I started my company with a business card.
I had just exited my previous company, Genghis Grill, and was looking for my next big idea. I was eating a lot of sandwiches at the time, so I figured I’d start a sandwich company and call it Which Wich, because I had always liked alliterative names, and I love great sandwiches. So I had some business cards made up with a black-and-yellow logo and took them to the National Restaurant Show to hand out. The next thing you know, reporters started calling me. I thought it was a joke -- I mean, I hadn’t even made a sandwich yet! But it wasn’t a joke. I wound up on the cover of a major trade magazine. That meant I needed a real company.
I scrambled for real estate in Dallas, where I’m based. Nobody wanted to lease me anything; they preferred sure things like Subway or Quiznos. Finally, I asked one landlord, “Is there anything I can do to land this deal? I mean, is there any food you like?”
“Well, I really love a good milkshake,” he said.
I wasn’t intending to do milkshakes, but then and there I told him I would. Sometimes you just have to take that leap. It worked. We did the deal on a handshake and a milkshake. (And today, by the way, our milkshakes sell quite well.)
Shortly after we opened that first location, I went to Venice, Italy, with my girlfriend. I was still wondering if I had been crazy to start this company. But then I spotted a painting in a gallery window. It showed a man leaping over a void, and he was wearing black and yellow, just like my company’s colors. The artist’s name was David Dalla Venezia; Dalla is one letter away from “Dallas,” and his name was alliterative, like Genghis Grill and Which Wich.
Maybe it was the timing, or the relationship I was in, but that painting seemed like a sign. I went into the gallery to buy it, but it was astronomically expensive. I left with a $10 print. That was 14 years ago, and it’s been hanging next to my office door ever since. Now we have more than 500 Which Wich locations open and in development, and the painting has become a powerful symbol for our whole company. We’re surrounded by people -- whether they’re partners or vendors or even our customers -- who take leaps of faith every day. We don’t take that lightly. It stands at the core of what we do.
I’m Facebook friends with that artist now. We chat using the Facebook translator. I hope to meet him someday. I’ve even bought some of his art. But that $10 print is worth as much as the real thing. More, even. It’s priceless.