“Let’s be the dolphin friends on the good-guy tuna team.” This obscure line from the 1978 Warren Beatty movie Heaven Can Wait has actually become something of a mantra for Greg Overbeck at Chapel Hill Restaurant Group.
Beatty’s character dies and goes back into the body of “this rich, nasty guy” who is killing dolphins with his fishing operation. Beatty, in the guise of the dastardly tycoon, urges a change of policy.
Not that Greg was ever in “nasty guy” mode, but he and his partners made a conscious decision about 15 years ago “to really make a commitment to sustainability. That means not just your environmental footprint, but taking care of your community and your employees as well.”
The group’s six restaurants – including Best Of Platinum winners 411 West and Squid’s – started “recycling everything we could” and buying local as much as possible.
Greg says they also started paying employees at all levels better wages. “The restaurant industry has a reputation for burning people out,” he says. “All of us [owners] have worked in restaurants. We’ve all done everything: cleaned bathrooms, hosted, washed dishes, waited tables. We know it can be a very tough life. We’d much rather take care of those people than have them burn out.”
And the restaurants started making a more concerted effort to support charities large and small. The big event is the Teachers First Breakfast held every year at Squid’s. This year’s breakfast fed 1,500 and raised more than $90,000 for the Teachers First Fund of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Public School Foundation. “I personally feel that teachers are the most underappreciated people in the world,” Greg says.
We haven’t even mentioned the various fundraisers the group caters or the fact that hardly a day goes by that Greg doesn’t give away a gift certificate to a school benefit, a church raffle and the like. “We’re really proud of the way we do business,” Greg says. “Not only does it make us feel good, but I hope it figures into customers’ decisions about where to eat.”
If the Best Of Chapel Hill results are any indication, the strategy seems to be working. Score one for the good-guy tuna team.
Ed. Note: This article first appeared in our July/August 2014 issue.