Land of Opportunity – Uno Chicago Grill, Papa John’s Pizza
John Ismail is the owner of two Uno’s Chicago Grill restaurants in Modesto as well as three Papa John’s Pizza restaurants in Modesto and Turlock. He grew up in the Modesto area and has worked in the restaurant business since college including serving as Proprietor of Outback Steakhouse in Daly City, California and establishing three String’s Italian Café restaurants in Modesto.
How many employees do you have?
My brother Bobby and I partnered to establish Uno’s in Modesto back in 2007. On September 12, 2013, we opened an additional location on Dale Road. I also own three Papa John’s restaurants in Stanislaus County, two of them in Modesto and one in Turlock, for a total of 260 employees.
What have you done in your professional career that has led you to where you are now?
I didn’t intend to be in the restaurant business. When I moved up to Sacramento to attend college at CSU Sacramento, a friend moved up to room with me. One day I was driving him around while he looked for jobs and helping him fill out applications when the manager on duty came out and said “Oh, you’re applying also.” I didn’t want to say no, so I filled out an application, too. By the time we got home, she called us and said we could both start the next morning. That started my career in restaurants.
Are you originally from this area?
My family moved to Modesto when I was a sophomore in high school and I’ve made it my home for many, many years. I got married here and have raised four beautiful kids here and much of my family still lives here.
What challenges have you had to overcome in yourprofessional life?
With the economy, we’ve had to get creative with menu and stay focused on giving people value. You have to stay on top of your game and focus on customer service, cleanliness and just wowing the customer and making sure that they leave happy and want to come back and see you again.
What are some of the accomplishments of which you are particularly proud?
When I was at Outback, I was awarded Proprietor of the Year, which was a very big award to achieve. They don’t make it easy. And within our first year at Uno’s, they gave me rookie GM of the year. In the second year, we were awarded franchisee of the year. I’ve found success not by trying to do the unexpected, but always focusing on just exceeding what’s expected of me.
What is the single biggest reason that you have achieved the level of success you have?
From when I was a kid, I’ve always been very meticulous, organized and on time. And my Dad was always my mentor. He taught me to be very kind with people and very generous, but to always stay very family oriented, too.
What do you like about your job?
I like that every day is different. There’s always a new challenge. I’m meeting different people, going to work in different locations and settings every day, seeing different employees. I never know what I’m going to come up against, and that makes it very enjoyable.
Do you participate in any community outreach efforts or clubs?
We’re very community oriented. Whenever we get any request, we fulfill it. When we’re asked to sponsor causes, we do it. We’ve done Relay For Life many times, we’ve done the American Cancer Society multiple years in a row. We’re always looking to partner up and assist in raising money for nonprofits, churches and schools. Wherever we can help, we’re more than willing to do it. It’s very rewarding for myself and to the employees.
What are your plans for the future?
With five restaurants, it’s time to stay focused and make the most of what we have and just constantly improve and grow our sales and profits and make sure that all of our employees are taken care of as well as the customers.
What advice do you have for business people when it comes to achieving their goals?
I’m always looking for advice, myself! One thing I’ve learned is that you have to listen a lot more than you talk because there are a lot of people out there that know a lot more than you do and have been through the experience and challenges. Being a leader is a big commitment, a lot of people can depend on you, so you have to make the best decisions for the business, the customer and the employees.
What do you like about doing business in the Modesto community and why do you think this is the Land of Opportunity?
It’s home. My family and I know a lot of people here. It’s great to be able to go out and know people in our community. It’s a great feeling knowing people. Moving to a new city, you just lose all of that. I’m so grateful to everyone in Modesto and the surrounding communities for their continued support and loyalty over the years. If there’s anything we can do to assist them, I hope they will call on us and consider us for their restaurant needs. Come in and visit us at our new Uno’s location at the Dale Road store in the Trader Joe’s Shopping Center.