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Conversations with Robby Nethercut

Today we’d like to introduce you to Robby Nethercut.

Hi Robby, so excited to have you on the platform. So before we get into questions about your work-life, maybe you can bring our readers up to speed on your story and how you got to where you are today?
I’m a born and raised Austinite. I went to Westlake High School and was very active in sports. Westlake has a very competitive football team. Being on the varsity team was something I knew I wanted and had to achieve. I worked and trained for months and made the varsity team my sophomore year, which very few people have done. I think only a handful of people in the history of the school have accomplished this. It was a huge accomplishment and a defining moment in my life. It taught me the value of hard work and instilled in me that if you are dedicated and work hard, you can achieve anything you want. Opportunity does not knock; it presents itself when you beat down the door. Being successful and driven has been important to me from a very young age.

My first restaurant job was in high school at Mercado Juarez in East Austin. I worked there on the weekends as a busboy. I quickly moved up the ranks. They made me a server and allowed me to wait tables before I was 18. I always joke that the bartenders hated me because, being a minor, I was not allowed to handle alcohol and someone else always had to run my drinks. I was instantly drawn to the restaurant industry. I love a challenge – and in restaurants, you are never short of problems to solve and things to overcome. Right before college, I ended up getting a job with a restaurant that I was employed with for over 20 years. I started at the bottom and worked my way up. By the time I graduated college, I was asked to be a GM. Throughout my time there, I wore a lot of hats. I kept getting promoted to higher levels within the company and was able to grow the brand from three stores to nine stores in the time that I was there. I used my contacts and problem-solving skills to cut waste and make us more efficient. One of the best examples of this was when I reached out to a friend from a nearby cattle ranch to help us get the cost of our brisket down. The company I worked for was a BBQ joint and our most popular item was moist brisket. At the time, we had to buy lean and moist brisket as a package deal – so we ended up wasting a lot of lean briskets because it was not as popular. I negotiated a deal with my contact that allowed us to directly purchase moist brisket which not only saved us a ton of money in waste but also helped support our local ranchers and cattle farmers. You have to be creative and innovative when it comes to solving issues within a restaurant. You also have to always be willing to help others and develop great relationships by being an honest and good person – those relationships are everything in the business world.

In 2019, I left the previous company. It was one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make. I had dedicated two decades of my life to a company that helped shape me into the leader that I am but I was presented with an opportunity I could not refuse. I ended up getting introduced to Randy Cohen through some mutual friends and – long story short, he invited me to his home one day and asked me not only to run the operations of Z’Tejas but be a part owner as well. I went home and immediately talked to my wife, she is always my sounding board and pillar of support, and she told me to go for it. I called Randy the next day and the rest is history. It’s been an amazing journey at Z’Tejas. We’ve opened up a ghost kitchen called Woo Woo Burgers, opened several new locations, and completely turned around and breathed life into a longtime Austin staple.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
Like anyone involved in the restaurant industry, my biggest challenge has been COVID-19. It has also been one of the most rewarding times of my career because, as I said, I always love a challenge. I had to make some of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make during the lockdown, but I was also rewarded with some fantastic moments. Helping our community by providing bodega (grocery packs) with fresh meat, produce, and pantry staples to those in need was very rewarding. We hand-delivered these packages to our elderly and immunocompromised guests during this period to help keep them safe. That’s the thing, as a restaurant, or a person in general, you have to show up and help your community. We did the same thing in Austin during the ice storm and delivered hot meals to nearby nursing homes and hospitals to help those who needed us the most.

It is by the grace of God that we were able to make it through COVID. Every time we have needed something, He has provided it for us. COVID-19 has changed the landscape of the restaurant industry. It’s challenged all of us to think outside the box (i.e., creating the ghost kitchen concept Woo Woo Burgers to generate another source of income). It has brought us closer together and helped us develop a team and culture based on people. We know that brains are like hearts, they go where they are appreciated. Despite the obvious challenges of COVID-19, I am thankful we had the time to develop our company’s culture and core values because it is leading us in a direction that I know is a platform for success. Sometimes you have to slow down and break things down to the studs in order to rebuild something great – this past 18 months gave us all the opportunity.

Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
I am the Chief Operating Officer and part owner at Z’Tejas Southwest Grill. To be honest, I don’t think there is one thing that separates me apart from others. I think my success lies in the fact that I am fortunate to know the value of hard work and have a strong value system. Most importantly, I strive to cultivate a team that upholds these standards too. Being a leader means empowering those around you and listening to what they have to say. One of my favorite sayings is that I am tough on standards, not on people. This mentality is something that I take with me to work every day and it’s helped me strengthen who we are as a company.

Before we let you go, we’ve got to ask if you have any advice for those who are just starting out?
Think outside the box and look at what guests really want – not just what you think they want. Don’t be trendy, be timeless. Woo Woo Burgers is a great example of this. We wanted to create a reasonably priced, high-quality, no-frills burger joint that was a throwback to old Austin. Nothing fancy – just quality. Sometimes the most simple ideas and concepts are best. That being said, don’t be afraid to take chances and get creative. Our Corporate Chef, Diego Bolanos is constantly pushing the envelope for Z’Tejas and using his creative talent to take our menu to the next level. He works day in and day out to create dishes that are fresh and innovative but still maintain the original Spirit of Z.

My last piece of advice would be to develop a team and culture you are proud of. Working hard is extremely important but I truly believe that success comes not only from your work ethic but from your values. We spend a great deal of life working and it’s imperative that you view your business and professional life as an extension of how you are and what you value as a person. This year, my entire leadership team and I sat down and discussed what we valued most as people. We spent several days discussing what mattered to us. We used these values to develop a brand new company culture and set of core values. It is now something we live and breathe and the central theme of all that we do. Below are those values:

Principled: We do what we know in our hearts is right, even if it is the more difficult path.

Service: We treat our guests and team members with kindness, patience, grace and an infectiously positive attitude.

Pride: I take full responsibility for each guest experience. Whether or not they know my name, it is my good work that keeps them coming back.

Greatness: We relentlessly chase perfection; we never settle; we always have fun while offering our best.

We also use the Fish Philosophy as a fundamental part of our training. New hires are given the book to read and have a training classroom on it. If you aren’t familiar with this philosophy, look it up! It’s a fantastic resource.

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Z’Tejas Southwest Grill

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