When John Bornoty, CEO of The Big Salad, launched his salad franchise restaurant in Grosse Pointe, Michigan in 2008, he saw his role as being an educator helping aspiring entrepreneurs to own a small business in the instructive environment of franchise ownership. Almost a decade later, his efforts aren’t just helping today’s small-business owners, but the next generation as well.
Teaming with Grosse Pointe North High School, The Big Salad recently completed its latest edition of “Seal the Deal,” a month-long, reality-based learning program empowering students to create their own menu item for The Big Salad, then market it to make it a success.
“Our ‘Seal the Deal’ program has been a tremendous success in terms of teaching high school students real-life business lessons, inspiring their creativity and giving back to the local community,” Bornoty said. “As we continue to expand The Big Salad franchise into new territories, we are excited to introduce “Seal the Deal” to those communities as well.”
How Students are Sealing the Deal
Each semester, Bornoty and Grosse Pointe North High School’s Business Education teacher, Michelle Davis, team up to execute “Seal the Deal” with high school juniors and seniors. Students break into groups to create, design, test and market a new menu product at The Big Salad’s Grosse Pointe location.
During the first two weeks of the program, the groups work with executives from The Big Salad to create and test their menu item and learn how to market their product. Then, each group’s menu item is sold at the restaurant for one day. The groups compete with one another to see which group can generate the most sales on their product’s sale day. The winning group receives the “Seal the Deal” trophy engraved with the name of the product and the group participants. Then the winning product goes on the menu for the following semester — with the students’ names included — and the school receives a check for $300.
Luke Drieborg of Grosse Pointe, Michigan participated in the inaugural Seal the Deal program at Grosse Pointe North High School during his junior year in 2014. His group created “The Big League,” an Italian-style, triple-meat sandwich that the team successfully marketed to victory. Now a rising sophomore at Michigan State, Luke says the Seal the Deal program really helped him grow socially by forcing him out of his comfort zone while selling to prospective customers.
“This was the first time I ever have tried selling directly to consumers and it was a terrific learning experience. Being comfortable selling a product, a service or myself is a skill I’ll need for whatever I choose to do. I’m really grateful to The Big Salad for the opportunity,” he said.
Kyle Gloster, also of Grosse Pointe, Michigan participated in Seal the Deal during his sophomore year during the Spring semester of 2015. His group created the Spicy Norseman, a sandwich wrap featuring fajita chicken, bacon, banana peppers and spicy ranch dressing. The Spicy Norseman was named after Grosse Pointe North’s popular mascot. That combined with a robust traditional and online marketing effort made his group the winner that Spring.
Gloster will attend Western Michigan as a freshman this fall as a business major, a choice impacted by his time in the Seal the Deal program.
“I had always considered a business degree, but the Seal the Deal program at Grosse Pointe North High School convinced me that this was the right path to take,” Gloster said. “It’s a great class that gave me real-life business experience. I even included it on all of my college resumes.”
Big Wins for Everyone
Bornoty says the enthusiasm he sees from the students is reward enough, but the students’ efforts often generate as many as 100 additional customers each day that a group’s menu item is unveiled. The latest installment generated a 22 percent sales increase over the 11 days that student creations were featured.
“The community really rallied behind the students who worked so hard to generate sales of their menu items,” Bornoty said. “I’m always impressed with what the kids come up with. Some of their items will certainly stay on our menu longer than one semester if they continue to sell.”
For Davis, an educator for 23 years and an advocate for reality-based learning programs, “Seal the Deal” has contributed to an expansion of her business education classes as enthusiasm for the program spread throughout the school. She started with only two classes and now offers four, and attendance has doubled since the program’s launch in 2014.
“I’ve always been a proponent of reality-based learning because students can take what they learned in the curriculum and apply it in the real world,” Davis said. “It’s increased enrollment because students share with their friends — who then want to join. They get so excited to see something they learned in the classroom apply in the real world. I don’t think they get enough exposure to that today.”
Gross Pointe North High School Principal Kate Murray agrees. She has been an educator for 21 years and is beginning her sixth as school principal. Seal the Deal is her school’s only reality-based learning program that teaches her students product development, sales and marketing. She couldn’t be happier with the results.
“I remember when Michelle came to me with the idea back in 2014. I was excited about the possibilities then and very happy with how it’s grown over the years. What is most powerful about this opportunity for me is the real-life experience it provides our students and the community partnership with The Big Salad,” she said.
As Franchise Expands, so will “Seal the Deal”
With six locations of The Big Salad currently in operation and three more opening within the next year, Bornoty is excited to introduce “Seal the Deal” to new areas to strengthen the bond between the local community and his salad franchise restaurant.
“Just like our franchise, ‘Seal the Deal’ has a proven success model that I want to see implemented at our restaurants throughout the country,” Bornoty said. “It’s a great way to introduce our product to new markets while continuing our mission of educating current and future generations of entrepreneurs on how to win as business owners.”
Photos courtesy of The Big Salad.