Growing up in Florida, Kayla Griffin was an athlete who aspired to have a career working within recreational or professional sports. She later majored in Sports Management at the University of Florida. During an unpaid internship with the LA Unified School District in the sports management department, Griffin took a part time job at Chick-Fil-A which would change the trajectory of her life.
Still in her 20s, Griffin recently became the newest Owner/Operator of a Chick-Fil-A restaurant in Venice, CA where she oversees nearly one hundred team members at the bustling drive-thru eatery. In an exclusive interview with the Sentinel, Griffin gives insight into the competitive process of becoming a Chick-Fil-A franchisee, how her nearly four year interview process helped her to grow personally and professionally as well as her advice for former athletes on finding your life’s purpose outside of sports.
LAS: When your former boss first noticed that you should make a career out of working at Chick-Fil-A, how did you begin to change your mindset to shift from sports to this being a viable career?
Kayla Griffin: I thought it was a slow process but looking back, I guess it was a quick decision. I started Chick-Fil-A (CFA) as a team member, I was 20-years-old and my operator at the time approached me within my first three months. I worked my way to being a manager because we opened in a grand opening setting and they needed leaders. I was hired with a six-month agreement knowing that I was going to fly back home to graduate and start my life plan. At the time, I looked at CFA as just a fast food restaurant which is how many people feel who haven’t worked within the company. I was naive to the paths that you could take to make it a career. One day my operator sat me down and challenged me, he said ‘…Despite what you think, I know at the end of the day, you like it. I can see that you enjoy this and you might not know it but it shows.’ I couldn’t deny that I was having fun but I still had my pride and fear of what it would take to get to this point. He asked me to pray on it for 30 days and two weeks in I knew it was what the Lord was calling me to do.
LAS: What is it about the job of serving people and working in the hospitality industry that you most enjoy?
KG: I love everything that the Chick-Fil-A brand represents. It’s something that I fell into in terms of needing a job and going in just as a team member with no expectations but then I really had to challenge myself to think differently. There are things about the restaurant industry that have helped me to grow personally and professionally. I tell my team all the time that I intentionally tried to hire people that were different from me because I’m an introvert by nature and my team is full of extroverts. So that’s a challenge but it also keeps me engaged because I have to strengthen that muscle of mine that’s so needed in the hospitality industry.
Having been an athlete I look at everything as a challenge. I was the kid that would race you to the car and scream, “I won!” So whether it’s trying to exceed our speed of service goals or trying to win over the community, there are various metrics we have within the company to hold ourselves accountable. The bigger our brand becomes the busier we are and that will be another test–how do we do the same thing and serve twice as many guests with the same quality? Knowing that I really believe in the product, the service and what Chick-Fil-A stands for, this is fun to me and I’m proud to wear the nametag.
LAS: Can you give insight into the intensive process of becoming a franchisee?
KG: It was longer than I intended because of real estate. I submitted my application coming out of Chick-Fil-A’s leadership development program. Its a 2-3 year program where in-store restaurant directors and managers can either run corporate owned restaurants or support, supervise and consult new and relocating franchisees on their grand opening business. I did that for two and a half years and the goal is for you to come out of that either as an operator candidate or a staff candidate to work at our home office. We’re six months away from it being four years since I initially submitted my application in July 2013. There were a series of interviews from phone screenings to video conference interviews, regional interviews and a top grade interview which means are you a good fit for Chick-Fil-A? It measures your character, chemistry, competency and reiterates if this is really something that you want to do. With anything in life, it can be a great idea but are you really committed to the process? Because what CFA requires out of it’s operators are people that really want to influence their team and their communities; people who’ll make themselves available beyond just having their names on the wall. The brand wants operators that are in it to win it, their hearts and minds are in it and you can’t just assess that in one 30-minute interview so it’s an extensive process. You meet frequently with the team that oversees franchise selection. I interviewed for two stores prior to getting this location and looking back I feel like Venice is the perfect place for me.
LAS: How did you maintain your resilience and not give up on the process throughout your nearly four year journey?
KG: My mom instilled within me, ‘the Lord’s will is good’ His will for my life, whether I understand that’s it’s good is still good none the less. It’s my job to figure out what I’m going to do to ensure my wants and desires are in line with His. Interviewing for a location and not getting selected is also about understanding at the time I put in my application I was 24-years-old and I still had a lot to learn so I’m grateful for the ‘no’s’ because I don’t think I’d be in the position to be the operator I am today in 2017 if I would have gotten selected back then.
[What kept me resilient] was wise counsel–keeping people close to me that gave me constructive criticism and helped me to understand the things that I could improve upon and also reminding me to keep the faith and not give up. The Lord still gets glory in how we respond to success as well as the trials that don’t go our way.
I’ve gained so much from this company and I believed that CFA could gain so much from me so I married those two things together in addition to believing that the Lord’s will is good and I can try again tomorrow.
I had to change my perspective–as opposed to thinking I may have to do this for another year, I took this journey one day at a time.
LAS: Based on your athletic background, if you have a team member who wanted to be a professional athlete but something beyond their control put them on a different path, how would you help them to understand their purpose outside of sports?
KG: Sometimes their talent isn’t as good as they would hope it to be to get selected for a professional team, on some scale that’s my story and many of my friend’s stories. It reminds me of the moment where I was going to try and interview for another store and I was questioning myself wondering if I was good enough to be selected to be an operator but it was also freeing because I knew there were other things outside of Chick-Fil-A that I’m good at. Even though I committed several years to this process and I had made a lot of sacrifices personally, financially and emotionally, I wasn’t just created to be an operator. I’m also a great friend, daughter and sister. The traits and qualities I possess are transferable and think that furthered my career within CFA because I was finally free to just be myself and know that I’m not defined by my athletic ability or my leadership capacity in the restaurant.
I would tell an athlete your talents and gifts are great but it’s not the sole purpose of why you’re here and it’s not the only means to glorify the Lord, represent yourself or make a name for yourself. As athletes we find our value in our athletic ability, as humans we incorrectly place value into what we do instead of who’s we are and who we are.