Posted on Nov 17, 2014
Now & Then: Tasty Catering Tom, Kevin and Larry Walter

Tom Walter knew early on in life that he wanted to own a business. In 1971, with a $5,000 loan from his girlfriend (who’s now his wife), Tom made his dream a reality by opening Tasty Pup, a hot dog stand. In 1979, he forayed into nightlife, opening two bars strategically located near Loyola University and DePaul University, respectively. Since taking that loan from his girlfriend, Tom has started an impressive 30 companies and purchased three along with his brothers Kevin and Larry.

By 1989, demands for catering at the suburban Tasty Dawgs were so high, Tom and his brothers launched a new revenue stream, Tasty Catering. As the catering business continued to expand, by 2005 the company purchased a new building and Tom sold his remaining fast food restaurants. The future looked bright for Tasty Catering, but Tom knew there was a key element of the company missing. Right around the time the new building was purchased, disagreements began to erupt between Tom and his brothers Kevin and Larry. Tasty Catering was on the verge of a major change as the next generation was also entering the business. Tom’s son, Tim, and a close family friend, Jamie Pritscher, came into the business and almost immediately gave the three brothers an ultimatum: implement change or they were out.

The brothers of Tasty Catering, at the prodding of Tim and Jamie, knew to survive they had to create a company culture to ensure the business ran smoothly and the individuals who worked there could succeed. They recognized that if employees were empowered, the company would also succeed. As Tom pointed out, in 1971 when he started the business there was nobody to turn to for help on such matters like the Chicago Family Business Council. The brothers had to learn the importance of culture through trial-and-error.

How did Tasty Catering integrate a new company culture to better the family and business? And how did Tom, Larry and Kevin Walter use their time as a resource for others?

When the Walter brothers were prompted by Jamie and Tim to change “or else,” they turned to the philosophy espoused in the book “Good to Great.” They bought copies for every person in the company, and then organized a meeting to decide Tasty Catering’s core values. What the company didn’t foresee was just how impactful these core values would be to company culture across the world.

Today, new hires are taught the theory of Tasty’s culture within the first 30 days of employment. Their culture statement and core values are displayed prominently on the conference room wall and they are even repeated before each and every meeting of five employees or more. Tom explains that in order to keep the culture alive, everyone must live it fully every day. Additionally, artifacts such as photos, quotes and employee engagement boards are posted on all the walls. Employees are surrounded by this culture, which makes it easier for them to incorporate it into their every action and decision.

Tasty Catering is a people-driven organization. It values recognition and reward and encourages employees to think outside the box, chase their ambitions and embrace each other. It is clear to see that the Walter brothers treat Tasty Catering’s employees like family, and vice versa. Tom explains that it was the younger generation that taught them the value of culture and continuing education. This is what drives the success of the company and the family.

As for the impact that Tom and Kevin make on the community, it goes much further than the walls of Tasty Catering’s kitchen. Kevin is a licensed coach of the Great Game of Business (GGOB) and teaches its practice across the country. Kevin describes the GGOB as his passion and he believes it is important to keep the company involved at all levels. The GGOB board is displayed in the lunch room at Tasty Catering, along with a “Tasty Catering University” board, which tracks the educational classes that employees have completed.

Similarly, Tom spends a lot of time speaking coast-to-coast and mentoring young people (more than 50 have benefitted from his mentorship over the years). His reason behind it all? Tom says he knows what it’s like to look for resources at a young age when trying to be an entrepreneur. If others can learn from his expertise and experiences, he is happy to give back.

With such a successful company, it is hard not to ask what the future holds for Tasty Catering. Who is next in line to lead this innovative company with such a strong company culture? Tom says that there is no hard stop. The transition will be subtle and slow and in fact, it is already underway. Tom’s successor is already being trained to take over his position as Chief Culture Officer. Since both Kevin and Tom have such busy speaking schedules, and Larry is a national catering consultant, they are only in the office on average three days a week. Because of this, Tom expects the transition of leadership will be smooth and barely noticeable by the employees. After all, what matters most to Tasty Catering is not what happens when the brothers are gone. What matters most is the happiness, health and success of each employee who calls Tasty home.

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