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GenXYZ Top Five: Leah Pilcer, 26


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It’s not uncommon for someone to make a little money waiting tables, flipping burgers or juggling employee schedules to help pay for college. It’s a little more unusual for that same person to fall in love with the business.

“I started in restaurants early on to save money for college and it was an environment I loved,” said Pilcer, who graduated with a degree in business. “It was fast-paced and that was part of what drew me.”

Pilcer noticed a niche market for “fast casual,” and started working with Panera Bread, before moving onto Garbanzo Mediterranean Grill. When the opportunity came to work with Smashburger, she gobbled it right up.

“I knew the better burger business would take off,” she says with a laugh. The small chain grew quickly, and today around 230 restaurants dot maps, not only in the U.S., but around the globe.

Her job has evolved dramatically in her 2 ½ years on the team.

In its early years, the business, founded in 2007, had a grassroots feel, and word-of-mouth enticed hungry customers. When Pilcer came on, she was “it,” in the marketing department, she says.

Today, she takes a cross-country role.

“I find the right key partners across the nation,” she says, adding that she works with a media agency to garner coverage from television, radio and other outlets. “I’m working on a long-term strategy.”

For those itching to enter the restaurant business, Pilcer has one word of advice:

“Network,” she says, after founding the Denver Marketing Restaurant Foundation to do just that.

“It started a couple of years ago with five of us having a drink at happy hour, and now it can be 80 people. It’s brought everyone in the restaurant world together and gives us all a place to talk about the business and network.”

Denver is perfect for an organization like this, she says, citing a ubiquitous eagerness to help out.

“It’s really a small community, and we look out for each other,” she says.

The determination that carries her through her career and inspired her to start the networking group, started when she set her eyes on college.

“Through scholarships and loans, I was able to get through,” she says. “I’m motivated and when I have my eyes on a goal, I want to be the best.”

Getting herself through college also gave her an edge, she said.

“I knew that all my successes came from my hard work. In my case, being a young female, I know I have to speak a little louder and stand a little taller.”

When she talks to friends in the business, she focuses on helping Smashburger reach its next benchmarks.

One is reaching more  competitive markets, like Washington D.C., New York and San Francisco.

“We need a great strategy to get into those innovative markets.”

One of Smashburger’s differentiators, she says, is
that it regionalizes burgers in each location.

“So we have the Brookline burger, and in Vegas, the Sin City burger,” Pilcer says. “We do market research and come up with a burger that reflects that area’s cuisine.”

Her favorite?

“I’m a fan of just our classic Smash,” she says. “Cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato and pickle. I guess that classic burger is just me

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