JWU News

‘Hospitality Is a People Business’: Paul Baldasaro '90


1/24/17 | Paul Baldasaro ‘90 says human capital is everything in the hospitality business. As the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Home-Grown Industries, he develops and implements business strategies for Mellow Mushroom Pizza, a $375M+, 180+-unit pizza franchising business started in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1974.

As JWU Charlotte School of Hospitality’s Distinguished Visiting Professor, Baldasaro spoke to students about leadership and the attributes of successful people: “If there is one thing you need to remember, it’s that your people, your employees, are the bloodline to your success or failure.”

Although each Mellow Mushroom franchise is encouraged to develop its own unique design and aesthetic (“We like to think of ourselves as a ‘friendchise,’ not a franchise,” notes MellowMushroom.com), every restaurant uses the same kind of oven — ensuring that the pizza is craveable and consistent. (Pizzas are also stretched and assembled to order in an open kitchen, so customers can watch the whole process. “Our show is in the execution,” Baldasaro told Restaurant Business Magazine.)

Baldasaro noted that no matter how technology changes, the hospitality business will always be in the people business. “With hard work, development of people and passion, you can do anything you want to do. And you don’t always have to have the answer. But you can find it. Be honest with your team. I enlist people who are smarter than me.”

He urged students to be flexible and resilient as they head out into the workforce. “There is no success without hardship and mistakes along the way. … How do you get to where you’re going? Because of persistence. Not because you are necessarily the smartest.”

Baldasaro shared a story about visiting a franchisee who was short-staffed because of a snowstorm. (The employees had stayed home.) The COO, who grew up in a restaurant-owning family, rolled up his sleeves and started doing the dishes.

“Nothing replaces hard work and dedication. A title doesn’t mean anything. You do what you need to do to make your team successful.”

Restaurant, Food & Beverage Management student Taylor Sites (pictured below with Baldasaro) received a Distinguished Visiting Professor scholarship for the 2016-17 academic year.

After his talk, students enjoyed piping-hot pizzas from the Mellow Mushroom Bake Bus, the company’s fully-loaded mobile pizza kitchen.

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Topics: Hospitality Charlotte