How To Become an Overnight Success — in 10 Years Interview with 'Ten Year Plan' author David Dressler about scaling Tender Greens, thoughtful approaches to operating a business, and building heart-centered brands.

By Shawn P. Walchef

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Takeaways from this episode:

"Heart Centered, Food Focused" — David Dressler and his business partners opened Tender Greens with the idea of providing an experience that provided care on multiple levels. Their focus was on the relationships built in hospitality beyond just the dollars and cents.

Go For It and Don't Quit (10 Year Plan) — David Dressler received the best advice he could have possibly received when he shared the idea of starting Tender Greens with a person he admired. That advice was "Don't Quit". Simple in its delivery, yet the advice had an everlasting impact on what would become his 10-year growth plan.

Being a Third Place — David Dressler and his partners' marketing plan built itself around making Tender Greens a "Third Place" for customers. That's a special place, outside of a person's home or work, where they feel more comfortable.


After success building the purpose-driven restaurant brand Tender Greens, David Dressler found his own purpose — to help others do the same.

David Dressler co-founded Tender Greens with Erik Oberholtzer and Matt Lyman in 2006. From the beginning they emphasized both margins and mission.

There's an adage that says it takes 10 years to become an overnight success. Tender Greens did it in 9.

Ten Year Plan: How the Founders of Tender Greens Scaled their Heart-Centered Brand was written by David Dressler and Erik Oberholtzer to help other entrepreneurs and business owners achieve their goals by finding a clear destination along an intentional path.

On the Restaurant Influencers podcast, David Dressler shared his thoughtful approach to the restaurant business and building heart-centered brands.

The scalable business model built for Tender Greens is a perfect case study for any industry to follow to learn how to grow an enduring business with a mission.

But first you've got to put in the time. 10 years to be exact.

"Our original business plan when we incorporated, we called our company 10-year plan, TYP Restaurant Group," David Dressler shared on the Restaurant Influencers podcast, hosted by Shawn P. Walchef of CaliBBQ Media. "It was always a plan that we'd be committed for the first ten years to work together, to put our guests first, to put the business first, and to just hit it out of the park."

Now away from the day-to-day duties of active restaurant management, Dressler is a renowned advisor for the restaurant business and inspirational coach. He understands the importance of purpose-driven entrepreneurship. That was the foundation on which Tender Greens was built. And that foundation became the beginning of a $100 million brand that includes 30 stores.

David Dressler and Tender Greens

Early in his career, David Dressler moved up the ladder in the luxury hotel space at a solid pace. However, instead of seeing a bright future for himself, he says, "As I went up the career ladder and progressed, I became more and more doubtful that there was a future for me."

With that in mind, he and his two business partners at the time devised a plan and built what he has characterized as "collective courage" to set out on the journey of opening their own restaurant business.

"We had all worked in fine dining restaurants. We'd all worked for others," Dressler says of his motivation to set out on his own. "The three of us wanted that exit strategy at the end of it. We wanted to build something of value, and we knew that wasn't going to happen overnight."

Enter the Ten Year Plan.

The Tender Greens founders did not want to be one-hit wonders. They had no desire to open a single restaurant and rest on those laurels. There was always the ambition to open multiple restaurants.

Initially the 10-year strategy was to assure proper value for family and friends that were tapped to be the early investors for their business.

"We didn't think that 3 years or 5 years was a comfortable model for us," Dressler says of the partnership's long-term business plans. "Ten seemed like a magical number that would allow us to achieve our goals."

That rapid growth is directly attributed to the perseverance and purpose driven motivation that the Tender Greens team put into the business.

Fellow Hospitality Veteran and author Danny Meyer recommended the Ten Year Plan book for its valuable lessons about realizing a heartfelt dream told through the story of starting Tender Greens.

"Tender Greens helped pioneer the better-for-you fast casual restaurant sector, and while their road to success was inevitably bumpy, these founders prevailed, thanks to their collective vision, humanity, humility to learn and generosity to teach," wrote the CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group about the Ten Year Plan book.

The fundamental pillar of the Tender Greens, according to David Dressler, is building a business that was "heart centered, that was food focused." They wanted the experience to be valuable enough that guests felt it "nurtured both the belly and the soul."

"We lived up to that commitment. We built 30 restaurants, $100 million in revenue, went bicoastal, and built a company with enduring, beautiful, heart-centered, purpose driven culture."



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Welcome to the Restaurant Influencers podcast series, sponsored by Toast.

Wavy Line

Shawn P. Walchef is the founder of Cali BBQ Media, podcast host, business coach, and proud dad. Since opening Cali BBQ in 2008, he has grown his San Diego restaurant and media company into a global brand using digital tools and smartphone storytelling. 

As a restaurateur who opened during the Great Recession, Shawn learned to use the power of the Internet to stay in business. During the Pandemic, Cali BBQ developed a scalable growth plan that is three times more profitable than the traditional full-service restaurant model.
Email to get in touch.

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