here. And then they would go to their youth sports team and their name would be on their jerseys, and then they would go to their local nonprofit and they’d be like, Oh, I’m here as well. And so even if they’ve never tried us it, then they were like, Hey, you know what? Let’s get these guys and try. They’re doing a lot of good things in the community. And so that really drives a lot of what we believe and what we’re trying to accomplish is trying to give back to those around us. And we’ve been very blessed and fortunate with the business that we have. And we’ve had that opportunity over the last 15 years. And there are schools and there’s youth sports leagues and nonprofits that literally for the entire 15 years we’ve been plugged in with and we keep adding more locations. And I encourage listeners, if you want us to be involved with any of those type of entities, you can reach out to us through our website and we’re happy to do family nights. We do those on a regular basis. Well, we’ll give back part of the sales to that organization, and then we’ll also do outreach sponsorships with other locations and organizations. But that’s certainly been a big part of what life has done over the last 15 plus years now.
Lee Kantor: [00:11:54] Are you doing anything to celebrate the 15 years at the Pembroke Gardens location? It’s like a big event.
David Pettit: [00:12:03] Yes, we’re doing a couple of things. For the 15 days leading up for the 15 years, we’re actually offering three legacy menu items to our guests at $6, which was the original kind of menu price. And so we would encourage our guests to come out and give some of those a try. But in addition to that, and I think just as important, all day on Saturday, February 4th, we’re going to be having a big celebration, a street party at our Pembroke Pines location. Well, music, love, stuff for your kids. And a lot of that information is out on Instagram or Facebook and our website. But it’s going to be pretty much you come out from 12 in the morning and 1:00, 2:00 all the way through ten or 11:00 at night. We’re going to have things going on, celebrating everything that the is accomplished, celebrating everything that this store has meant to the brand. Like I say, we have a number of employees that have been with us for more than ten years, and we have a few that have been with us almost since inception. So to celebrate their successes and what they’ve accomplished is something we look forward to, to do. And I know that we’ve impacted a lot of people over the last 15 years. We’ve had thousands and thousands of guests come through our store, and so we would invite them to come out and celebrate with us and have a great time.
Lee Kantor: [00:13:22] Now, are the wins in this business as rewarding, more rewarding, a different kind of rewarding for you than it is in the financial service business?
David Pettit: [00:13:32] Yeah, I would say completely different. I mean, I think in this particular business you’re trying to deliver that great food. That leaves an impression and people’s mouth and minds with every bite and you’re really trying to deliver great service. And so there is some overlap, but I think it is quite different. And I think the successes in the restaurant business, like I say, are small. Kind of one guess at a time. But at the same time, you have an opportunity not only to impact your guests, but I think a lot of fulfillment comes for us from impacting our employees. Again, trying to create a great culture, trying to take care of them, trying to make sure that not only their pay but their bonus structures are extremely competitive with some of the larger companies out there taking care of our families with turkeys and gift cards at Thanksgiving and bonuses at Christmas. And so I think our employees have come to expect that. But I also think at the other time, it’s something that we really enjoy doing for them to reward them for all the hard work throughout the year.
Lee Kantor: [00:14:43] So if somebody wants to find a Lyme location near them, what is the website? And if they want to attend this event, I’m sure it’s on there, but the website.
David Pettit: [00:14:52] So it’s going to just be W.W. line fresh Mexican grill dot com. You’re also going to hit us up on Facebook or Instagram. But yeah, on the website you can actually find information about being hired. You can check out all the locations, You can come in to any of our locations at any time. We’re always looking for great new talent. It’s definitely one of the biggest challenges in this industry is just finding good talent and then obviously keeping that talent, developing that talent. I think, like I said, we’ve done a good job of it. A lot of our all of our general managers and a lot of our managers have kind of worked up through our system. And so there is a lot of opportunity for those who would like to be employed here, and they can certainly check all those locations out on our website.
Lee Kantor: [00:15:35] Good stuff. Well, congratulations on all the success and thank you so much for sharing your story. You’re doing important work and we appreciate you.
David Pettit: [00:15:44] Yeah, no, thank you so much for having us. And yeah, we look forward to everyone continuing to come into our locations and join a great meal at a great price. And we look forward to celebrating the 15th anniversary on February 4th at our Pembroke Pines location.
Lee Kantor: [00:15:59] All right. This is Lee Kantor. We’ll see you next time on South Florida Business Radio.