Entrepreneur Of The Year 2011
The Road to Palm Springs
After receiving his MBA from the Darden School of Business, Warren Thompson landed an internship that became one of the most impactful experiences of his life. Working for Dick Marriott, who focused on food, concessions, restaurants and distribution at Marriott, Thompson’s first assignment was serving as an assistant manager of a Roy Rogers — flipping burgers.
Despite having to withstand guffaws from his investment banker friends, Thompson realized that starting on the ground level he would learn the importance of every single employee within the organization.
In 1992, as Marriott exited the restaurant business, Thompson saw his opportunity. He launched Thompson Hospitality by negotiating a leveraged buyout of 31 Big Boy restaurants from Marriott. He also raised $1.9 million from investors and added about $100,000 of his own money to convert the locations into Shoney’s restaurants.
Things did not go according to plan. However, Thompson saw an opportunity in the food contract service business at universities and colleges and began exiting the Shoney’s franchise. In 1993, he landed his first contract under the new business model with two small colleges. A few years later, he sought partnerships that would move his company forward. In 1997, he formed a new division, Thompson Hospitality Services, to concentrate on the booming food service business.
Today Thompson’s company has operations in 44 states and nearly 4,000 employees.