5 More Minutes With… Zane Tankel

Zane Tankel, has led his business, Apple-Metro, Inc., in continued growth, despite the rocky economy’s effect on the restaurant and hospitality industry. This year, Apple-Metro, which owns and operates several Applebee’s and Chevys Fresh Mex restaurants in the New York area, doubled their office space, and built a 100-person, state-of-the-art training facility at their headquarters in Harrison, NY. Tankel also opened three new restaurants and is opening three more later this year.

In order to remain effective at the helm of a rapidly expanding business, Tankel’s role has had to change. Tankel has delegated much of his old operations management duties and is focusing on the company’s strategy. Daria Meoli spoke with Zane about how his role has evolved as his business has grown.

Daria Meoli: You recently hired a COO, how has that changed your role at Apple-Metro?

Zane Tankel: Oh, he changed my role dramatically. Miguel Fernandez is a tight operator and I’m more of an entrepreneur. I’m in an amusement park, and if I get tired of the merry-go-round, I jump on the roller coaster. I get off the roller coaster and get on the Ferris wheel. I’m able to do a lot of different things, but I’m not able to do a whole lot of any one thing.

Hiring Miguel has permitted me to be more involved in our industry, rather than just our company. He permits me to go out and become a better CEO because I’m on various restaurant company boards. I’m like a camel who gets his neck underneath the tent. I don’t get in the tent because that’s not my job, but I do get my neck underneath the tent, and I see what’s going on in other companies.

For example, I sit on five boards of companies that are on the New York Stock Exchange. I’m not only on the board, but I’m also chairman of the compensation committee at Allis-Chalmers Energy in Houston, Texas. It’s not an enviable position in this environment to be chairman of a comp committee in an oil company. I’m on the boards of Morton’s Restaurant Group, Perkins, and Burger King in Latin America. Seeing other concepts in other companies makes me a better CEO in terms of running our company. 

Hiring a COO has also permitted me to personally identify new sites for our restaurants. I personally identified all the new sites and unilaterally negotiated those leases. We don’t have a real estate guy in our company; I perform that role. I get a much better view of the world not being attached to a desk and avoid getting tunnel vision about our company.

Miguel is a much better operator than I am. He has focus. He’s really focused on the bottom line. I’m focused on culture and our people. I’m focused on creating a culture of excellence and I can’t do that as well when I’m holding people’s feet to the fire. Miguel can do that exceptionally well.

He just does everything that I don’t do. He does it very well. And I do a whole bunch of things that Miguel doesn’t do very well. I mean, we’re two strong people coming to it from two different disciplines. In fact, it’s a bit funny that I talk this way about him because there were bets when he joined us. There were bets that he and I couldn’t stand to be in the same room together after two weeks. And here we are, two years later, and we’re a mutual admiration society.