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Posted: February 13, 2014

Parenting a business

Larkburger is now a feisty teen

Adam Baker

They always say not to have kids until you’re ready, because once you do, you’re committed for life. Parents of young children tend to their every need; they teach and guide their kids, and they’re with them all the time.

Then those kids hit their teens. They’ve grown up a little, and parents watch and coach them from a greater distance. These kids have turned to (almost) adults, and are starting to find their own way.

Building a business isn’t all that different.

When Thomas Salamunovich and I opened the first Larkburger in Edwards eight years ago, we controlled every decision. We chose potato suppliers, developed the menu, manned the grill, rang the registers, and snaked clogged drains. (I found new respect for plumbers while wading in our grease trap.) Day in and day out, the responsibility was on us to cultivate a positive guest experience and to serve quality food. We were raising Larkburger to be the fully-grown business we knew it could be.

But as Larkburger grew bigger, we gradually relinquished control of certain areas of the business. Last month, we opened our thirteenth location. Larkburger now has developed into a feisty teenager; we can’t sit back and let it run itself, but we are no longer holding its hand. Instead of managing, cooking, cleaning, and operations at individual locations, Thomas now creates menu items and with the execution of our culinary team we make his ideas possible to carry out in a fast casual setting across multiple locations. I manage operations and work toward growth on a larger scale.

This phase can be tricky, because teenagers aren’t really adults (even though they might think that they are), and they’re still learning how to navigate the world. Larkburger as a business is in the same boat. We're still a young company, and our teams at each location do a great job, but they still make mistakes – we all do.

It's fascinating, watching kids grow up. You guide them, show them the way, teach them how to interact with their world. And you want them to be able to function when you take a step back, to be successful without needing to hold your hand. There's a part of you that doesn't like watching your role shift, even though that's what you've been working toward since day one.

Our roles have shifted, and we're a little sad to be out of the kitchen on a daily basis (although we're not so sad to be rid of the janitorial duties). Larkburger's growth has brought us to a new stage in development, and it presents a whole new set of challenges.

My experiences in parenting and business have taught me the importance of weathering the storm. There will be rough patches. Those in business should invest the time in teaching and guiding now, and let the mistakes happen — because they are definitely going to happen. The mistakes that may seem like world-enders in the moment won’t be the end of the world, as long as you make sure to learn from them. With a balance of guidance and independence, your kids — and your business — will grow up to be successful as they morph into adults.

Adam Baker is president and operating partner of Colorado-based Larkburger.  After seven years as managing director at the award-winning restaurant Larkspur, Baker dedicated himself to opening Larkburger in Edwards and driving its expansion into new markets. As the lead of operations and growth management, Baker is also responsible for refining the concept’s value proposition and raising equity.

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