Cindy Galardi Culpepper: A Philanthropist Leading the Fast Food Chain Business

Cindy Galardi Culpepper

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Titled as the Hot Dog Queen, Cindy Galardi Culpepper is CEO and Chairman of Galardi Group, which has been franchising some of the most successful fast-food chains in the United States since the 60’s, including Wienerschnitzel, Hamburger Stand, and Tastee Freez. She took over the operations of the company in 2013, after the unfortunate demise of her husband, John Galardi.  Since then she has grown the company into what it is today. “I thought, there is so much opportunity here. This is my passion now. I think about it when I go to bed, about how we can make it better,” said Cindy.

Cindy is not just an excellent businesswoman but also an author. She co-wrote a biography based on John’s life, along with his children. She has also been featured on the 100th episode of Undercover Boss, shared her knowledge through various interviews, and as a conference panelist.

Currently, Cindy heads the operations of the world’s largest hot-dog chain, Wienerschnitzel, with more than 330 locations throughout the southwest U.S. However, the start of this journey was not easy. She stated, “I’d been the wife of the founder for 27 years, but people only knew me from social gatherings, so they didn’t have any confidence in me as a business leader.” Cindy had to earn the CEO title and the trust of her team. After helming the operations for a while, she developed a different vision for the company than had previously been its focus. She wanted to transform it into a more philanthropic-oriented company. It was not an easy path to leap from fast food to philanthropy. But Cindy successfully brought this change and changed the company’s purpose. Despite venturing into philanthropy, she managed to also expand the services of Galardi Group ranking it amongst the leading restaurant franchises.

In an interesting chat with Cindy, she led us through the company’s journey and how she steered the operations and became one of the leading social entrepreneurs with a flourishing franchise business. Here are the snippets.

Can you enlighten us about Galardi Group and its franchisees?

As a result of being a business specializing in restaurant franchising for nearly 60 years, many franchise owners have benefitted in their own businesses and supported themselves while raising children and putting them through college. Interestingly, several have even had some of their family members continue in the business as franchisees in 2nd and 3rd generation franchise businesses with us, the fulfillment of dreams.

In addition, a San Diego employment lawyer says: “I commend Cindy Galardi Culpepper’s leadership at Galardi Group. Her philanthropic focus aligns with California’s corporate responsibility laws, reducing legal risks and improving the company’s image. Supporting franchisees with initiatives like scholarships and training also promotes compliance with anti-discrimination laws and increases employee loyalty.”

What are the notable changes you observed since you helmed the operations?

My first priority was to steer the focus towards changing the “Why” of the Galardi Group. Our purpose is: Serving Food to Serve Others. We make sure that the better our restaurants do, the more we give back to our community. It’s so much better than just working for a profit. Also, we have an amazing corporate support team. Before I came on board, departments were not communicating well with each other. I tried to change that and I was successful in doing so. Each department now collaborates with other departments and has a much better knowledge base of other departments. We have incorporated open communication and team cooperation in our work culture. We look at ourselves as one big family sharing the same goals.

How is the Galardi Group franchisee unique as compared to the others in the business?

We are a family-owned company; this allows us to do many things that public companies cannot. Through the California Restaurant Association, store crew members can apply for college scholarships that Galardi Group funds annually; they can receive ESL training and can move up within the Franchise system. Also, if a franchisee is struggling, we are more than willing to go above and beyond to help. As I said, we are a family and family members help each other.

As a franchisor, what benefits do you provide to the franchisee owner?

We prioritize our franchisees. They are our customer. Throughout the company, everyone knows we serve the franchisee. Along with that, we have formed a Franchise Advisory Committee of 12 franchisees to receive their input and feedback before changes are implemented. Their opinions and advice are equally valued. 99% of the time we make changes, additions and corrections based on franchisee input. Furthermore, our corporate Management Team is always available (day or night) to support them and try to meet with them quarterly.

How did your team sustain the unannounced challenges of COVID-19?

Despite the crisis, our franchisees have been extremely fortunate. Other than the first week of the shutdown, they have increased sales by an average of 22%. However, these increases in sales caused a rise in problems too, such as the inability to hire sufficient employees to handle the increased sales due to both the fear of COVID-19 and availability of unemployment income. Additionally, the issue of the supply chain, with many production plants closing, the unavailability of truck drivers, and unprecedented economic crisis. Our Purchasing Dept. ordered items based on our normal projections, and what we ordered for two months was gone in two weeks! Nevertheless, our team has been diligent in overcoming these obstacles one by one.

As many entrepreneurs shared mixed views on remote working, what is your take on this change?

In my opinion, the great discovery with remote working is that it’s doable. With the exception of some of our accounting staff, most departments work from home. The other bonus, we can work from anywhere. There isn’t any decrease in productivity, which I attribute to the dedication of long-term employees who have remained focused on the overall success of the Company.

Being amongst the leading franchise companies, how did you handle the unannounced change?

When life goes back to normal, there still may be a continuing fear of illness. The pandemic has taught many restaurants the necessity of drive-thru. As the feeling of safety may not change, the less human contact the better. Our company was already prepared for this type of event with our drive-thru restaurants. We have implemented some changes for improved efficiency. These simple changes have made training easier and improved the speed of service in the drive-thru. We have added extra heating units in our kitchens for expediting the process and consistency. We have hired an integrator for efficiency with delivery.

Lastly, do you have any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?

The most important factors are humility and continuing education. With my great team, I don’t need to hover. If a mistake is made, usually it means a risk was taken. When a lesson is learned, we move forward stronger. As CEO, I set the example. I can never learn enough.

Cindy Galardi Culpepper

Read Full issue: The 10 Leaders Transforming Franchise Business 2021

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