Name: Jhonny Mercado
Company: Wen JAI Restaurant Group
No. of units: 73
Family: Married with 3 daughters and 1 son
Years in franchising: Part of Wendy’s U.S. system since 2007
Jhonny Mercado is the 2022 Noble Cause MVP (Most Valuable Performer).
Selected for passionate, unwavering support of those in need, the CEO of Wen JAI Restaurant Group is a multi-unit operator with Wendy’s. With a long history of supporting charitable causes (see below), Mercado says he is on a mission to help and support the less fortunate—“especially kids, who are the most defenseless, sometimes dealt difficult cards, and remain our future. It is amazing to be able to help change their lives.”
His company operates 73 Wendy’s and plans to open another 6 before year-end. Looking ahead, he’d like to grow the organization to 200 restaurants over the next 5 years and reach 300 restaurants over the next decade.
Formative influences/events: For years I have been supporting different foundations, including San Juan de Dios Hospital in Venezuela, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS), the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption (DTFA), and Baptist Hospital in the U.S Six years ago, my friend Fuad Fadel (Dito) was suffering from leukemia. I have been involved with LLS, raising more than $343,000 for their foundation. Dito was a person who affected my life with his teachings, but above all by the way he lived. He was an excellent friend and partner, who, sadly, died fighting this disease. My commitment to him is to help people who need it because I’m sure if he was here, he would be doing the same thing.
After I started with Wendy’s and saw what Dave Thomas started with the DTFA, I knew I wanted to play a major role in helping children through adoption. Each year, we drive donations and support for this great foundation, and I’m proud of my organization for being able to raise $1.5 million since 2018. I am currently on the board of DTFA and actively try to do more for this great cause.
I am convinced life has blessed us all, we have the mission to help and support the less fortunate—especially kids, who are the most defenseless, sometimes dealt difficult cards, and remain our future. It is amazing to be able to help change their lives.
Key accomplishments: 2021 ADP Culture at Work Award; 2021 Wendy’s Best Operator Award; 2020 South Florida Largest Private Companies listing; Wendy’s Golden Shovel Award; Wendy’s Freestyle Leadership Award; Business Monitor 200 top 30 the past 4 years; 2017 Highest Transaction Growth (Wendy’s Panama, presented to Wen Holding); 2017 Mega Growth Leadership MVP Award (Multi-Unit Franchising Conference, presented to JAE); 2017 Business of the Year Award (South Florida Business Journal, presented to JAE); 2013 Corner Bakery Cafe Franchise Partner of the Year Award (presented to CB Holdings); 2013 Exceptional Employer Award, Governor Rick Scott, State of Florida (presented to JAA Restaurant Holdings).
Next big goal: Growing an organization where team members feel happy, proud, and can grow their careers for themselves and their families. Also, continuing to build, acquire new markets, and grow in numbers to create more jobs and new opportunities in many different communities.
Hardest lesson learned: Adapting and learning how to build the right team at both the corporate and store level is sometimes difficult. It’s critical to learn from mistakes and hone your skills on how to read people who help you run your business.
Best advice you ever got: “Take care of your people, and your people will take care of your business.”
Favorite book: Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight.
What’s your passion in business? Working with people and working as hard as I can to build a legacy for the next generation.
Business philosophy: Do everything in life with passion and commitment and your results will be magical. Without magic, there is no success.
Management method or style: Great teamwork and a 24/7 focus on the business.
Greatest challenge: The transition coming to the United States from Venezuela. It was a challenge to learn a different culture, new traditions, social stances, and changes from a business and economic standpoint—all while learning a new language, adjusting as a family, and completely starting over. We all had to maintain focus, stay true to where we came from and what we stand for. Pursuing the American Dream has been difficult, yet rewarding.
How close are you to operations? On a daily basis, 365 days of the year.
How do you hire and fire, train and retain? Initially, we take the time to analyze each applicant to make sure they are the right fit for the position. We try to find individuals with a lot of passion and good knowledge for that particular position. If they are young, I focus on finding someone who is eager to learn and will work hard to accomplish what he or she is trying to achieve. Then, we begin an in-depth training process where we have them work shoulder-to-shoulder with a training manager or someone who is very knowledgeable in each department. Before we let them spread their wings and take over, we want to make sure they understand the job description and have all the tools they need to succeed.
Retention is the most critical after development. In this line of work, it is difficult to retain employees, especially at the store level. Our team focuses on an internal marketing strategy to make sure we listen to our staff and make Wen JAI a fun place to work. It’s important to hear from everyone what we can change to be better and then adapt to create a positive environment. At the store level we try to have fun on a daily basis. We celebrate success on a weekly basis as an entire organization. To call out those who have gone above and beyond, we have an Employee Appreciation Day monthly.
If for some reason, someone isn’t performing well, we have them on a timeline program for improvement. We clearly map out everything he or she must improve on and monitor their changes. Rarely do we have to fire an individual, but if we must do so we do it face-to-face in a professional manner.
What have been the biggest impacts of Covid-19 on your business? Despite the difficulties of Covid, for me, the balance is positive. This situation forced us to review and improve productivity, quality, service times, and restaurant maintenance and cleanliness. It has also forced us to pay closer attention to a retention strategy and come up with more ways to improve internal marketing.
Why do you think you were recognized with this award? It’s in my blood to always give back to the community and to my people. I would say it’s due to all the dedication and emphasis I put on for all of the different causes and communities that we support.
How have you raised the bar in your own company? I constantly share my expectations with my team and try to help them as best I can to reach their full potential as individuals. I strive to invest in the right people and coach them as best I can.
What innovations have you created and used to build your company? We created a system that we call the Balanced Score Card. This tool provides our company with detailed daily, weekly, and monthly tracking results on all of the key metrics we focus on as an organization. With this information, we can take appropriate action and coach accordingly, really diving into the back end of the business.
What core values do you think helped you win this award? We all feel truly blessed and strive to honor Dave Thomas’ legacy in our community. We actively support the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption and strongly believes in his culture of giving back. The DTFA is our #1 focus to give back to our communities. We fully support Dave’s belief that every child deserves a loving and caring home.
How important is community involvement to you and your company? 100%. Giving back is part of our culture and every employee stands together.
What leadership qualities are most important to you and your company? Focus on developing others. Encourage strategic thinking, innovation, and action. Recognize, celebrate, and boost their colleagues. Being ethical and honest. Effective cross-cultural communication.
2022 goals: Open six new restaurants. Improve turnover by implementing more retention strategies. Keep looking for more acquisitions. Grow community outreach now that the pandemic has slowed down. Continue to give back and exceed the previous year’s results.
Growth meter: How do you measure your growth? Growing in numbers of individuals employed. We want our workforce to grow to more than 10,000 employees. The more jobs we create, the more families we can support in both rural and urban communities.
Vision meter: Where do you want to be in 5 years? 10 years? Growing our organization to 200 restaurants in 5 years and 300 restaurants in 10 years.
What are you doing to take care of your employees? Reviewing and implementing policies so that the people who work with us have joy at work. Improving our work environment. Providing opportunities to grow within the organization. Improving our retention strategy and ensuring that everyone’s voice is heard no matter the position.
What kind of exit strategy do you have in place? Building a great organization that my children can work hard in, grow as leaders, and prepare themselves in many different areas so they can one day take over.