Business And Sports Go Hand And Hand: Johnny Carrabba


Mel Johnson Professional Employer Consultant and Contributor on the Price of Business on Business Talk 1110 AM KTEK (on Bloomberg’s home in Houston) recently interviewed Owner, Johnny Carrabba of Carrabba’s, Grace’s and Mia’s. Johnny is passionate about sports and has a sports background. When he’s not at one of his restaurants, he’s more than likely on a golf course. He played football and baseball at St. Thomas High School in Houston and applies the sports mentality and teachings to his business. He believes sports teach you about life and life is a sport.

What do you contribute to your longevity in Houston?

You never lose vision of the prize. I’m not a big celebrator and what I mean by that is, I celebrate deep down inside and maybe take a long vacation and sit back and say life has been good but I know I can lose it all tomorrow. I believe there are three things that motivate a man, money, ego, and fear. I think in any business you have to stay fearful. Being in business for so long I know we have to perform every day because there is always the next guy that wants to take your spot. Think of any successful athlete, how much work did it take for them to be successful? A lot! Once he becomes champion there’s someone that wants to dethrone him. His biggest enemy is himself because everyone is telling him he’s great. He lost the hunger, so you have to always stay hungry.

When I visit your first two restaurants, I see some very familiar face when I walk through those doors. How do your retain employees for such a long time?

I have over 400 employees and 150 employees have been with us 15 years or longer. Years ago, I could name all the professional players on the sports teams in Houston. Now I could probably name 5 or 6 players because players aren’t loyal to the teams. Now take a football team. What would happen if you took the Quarter back and made him a Receiver? What would happen if you took the Running Back and make him the Center? You’ll confuse everybody on the team and your team will fall apart! So in my business if I move everyone around, we’re not going to be cohesive. I’m loyal to a fault because and I believe it pays off.

Why are your employees so loyal?

It’s a team here. In life you’re going to have good teachers and bad teachers. You’re going to have good bosses and bad bosses but it’s what you make of it. I learned more from my bad teachers and coaches than my good, but it teaches you about life. When I was growing up playing sports in high school, if you didn’t show up on time you, didn’t play. That teaches you discipline and when I look at everyone that works for me, I look at them as if they’re my children. It’s a team and I’m loyal to them and they’re loyal to me.

Do you have any past employees that are successful after leaving one of your restaurants?

Yeah! I have past employees that are doctors and lawyers but the one thing I tell my employees is that you’re not going to work here forever, but I want this to be a positive influence on your life. I’ve had past employees tell me that we taught them how to starch their shirt or how to tie a tie. So when an employee quits because of something I did or my managers did, I feel guilty because I lost and let that person down. Some people are just going to move on that just the nature of game but I have a responsibility and that’s the way I look at it when it comes to my business.

How do you approach service?

I have rules of thumb. 1) Yes is the answer, what’s the question? You want a peach pie today? I don’t have it but the restaurant across the street does let me go run over and get it for you. 2) Treat people with genuine concern 3) We want to give for the sake of giving and not for the sake of gaining. I try to surround myself with people and employees that are givers and hospitable. I don’t want any of my servers to be the waiter or waitress that gives really good service around the time the check comes. You have to treat everyone the same.

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