Paul Damico
CEO, Naf Naf Grill, Chicago
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If you ask Paul Damico what makes a great leader, he’ll probably tell you that you have to be willing and able to get to know your leadership team and understand that, at a granular level, you are the one responsible for helping to guide their careers.

Damico, CEO of Naf Naf Grill, the Chicago-based Middle Eastern, fast-casual chain, and former president of Moe’s Southwest Grill, was a guest on our new podcast series, Fast Casual Insider. He shared his ideas on what he looks for when hiring employees, why he’s been a successful leader, and what he thinks is one of the biggest disrupters in the industry.

If you could hire an employee tomorrow, what would that person do for you?

He or she would be an expert in handling all online- and third-party delivery orders, taking care of each one with absolute perfection, guaranteeing they come out just as the customer ordered. Accuracy of orders on this platform is one of our biggest challenges.

What do you consider the biggest disrupter affecting the restaurant industry?

Third-party delivery is the biggest disrupter in our business today, and right behind that is the invention of ghost kitchens, or virtual kitchens. Just when you thought our industry couldn’t possibly open any more restaurants, someone invents the concept of a ghost kitchen. Now, in a space of about 15,000 square feet, you can have 19 delivery-only restaurants operating under one roof.

We all share the same customer base, and it’s becoming harder to keep those loyal customers because of the massive variety they now have access to.

Why do you think you’ve had such a successful career?

I received a solid education in restaurant management and culinary arts. I knew my way around a kitchen and food and had a true passion for both. I worked hard and early in my career, I understood and practiced Servant Leadership, which focuses on helping those you lead to excel. I got noticed for my successes. There was some luck involved, too, as I rose through the ranks. I’m proud to say I was one of the youngest vice presidents at Host Marriott back in the early ’90s, was a chief operating officer by age 40 and became a company president at age 44.

To hear more of Damico’s industry insights, listen to Fast Casual Insider: Paul Damico.