Restaurateur shares ‘special sauce’ for leadership

My dad, former Cleveland Browns defensive lineman Al “Bubba” Baker, played in the NFL back when they played more for the love of the game than for big contracts. He always did what he needed to do — catering from home and cooking on street corners — for our family until he could open his dream restaurant. He was our leader. 

My parents never complained about the time or effort that went into running our loving family and our home. Whether rain, sleet or snow, they got up with smiles on their faces and taught us that “teamwork makes the dream work.” And while I may have had some complaints at the time, it taught me what it takes to be a successful leader.

  • Lead by example. Don’t ask of others what you’re not willing to do yourself. I’ve had this engrained in me since I was born. After my dad retired from football, my family began a catering business from home. When we weren’t catering, we were setting up barrel grills on the street corners of Avon, selling BBQ to anyone who pulled over. This was where my dream began. My parents taught me that leaders are made, not born. You have to put in the work. I was responsible for the food prep at 5 a.m. before school until we opened our restaurant, Bubba’s-Q, in Avon. I worked hard from sun-up until sundown, and it made me the leader I am today. I wasn’t given a leadership role. I had to earn it.
  • Do whatever it takes. When our restaurant opened, I was in the trenches with our staff. I worked every position, from busser to dish washer to host to cook. Eventually, I worked my way up to managing partner, and in doing so, gained valuable experience and found the passion necessary to tackle any challenge. A few months ago, several kitchen employees quit at the same time and left us with one cook. I rolled up my sleeves and cooked for three weeks straight. Although my focus now is on growing the restaurant and motivational speaking, I jumped in where my team needed me. It’s so important to let your team know that, as a leader, you are willing to do whatever it takes for the betterment of everyone. No excuses. Just actions.
  • Never give up. I instill in our staff the willingness to find the solution to any problem, to never give up. The Bubba’s-Q culture revolves around three basic principles: There is no unsolvable problem, communication is key, and we are a family. Our ultimate goal of delivering great food and stellar service to our guests is our daily motivation to be the best we can be and my motivation to lead by example each day.

Leading by example has been my “secret sauce” in building a strong team that genuinely cares about the success of our business. It’s the most effective and rewarding strategy for leaders everywhere.

Brittani Bo Baker is managing partner at Bubba’s-Q World Famous Bar-B-Q & Catering