Leader to Leader: How Putting the Community First Is Helping One Company Battle the Labor Shortage

Sept. 23, 2022

The pandemic took a toll on restaurants, but Harvest Seasonal Grill's Dave Magrogan
says a CSR mindset has been crucial to maintaining success

It’s not often you hear about a chiropractor who transforms himself into CEO of a highly regarded restaurant company, but that’s exactly the path that Dave Magrogan, CEO of Harvest Seasonal Grill & Wine Bar, has followed. And Magrogan says it’s not just a quirky coincidence that one career led to the other. The lessons he learned as a chiropractor—including focusing on the well-being of patients and giving back to the community—turn out not just to be good medicine, but very good business.

Here, the Satell Institute member—whose company currently owns 12 farm-to-table restaurants in four states and employs 600 people—talks about the challenges posed by the pandemic and why being a community-minded business translates to loyal employees, loyal customers and a healthy bottom line.

Our business has been able to be successful because…
we’ve been able to maintain a really good culture. The test of that was COVID, obviously. We were able to maintain all of our main players during COVID—executive team, main general managers and executive chefs. We were able to keep the core leaders of the company through very difficult times, and we’ve been able to keep those people. It’s been a very difficult labor market, and people in the restaurant industry have been getting poached left and right.

We’ve been able to retain employees because…
…we’ve always had a culture of giving back. There’s a sign in every one of our restaurants that says “Give. Love. Serve.” We have this philosophy of giving back and serving our guests and our community and loving what we do. That’s in all of our materials for our employees.

We’ve always had a passionate enthusiasm for what we’re doing. We’re very passionate about local sourcing, the quality of the product, and the health benefits of properly sourced food and nutrition.


The labor shortage in the restaurant business is…

..multilayered. Pre-pandemic we were already dealing with a tight labor market. Part of that was an immigration decline during the Trump years. Then we saw the rise of Door Dash, Uber Eats, Uber itself – all these types of gig work.


Then there was how we handled the pandemic, which was absolutely disgraceful to restaurants in certain states—having people just be out of work all of a sudden, with no resources. During the pandemic we lost a lot of people from the restaurant industry because they no longer had faith that they would have a job. We’re seeing some of those people come back. But this labor shortage is going to be a chronic problem.


I first learned that serving the community can be great business when…

…I was a chiropractor before owning restaurants. You go to most doctors’ offices and the sign above the front desk says, “Payment is expected at the time service is rendered.” But I had a sign that said, “We accept all patients regardless of ability to pay.” And we just opened our doors and served our community, and it led to two very successful practices. Some of those patients were down on their luck and being seen for free or for a very minimal fee. Some people were in and out of insurance, and we still covered them during their gaps. Some people, like our firefighters and police, we provided free care for. So there was always a philosophy that, if you provided better service and gave more to your consumer, you’d get paid back.


That’s our philosophy. We try to make sure that we extend the greatest service we can to our guests, as well as the greatest product we can, and then generate a good, fair profit. And I think we’ve generated tremendous loyalty from our consumer.


One unexpected way we serve the community is…

…we’re a very allergy-friendly restaurant. You can have severe allergies and you know you can come in and have a meal. We get emails all the time – “Our daughter has severe celiac disease, and you’re the only restaurant we trust.” That’s a huge community that needs to be taken care of.


Our guests who identify the most with Harvest are very frequent guests. Your typical person might say, “Oh, I like that restaurant,” and they may go once or twice a month. We have Harvest consumers who come in several times per week.


When it comes to corporate philanthropy…

…we find like-minded charities in our communities to support. We always support local things. You know, somebody comes in for the 5K race or local football team. We have a budget to support those things, and the general managers can do that without corporate consent.


Then each store also finds a local farm to support, a local food co-op—whatever it happens to be that serves a similar interest to ours. Pennypack Farm in Montgomery County is one place we support every year. Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative is another one of our biggest beneficiaries. Not only do we buy product from them, but we help support them financially. We put ourselves deep in the community.


A nonprofit I personally love to support…

…is the Brandywine Valley SPCA. I’m on the board of that organization. We’ve grown from one location to five locations. We made Delaware a no-kill state. And again, it’s very local, it’s very involved, and they’re doing some great things for animals. And then by doing great things for animals, they’re doing great things for people who need animals in their lives.


I first heard about the Satell Institute when…

…I know so many people who are in Satell that I can’t remember who actually introduced me. But it was about Corporate Social Responsibility, and I said, “We’re already focused on that. We’re already writing the checks to the charities.” I wanted to be around like-minded CEOs just to see what they were doing. I also wanted to be in a little bit of a positive sphere during the pandemic—it was pretty difficult time.


One thing I love about SI’s conferences is…

…it’s nice to be around other thought leaders and ask, “Well, what works for you?” I can pick out something that would totally not work in the restaurant industry, but then I can take that principle and adapt it.

 

We’re always trying to figure out how to create a better environment for our employees and then create a better environment for our guests and serve the community better. The things that are shared at Satell help us do that.

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