Steele Smiley of Steele Brands on Moving from Fitness to Restaurants Interview with Steele Smiley about the fitness and restaurant business, creating a hospitality ecosystem, and being the nice and cool kids at the lunch table.

By Shawn P. Walchef

Key Takeaways

  • Hospitality in Fitness v. Restaurants - Steele Smiley built a fitness empire prior to entering the restaurant industry. With both being service-based industries, but much different in nature, there remains a common thread of respect between the two.
  • Creating a Hospitality Ecosystem - Even though Steele Smiley has implemented digital tools that were able to withstand a significant jump in online orders for Steele Brands' restaurants, he still believes that positive human interaction and unmatched hospitality is one of the most important parts of business.
  • The Nice & Cool Kids at the Lunch Table - Eating healthy can be a daunting task with habits, mentality, and accessibility all playing a role. For Steele Smiley, he wants Steele Brands restaurants to welcome all with a smile and create a safe space for customers to learn, grow, and frequent.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Steele Smiley, founder of Steele Brands, is a successful entrepreneur who built a fitness empire before entering the restaurant business. Despite the differences between those two industries, Smiley says there is a common thread of respect that ties them together.

One of the key factors that sets Steele Smiley apart in the restaurant industry is his belief in the importance of positive human interaction and unmatched hospitality.

"You've got to give so much respect and love to every person who you see," says the owner and founder of Steele Brands to host Shawn Walchef of CaliBBQ Media.

While he has implemented digital tools to handle the increase in online orders for Steele Brands restaurants, Smiley still emphasizes the importance of personal interaction with customers. He understands that a friendly smile and warm welcome can make a significant impact on the customer's experience and ultimately lead to repeat business.

"You still got to give them that big smile and you still got to greet them and say, 'thank you for coming in,'" says Smiley. "It's not only attracting that client and giving them world class technology."

Steele Brands operates and owns popular concepts Crisp & Green, Paco & Lime, and Stalk & Spade, a 100 percent plant-based and dairy-free restaurant.

Though it has long been a lifestyle for him, Smiley recognizes that eating better can be a challenging task for many individuals — with habits, mentality, and accessibility all playing a role. As a result, he wants Steele Brands' restaurants to be a welcoming environment for all customers to learn, grow, and frequent.

"Eating healthy can be intimidating for people in some of these markets when they haven't had it before." says Steele Smiley. "Our job is to be that ambassador and make them feel comfortable and be a very approachable set of brands. Not intimidating brands. We want to be the nice kids at the lunch table that are also the cool kids."

Smiley's success is a testament to his commitment, his values and his dedication to customer service. His humility is showcased best by making the decision to relinquish the role of CEO at Steele Brands in order to best serve the business.

He has built a strong brand that prioritizes the customer experience and offers healthy, delicious meal options.

Whether in the fitness or restaurant industry, Steele Smiley's admitted life mission of service and hospitality is a recipe for success.



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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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