We had the good fortune of connecting with Roscoe Smith and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Roscoe, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
Well I had many years in the restaurant business working for others. When I got into business, I felt a real desire to have something of my own. Something where I could make a real mark on people in different ways. I feel like as a business owner I have a responsibility not only to my guests, by providing them a high quality and unique product in an enjoyable environment. But also, I have a responsibility to my employees to teach them life skills and job skills that they will carry for the rest of their lives. I know for many of my employees, we are a landing spot, not a career move. However, I also feel that they should be better people and employees for the next person that they work for and with. As far as the business itself, food is my passion. My desire was burning inside me, but it wasn’t neccessarily to own a restaurant. I had seen so much turmoil that Owners whom I had worked for had gone through. Things just fell into place and I felt that this was the direction that I needed to go in order to satisfy my desire. It made sense because it was what i knew the most about. I started as a Franchisee for a restaurant chain and quickly realized that I needed more freedom and ability to insert my own creativity. As a franchisee it felt more like a job. I never really felt like it was my own because I had so many rules that I needed to follow that didn’t really make much sense. Once I was able to get out of my Franchise Agreement, I created Knuckle Sandwiches and once again, everything fell into place! So ultimately, I feel like my steps in this progression to where I am at today was ordered. I don’t think I would be doing as well or maybe would have given up if I had not gone through those steps, progressions and in turn grew at a healthy rate and I wasn’t in a rush to get ahead of myself. God knew what he was doing!
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I was born and raised In Chicago, Il. An upbringing in Chicago in the 80s and 90s taught me a lot of things. I learned to survive, how to stand up for myself, how to think logically and critically and I also learned how to get along with a wide variety of people from all different backgrounds. I went to a very diverse High School! Go Lincoln Park Lions! After High School i went to Southwest Missouri State University, now known as just Missouri State University in Springfield, Missouri. I started as a double Major in Psychology and Sociology, but into my 2nd year a friend of mine suggested that I change my major to Hospitality and Restaurant Management. After looking into it and realizing that my school had one of the top programs in the country in that discipline, I changed majors and never looked back. I absolutely fell in love with it. After graduating, I was recruited by Darden Restaurants and my first job was a Kitchen Manager for Red Lobster in Merrillville, In. I was there about a year then I went to work for a McDonlad’s Franchisee in suburban Chicago. I absolutely loved working for them and I learned a lot about motivating people, managing people, managing costs and labor, just everything. i have to say McDonald’s management training is excellent if you use it and learn from it! I was hired in as an Asst Manager and was promoted to General Manager in about 60 days! I left McDonalds after 4 years and I learned a very valuable lesson that I kept with me and try to teach others. If you are truly happy where you work, do not leave for money. Chances are you will regret it! I was lured away by Wendy’s because they offered more money and I thought that is what I was supposed to do. BIG MISTAKE! I was absolutely miserable at Wendy’s and only lasted there a year. To this day, that is the only job I have ever quit with no notice! I learned a lot about how to respect your people from Wendy’s. When I left Wendy’s my wife and I moved back to Missouri. She is from the town where I went to college at. She thought the city was too big for her. While in Missouri, I was hired by a restaurant group who were opening a Steakhouse. What was really cool was I was on the opening team. I was the Service Manager and it was so cool. For 6 years, I was able to develop the steak house, I went from Service Manager to Kitchen Manager to GM to Area Director. During that time, I was also able to design and open an Italian concept for the group. I got to write the menu, recipes, wine list, spec the kitchen, everything.
I also had the opportunity to open and oversee a catering facility for the group as well. After that, I went to work at the local hospital. They approached me to come work for them because they wanted to increase their patient satisfaction scores. That was such a great opportunity and experience for me!
After that, My wife and I moved again and I worked for Burger King and Fazoli’s. Fazoli’s gave me a really good insight into running a business from the numbers side. I don’t think I would have as good of an understanding of P+L’s and financials if I didn’t work at Fazoli’s. After that I got out of food service for a few years and realized that I really missed it. That is when I was blessed to find the opportunity in Arizona as a restaurant owner. One thing that I learned through all of these years is the connection you make with people is priceless. I think that is my favorite part of the business is to get to know and meet people. I also learned that unique and authentic food makes a huge difference. So when we created Knuckle Sandwiches, we wanted to make authentic food. We cook all of our meats in house! Yep you read that correct. We take great pride in cooking whole turkeys, corned beef, roast beef, meatballs and marinara, pastrami everything! We are a scratch kitchen and it gives us the latitude to be creative to make things like a meatloaf sandwich, pulled pork sandwich with a mac and cheese topping, our authentic Cuban. I am a Chicagoan, so I am a self admitted pizza snob! There are certain pizzas that I absolutely will not eat. Well there are people that are sandwich snobs also. They will not eat sandwiches that are made with processed deli meats. Plus, who doesn’t like the sandwich you make with Thanksgiving Day leftovers?!? That’s what the inspiration is for many of the sandwiches we make. We want to make comforting food so that’s why we put so much effort into it. To bring our guests something that you don’t find everywhere.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Here in Arizona, I am still finding those place myself, but I would definitely say there are a lot of great places to eat and a lot of places that are unique and authentic! From Sushi to Mexican from Burgers to French Cuisine, Phoenix and the surrounding areas offer plenty. But what makes Phoenix really awesome to me is that it is not far from other places that you can go to also. my wife and I love to travel, so we have been to Mexico, San Diego, Los Angeles, Albuquerqe, Fresno etc. You can always find something to do in Phoenix!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
There are really 2 people who have had tremendous influence in my life. First is my Mom. She taught me so much that got me to this moment right now. From teaching me how to cook to life lessons. I would sit in the kitchen while she was cooking and watch her and I didn’t even know I was learning until years later when i would refer to memories of things I would see her doing. Secondly is my wife Ginette. Her support and input was integral in even being in Arizona. We both come from the Midwest. When the opportunity came up for us to become franchise owners in Arizona, she was more than willing to pack up and move across the country with me. And she has been right with me every step of the way.
Finally, I have to say I am grateful to our guests. They give me suggestions and feedback that is very helpful. I like to think of my guests as my own personal board of directors whom I can consult anytime! I listen to them intently!
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