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Spur founder Allen Ambor credits his restaurant success to keen customer service and a “draconian” management style which was “my way or the highway”.
Ambor, 76, who last month sold most of his shares in Spur, was speaking at a Startup Grind event held on Tuesday evening at Workshop 17.
“My attitude was I don’t care who suffers as long as it’s not the customer. And I promise you I did suffer plenty. I was overworked to an incredible extent and I demanded a lot from my staff.
“So often I would get a new young waiter in, who was often from university, and then I would tell them what to do and then, there’s only one way to put it — k*k on them when they weren’t doing it properly because I was like Jekyll & Hyde.
‘My attitude was I don’t care who suffers as long as it’s not the customer’
“If the customer called me it was ‘yes sir’ and if the staff weren’t performing it was ‘hey come on man what’s going on with you’. And sometimes I would find their book with their orders and pen on the fridge and they were gone,” he said.
“In a certain sense I was I bit of my own worst enemy, as we all are from time to time, and that increased the strain,” he added.
Despite his tough approach many of his associates have stuck around. He said Spur CEO Pierre van Tonder started as a junior manager in the eatery’s Sea Point outlet over 30 years ago. The company’s first financial director is still in the company, while some franchisees have been with the company for over 34 years, he said.
“People stay because they get job satisfaction, they feel fulfilled,” says Ambor.
Ambor didn’t mention that many may have opted to stick around because the business was doing pretty well — with the company profitable “from day one”, he says.
‘I made him lots of money and he made me nice losses’
Growing the business hasn’t been without its challenges. He recalls the split with his first partner, Max Rivkind, who he refers to as “a lazy sh**”.
“He was in our Sea Point store which he ruined,” said Ambor. “Every day I’d go to the one store and then the other (Golden Spur) and I’d find a mess.”
“I made him lots of money and he made me nice losses,” he said. In the end Ambor bought him out.
The Spur founder says key to building his business has been the ability to spot good people.
“I can look into their hearts via their eyes and what they say. I hire people and I fly them like kites. I mean I keep them close to me — if they are not doing it right I pull them in and I say ‘look you can’t do it like this, you have to do it like this’ and I monitor them closely and then I let them fly well.”
Featured image: Startup Grind global community director Guillame de Smedt and Allen Ambor (Onsight Pictures)