Everyone has stories about how they entered the foodservice industry, but Juan Martinez considers his unique. It is also a history-making journey, as he was part of the team that pioneered the application of industrial engineering and ergonomics in foodservice more than 40 years ago.
After graduating from the Georgia Institute of Technology with a degree in Industrial Engineering in 1981, Martinez joined Southern Bell, a telephone company. During his time there, the company was considered a monopoly and was in the process of divesting.
“I was a year and a half into my career and thought this was not for me,” Martinez admits. “Impatience is both my strength and my weakness; I wanted to get to where I was going yesterday, and I didn’t see a future there.”
On a lark, he went on a job interview at Burger King, which was in the process of hiring industrial engineers to boost the chain’s efficiency. Spearheading this initiative was Bill Swart, who had a doctorate degree from Georgia Tech. “The funny part is, I knew I wanted to go somewhere else but didn’t think I’d be an industrial engineer for a restaurant brand,” Martinez recalls. “My incentive for interviewing was to practice my interview skills. They wanted to hire me on the spot and asked how much I wanted to make. I quickly found out that I didn’t ask for enough!”
Martinez accepted the job and says the old adage that the rest is history proved true. When he joined Burger King’s Department of Industrial Engineering in November of 1983, the chain was owned by Pillsbury. This gave Martinez the opportunity to practice his engineering skills at Burger King and other restaurant brands that were then part of the company, including Steak and Ale, Bennigan’s and Häagen-Dazs, among others.
“QSRs are different than sit-down restaurants, and we were able to get involved with many brands from the get-go,” Martinez says. “We were able to cross-pollinate and learn other processes that enabled me to fast-track to what I do today.”
Martinez touched many areas during his 17-year tenure with Burger King, including the menu, operations and equipment research and development (R&D), as well as supply management, purchasing and concept development. During this period, he developed a unique video drive-thru system for which he holds a patent. Additionally, he was part of the team that developed automation.
In 2001, Martinez created MC Consultants, which launched without a client base. His plan was to make restaurant consulting his hobby while he completed his doctorate. He did not intend to remain in the restaurant industry long term.
Halfway through completing his doctorate degree, and after dissolving MC Consultants, Martinez joined a consulting group as a principal, managing projects and client relationships and handling business development. In 2004, he graduated from the University of Miami with a doctorate in industrial engineering and ergonomics.
“Upon completing my Ph.D., I wanted to teach, but as fate would have it, the program I was going to teach at in Miami was discontinued by the state of Florida due to lack of funding, so I kept going with the consulting gig,” Martinez explains. “It wasn’t what I intended to do, but I discovered it’s what I’m meant to do. I believe in fate; you make plans and the Almighty will guide you, but it’s up to you to follow the path. This is definitely true about my arrival into the foodservice industry and also how I became a consultant.”
In 2008, Martinez created Profitality, which later merged with Labor Guru, a company founded by his current partner, Ignacio Goris. The two worked together previously. This merger created the current organization that he is part owner of — Profitality Labor Guru (PLG).
PLG specializes in applying the principles of industrial engineering and ergonomics in restaurants to improve unit economics, which can support brand growth. PLG’s emphasis is in multiunit brands across all the different menu and system offerings. According to Martinez, the experience of the team includes having worked with many top restaurant brands.
Each new project becomes Martinez’s favorite. He likens it to when someone asks what his favorite wine is. “It is always the last one I had,” he jokes. “It’s the same with our projects. We work on 10 to 15 projects simultaneously, and my favorite is always the last one we completed.” He relishes finding key pieces of equipment that can drive the most impact for brands.
Martinez believes applying industrial engineering is directly transferable to restaurants. “Instead of managing car, cell phone or computer chip production, we are helping brands manage the delivery of food, while maximizing the profits and delivering the best hospitality to guests,” he says. This is where the company name comes from: Profitable Hospitality.
Martinez considers restaurants to be ‘simply complex.’ “Cooking is somewhat simple, but because we work with chain accounts, we want everything to be uniform,” he explains. “Otherwise, you are not a brand, and that’s what makes it complex: the need to drive consistency and ease of execution.”
When working with clients, PLG’s main focus is on making it easier for restaurant employees, as well. “Employees are number one, and customers are a close second,” Martinez explains. “This employee focus is usually the mark of any successful company.”
This focus also extends to PLG’s consulting staff. The company created a stock purchase program, where company directors can buy shares. “This is one way that the company can be passed on to the next generation and survive long term. I want this to be their career, not just a job,” he adds.
Martinez says he’s recently come to the realization that he’ll never retire. This came in response to a question from his wife and adult children who asked him what he’d do if he wasn’t working. “I wake up every day realizing the responsibility that I have to help the business grow, and that keeps me going. I do envision myself slowing down, even though some people claim I don’t know how. Success is defined in different ways. I would love for part of my legacy to be that [PLG] provided a career for many long after I am done.”
Martinez credits his wife Maria, who was formerly a computer engineering professor at the University of Miami, with being the rock of the family. “She is my greatest inspiration, critic, supporter and motivator, all rolled into one,” he says. “My wife is definitely my role model. I feel that I am in good company since she dished out this tough love to our kids also. As a grandmother, she has definitely gotten softer.”
The couple has three adult children and nine grandchildren between the ages of three and nine. And Martinez is more than happy to tell you they all live nearby; the farthest lives a mere three miles from him. “Grandchildren are God’s gift to grandparents who went through the trials of raising their children,” he says. “I’m where I’m at because of my current team, those with whom I have had the pleasure of working with along my career as well as my family. This is not an easy career, especially when you consider the amount of time away from home, but it is a very rewarding one. You give this industry love, and the industry returns it tenfold.”
Foodservice Consultants Society International (FCSI) The Americas, board of trustees
The Culinary Institute of America (CIA), fellow
Influencer Give & Take
Tell us about one person who influenced your life and why.
In addition to my wife, whom I have been with for 46 years (since high school), her father, who passed away a couple of years ago, influenced me greatly — especially in my family life. He was an engineer, also from Georgia Institute of Technology, which had something to do with the university that I attended and the career I chose; or it may be better said, the career that chose me, if you believe in fate.
How would others say you influence them?
Hopefully on being persistent and continuing to try. On how to keep their personal lives in check and in balance. Without this balance, work is not as much fun. On being passionate about driving big impacts for our clients.