Published: May 6, 2014
CEO, Stellar Restaurant Solutions, Colorado Springs
Steve Bigari, a 1982 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, started in the restaurant business in a roundabout way. His oldest daughter was born with a "walking medical dictionary of birth defects," he says, and had to undergo 28 operations throughout her life. Through that experience, he got involved with the Ronald McDonald House and helped build one in Colorado Springs. While serving on the nonprofit's board, Bigari met one of his mentors, Brent Cameron, and ended up running Cameron's local McDonald's franchises. When Cameron died in 1993, Bigari was able to buy one of his McDonald's restaurants, and added 11 more to his portfolio in the next 10 years. He became the operator lead on the innovation team at the McDonald's Corp. and realized he was an innovator at heart. In 2006, he felt he was called to help transform people's lives and provide opportunities for them through restaurants. The result was Stellar Restaurant Solutions, which he launched in 2007.
Question: What is the business of Stellar Restaurant Solutions?
Answer: Our mission is to transform the way people order, pay for and pick up food. Our core product is restaurant transformation, in the way they interact with guests. We eliminate the phone from ringing in the restaurant by handling customer relations, taking orders for take out and catering, and handling reservations. The only things we don't do that a restaurant does is we don't make or hand out food. When you, a restaurant customer, call in, we teach you about your options such as rapid reorder, online ordering or using your mobile device. It's not about sending you to us; it's about making things more convenient for you. We're facilitating VIP service, we know you, know your preferences, allergies, how you like to pay and when you like to dine. We're creating the future of guest interaction.
Q: What does that future look like?
A: The future looks better, cheaper, and faster than it is today. People will be able to order, pay and pick up food any way they like, customized to their needs today.
For instance, for full-service restaurants, we facilitate ordering ahead and make a reservation for you to dine in for a business meeting. You, the customer, walk in, the restaurant staff knows who you are and greets you. Your drinks are on the table, the food was fired when you pulled up in the parking and five to 10 minutes after you sit down, your food is presented and you've already paid for it. This makes the table turns much faster and so the restaurant will look less busy, but actually serve more people. The server isn't hurried because the next table has already ordered and he can focus on you. Everybody gets a better experience.
Q: What is the market potential for Stellar's services?
A: There are 96,000 restaurants in America today. We only serve a little under 3,000 of those.
Q: Did you have any unique experiences that prepared you for what you are doing today?
A: West Point and the time I spent in the Army taught me organization and process. McDonald's taught me innovation and transformation. Because of my relationships at McDonalds, I was privileged to be involved in innovation at senior levels in the company. That really shaped my heart for innovation. Also, understanding that as a person, my role is to serve others. That makes my uniquely qualified to lead a restaurant company.
Q: What kinds of people make Stellar Restaurant Solutions successful?
A: They all have a serving spirit. The employees taking the calls have the most important job in the company because they represent me on every call. If someone is rude, the Stellar employee's job is to turn that person's day around if they can.
Q: What do you think of the Colorado Springs business climate?
A: The people here are our strongest asset. The challenges we have are really centered on not having a big airport, and in the past we've had some infrastructure and support issues with the building department and city government not being as service-oriented as they could be. The mayor has tackled those and I think that culture has changed dramatically.
Q: Do you have a personal formula for success?
A: God first, your marriage second, and everybody else right after that.
Edited for space and clarity.