The Balance Grille Leadership Advantage
In today’s competitive business environment, the success of any company depends significantly on the strength of its leadership. At Balance Grille, an industry-shaking, fast-casual pan-Asian restaurant franchise, we’re proud of the astounding impact of our leaders and co-founders, Prakash Karamchandani (PK) and HoChan Jang (CJ) and our staff alike. From setting the company up with an operating system built for growth, to creating a structure for employee success in a business that’s fully integrated through technology, theirs has been a game-changing, ahead-of-the-curve approach to the fast-casual industry.
An Industry-Disrupting Duo
In early 2010, Balance Grille co-founders CJ and PK—two college buddies-turned-business-partners—shared the same dream: to serve happiness through food. They combined their unique expertise to form the bedrock of the business, which ultimately created a recipe for the brand’s success.
CJ and PK joined forces toward the end of their college careers while studying at the University of Toledo. CJ, with a background growing up in restaurants, set out on a path to create a new Asian-fusion concept focused on feel-good food and fresh ingredients and was in need of a partner to focus on the business side of the restaurant while he maintained focus on all things culinary. Enter PK, an avid technology junkie, who had earned his degree in finance and would come to lead Balance Grille’s marketing and technology efforts with a forward-thinking, thought-leadership approach, earning him multiple accolades over the years. These include being recognized by Nation’s Restaurant News as one of 2022’s Most Influential Restaurant CEOs and being named a Top 24 Executive by Fast Casual consecutively from 2016-2022.
Born in South Korea, Balance co-founder CJ had a mother who was a firm believer in meals made fresh from scratch. After his father’s passing in 1991, the family moved to the US, where CJ’s mother opened a restaurant, working both front and back of house—equipping him with a front-row seat to the ins and outs of running a restaurant business. Today, CJ leads as a co-founder and the Head Chef for Balance Grille, executing skillful innovation into the brand’s fresh, pan-Asian cuisine. “There’s this stigma about Asian food…you either think ‘cheap Chinese buffet’ or ‘expensive sushi’,” CJ said. “I wanted to create something in-between.” A mastermind of design and development, he was recognized by Michael Simon from Iron Chef, featured as a top chef by Stella Artois, and previously named by Fast Casual as a Top 24 Executive and by Nation’s Restaurant News as one of the Most Influential Restaurant CEOs in the country.
The pair began working on building Balance Grille during the Great Recession of the late 2000s, and recognized that in order to succeed, they had to be strategic and innovative. After opening their first restaurant location in 2010, CJ and PK’s inventive spin on the fast-casual concept hit the spot for foodies and families alike. The endlessly fresh possibilities of their pan-Asian cuisine soon put Northwest Ohio on the map—and placed the duo at the culinary cutting edge.
With a team of under 10, CJ fine-tuned his Asian-inspired fare, achieving unique flavor profiles and food pairings, while PK refined kitchen efficiencies and the overall customer experience. Together, they worked to continuously perfect the details by prioritizing customer and employee feedback. Their forward-thinking experiments with menus and operations struck the perfect balance between wholesome food that makes you feel good and indulgent flavors you crave — made quickly without sacrificing an ounce of quality.
A Forward-Thinking Operating System
PK and CJ have always been ahead of the curve in developing business foundations that led to the development and refinement of the brand. They have a consistent commitment to continuous, careful improvement in every area of Balance Grille’s business strategies. In an interview with Modern Business Podcast, PK shared the duo’s forward-thinking approach to brand development. “With operations, we view our training as the software and the way we build out our stores as the hardware,” PK said. PK and CJ have consistently been solving problems in the operational space before they were apparent to the rest of the industry. They’ve found tools and strategies that have increased efficiency and refined business procedures, while simultaneously mitigating labor challenges experienced by many in the industry today. PK and CJ’s focus on good-for-you ingredients served transparently and fresh every day has kept them top of mind with consumers as trends in healthy eating continue to evolve. Continuous operational improvement of the balance menu has also grown and improved, adapting to customers’ ever-changing preferences to customize and curate personal menu suggestions through technology.
Creating Leaders, Not Managers
With each new location, the foundational leadership at Balance Grille has been a key factor in driving the company’s success. Co-founders CJ and PK have been instrumental in shaping the company’s culture, vision, and strategy, with a focus on developing an innovative and unique “managerless” business model.
Balance Grille’s managerless model is built on a foundation of operating with a “people-first” approach. PK and CJ’s skills of being forward-thinking, receptive, intuitive, and staying on top of industry trends are apparent in the way they’ve executed their employment model through a values-based mindset.
Whether it’s franchise owners, customers, or employees, Balance Grille’s company values stem from prioritizing efficiency and “serving happiness with food.” When it comes to building a connected, successful team, PK lets employees know from day one at Balance Grille that they strive to create leaders, not managers. Each employee begins training in the same position, and everyone is eligible to train for all roles that Balance Grille offers once the initial training is complete. With each new position, employees can receive increased pay and opportunities to work, allowing for more control over how often they want to work based on the shifts they are eligible for. Shift leaders, a position that would normally be considered alike to a “manager” role, follow the same approach, ultimately leading to the creation of empowered employees who are strong team players that value their roles and choose to train into levels of leadership and accountability that match their personal goals.
This strategy has been effective in creating a work culture that promotes innovation, collaboration, and employee satisfaction—so much so that Balance Grille boasts an unheard-of turnover rate. “Other restaurant chains measure a 150-200% employee turnover rate, meaning they are hiring and retraining for the same positions multiple times in a short amount of time. Due to this, tenure in the restaurant industry is typically measured in months, while Balance Grille’s tenure has been measured at 2.46 years after the first 60 days of employment,” says co-founder PK.
These strategies have resulted in a motivated, happy, and empowered team that’s passionate about delivering exceptional customer experiences, and where members feel confident and in control of their individual careers and futures. The co-founders have also been intentional about building bench strength that supports new growth by promoting leaders from within the brand for high-level positions. PK and CJ have built out the Balance Grille Specialist team, who are responsible for training new franchise owners at the company headquarters and in the fields of their new store locations. The strength of this team is apparent through the success of new owners, who receive constant support from these Balance Grille specialists.
Immersive Technology for Customer Experience
In addition to the managerless employment model, the leadership team at Balance Grille has also successfully driven technology-based innovation to enhance the customer experience and make data-driven business experiences. Since starting Balance Grille, navigating consumers’ ever-changing preferences for ordering and overall brand experience has always been top-of-mind, along with incorporating technology into the business decision-making process.
Balance Grille co-founders have improved those experiences through the integration of an award-winning customer app. From ordering and online pickups to individual customer in-app preferences, everything is curated toward building a memorable and consistent brand experience. In-store kiosks are also used to add to the sleek, simple branding that fills the space of each Balance Grille location.
Employees also utilize app-based technology to schedule and select their shifts, request time off, clock in and out, and more, creating an efficient structure that doesn’t require an in-person manager to complete vital tasks. The managerless employment model also utilizes technology for tracking employee performance, selecting shifts, and creating precise measurements for food and drink stations that employees use to execute their work. “Our goal has always been to incorporate technology into every layer of the business,” PK said. Through this mindset, Balance Grille developed and built a loyal customer base through an innovative approach to using technology in business.
Through confidence in strong relationships with franchisees, foundations of values, and a strong integrated system of technological operations, Balance Grille’s founders have gone above and beyond in setting their business up for success. The result is a growing franchise network that is profitable and sustainable and one that customers, employees, and franchise owners love.