Founder Warren Thompson, after graduating from the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, joined the Marriott Corporation as an assistant manager at a Roy Rogers. Nine years later, starting with a $100,000 personal investment, he created Thompson Hospitality in October 1992. Thompson expanded the company’s interests into the contract foodservice arena in 1998 with Thompson Hospitality Services, LLC, brought on by the aforementioned partnership with Compass Group, which over the years, has allowed the company to grow and expand to markets it otherwise wouldn’t have been able to penetrate. “This strategic partnership has also created exceptional economies of scale and pricing efficiencies a company of our size wouldn’t otherwise have access to," Michael Katigbak, vice president of marketing, told FSR earlier.
Thompson’s vision, Berentzen says, was always to create a portfolio that spread occasions for every bucket of consumer, from fast casual to fine dining. It’s why the company plans to keep growing through M&A as well as internal concept creation. Berentzen says they’re actively looking for partners in the coffee, dessert, and healthier salad arenas.
“It puts us at a competitive advantage as well when we talk to the landlords,” Berentzen says. “You go into the plaza, and we sign two or three or four leases. Many plazas we now have multiple concepts in. It also gives us an operational advantage for our operational oversight. One person can go to that plaza and visit multiple sites and support those locations.”
The company, he adds, hasn’t missed a rent payment in 30 years. “We have a good reputation, and we get good deals,” Berentzen says.
Throughout this growth spurt, Berentzen dialed in on infrastructure. There are four different POS systems across the fleet. The company is moving to one. When Thompson Hospitality partnered with Velocity and Wiseguy Pizza, all of the restaurants needed to be integrated, from culture to tech to logistics like teaching employees process on accounts payable and inventory. “And how do we manage our P&L and taking over all those accounts. There’s a lot of reorganization and restructuring happening right now,” Berentzen says. “But I feel pretty good with where we ended the year.”
Berentzen says his background, which also crosses segments and categories, was a “perfect match.”
“I look at the restaurants and the concepts like my children. They’re all very different. Sometimes one needs more attention than the other,” he says. “But they’re all very special in their own unique way and we love them and treat them accordingly.”
Thompson Hospitality has always been a culture-centric operation, regardless of scope. It’s a no-nonsense, diverse, and inclusive approach that goes direct to the source and has no plans to let up.
“Our strategy for 2023 is we’re not reinventing the wheel; we are literally going back to basics, and I will tell them every day, we have three main goals for 2023: No. 1 is we’re focused on our people and it’s people before profit and we’re going to hire, train, and develop and retain—that’s what we’re laser focused on,” Berentzen says. “Secondly, it’s growth. Obviously, growth comes with managing our financials. The P&L is your report card and it tells you how you’re doing. And then growth moving forward will be controlled growth through organic growth, concept development, and strategic partnerships. And lastly, we’re focused on stability.”
Going back to basics for Thompson Hospitality will start with food and hospitality. Nothing you won’t find in every operator playbook across America, Berentzen says. But Thompson Hospitality will pay attention to everything from furniture to windows to lights. What it often calls, “MELT,” or music, energy, light, and temperature. “How does it feel in the restaurants. Does it match your value proposition?” he says. “If we can get those things right, we’re going to have successful business.”