Karim Webb got his start in the restaurant industry the same way so many other restaurateurs do – with his family. His father, Reggie Webb, made his mark as a McDonald’s franchisee. Reggie founded the National Black McDonald’s Operators Association, a network of more than 300 African-American owners who operate more than 1,300 McDonald’s locations worldwide.
Like other children of restaurateurs, Karim and his two siblings worked side-by-side with their parents from an early age. They learned the value of hard work and discipline, gradually taking on huge responsibilities in running the restaurants. The family now operates 14 McDonald’s.
His passion for the restaurant business ignited from there. He left home for Morehouse College in Atlanta. There, he found a mentor: Mack Wilbourn, a restaurant executive with locations in Atlanta airports. Karim studied, learned and sharpened his skills. In 2009, he became a franchisee of Buffalo Wild Wings. Today, he and partner Edward Barnette operate three Buffalo Wild Wings in Los Angeles, with two more locations in development.
Karim Webb embodies the next generation of leadership in the restaurant industry. He’s focused on growing sales, and his restaurants have recorded some of the highest-growth numbers in the Buffalo Wild Wings system. But for Karim, success is about people: the teams he leads and the communities he connects with. He’s staked out a leadership role as he mentors young professionals, energizes “at-risk” team members, and gives back to the neighborhoods where he operates. He has made his family proud.
During Black History Month, our nation celebrates the many African-American leaders who have changed the course of America’s history. We also should take time to recognize the achievements of people like Karim and his father, who contribute to their communities every day through hard work and an entrepreneurial spirit. In the restaurant industry, we’re committed to working together to help create more opportunities for people to succeed – whether they’re getting their first job, starting out as new franchisees, or moving up the career ladder in any of the nation’s 1 million restaurants.
Restaurants offer jobs and training with a low barrier to entry and tremendous opportunity for advancement. Eighty percent of restaurant owners started in an entry-level position within the restaurant industry, and 90 percent of restaurant managers started as hourly employees. Nowhere else can an employee receive training from front-of-the-house to the back-of-the-house in guest service, multitasking and people management — all in a unique, fast-paced environment. Those who aspire for job advancement and success quickly learn that an entry-level job at a restaurant is not a dead end, but an open door.
Restaurants play an important role in helping to create long-term solutions to reduce unemployment and spur innovation in every community. Restaurants are the cornerstone of the U.S. economy. We provide more opportunity for people of color than virtually any other industry. Forty-four percent of restaurant employees come from communities of color. Studies confirm what we know anecdotally – that women, blacks and Hispanics are starting restaurant businesses at a faster rate than whites. That is why we are working hard to attract more talented, innovative African Americans to pursue the tremendous career and entrepreneurial opportunities that exist in our industry.
The Multicultural Foodservice and Hospitality Alliance and the National Restaurant Association are working together to tell the compelling story of how our industry gets involved with communities of color, with programs like the NRA’s ProStart and MFHA’s Showcase of the Stars, two initiatives that educate, motivate and inspire young African Americans and others to pursue career and business opportunities in our industry.
Determined and highly motivated individuals like Karim have worked their way to the top, and will continue to thrive in foodservice. Karim is a shining example for his employees, business colleagues and the community, showing young people that if you’re willing to do the right things and work hard, you can take your career from the dish room to the board room.
We at the NRA and MFHA have forged a partnership that will help ensure that the door to opportunity and success is open to everyone who wants to pursue the American dream. This month and every month, we celebrate the incredible achievements of African Americans in restaurants, and we look forward to opening many more doors in the years ahead.
Dawn Sweeney is President and CEO of the National Restaurant Association. Gerry Fernandez is President of the Multicultural Foodservice and Hospitality Alliance