Global marketing and business development leader Tony Owen ‘93 spoke virtually with Benjamin alumni about his career in consumer brands across the food landscape. Owen was a seed investor and operating advisor in Freshii, a healthy, fast-casual restaurant that grew from two locations to over 300 under his leadership.
Owen said the idea for Freshii was realized during a time when restaurants were playing a more vital role in people’s daily lives.
“I partnered with a young entrepreneur who had the concept of a more health focused, fast-casual restaurant. Fast-casual wasn’t really even a term then,” Owen said. “We were focused on elevating the food above fast-food, but not to a full sit down restaurant and bringing healthier food into that space.”
“It grew pretty dramatically through a period of economic challenge, which is an interesting theme because I think we are experiencing that again right now,” said Owen. “Our industry is going through a period of dramatic transformation.”
The former managing partner of Frontera Hospitality Group, Owen says he has followed a fairly entrepreneurial journey after graduating from Benjamin. A key tenant necessary for success along that road has been adaptability.
“You have to be prepared for a lot of random variables,” Owen told the virtual audience. “Most successful entrepreneurs have had numerous failures and probably learned more from those experiences than the successes.”
The ability to adapt has served Owen well as a math major at Northwestern University - “shoutout to Mrs. Wissner” - to automotive work, startups, and the restaurant space.
Owen described the changing restaurant space in the era of COVID and the necessity of brands to pivot based on the current landscape.
“I think people have a yearning for socialization,” Owen said. “I think restaurants will come back in some form . . . They may be more hybrid drive-thru and pick-up with smaller dine in components . . . we will return to a ‘new normal’ but the marginal players may not be able to survive,” he said.
Owen explained that innovation in the restaurant industry has typically come from individual entrepreneurs and there may be greater barriers to that ability in a post-COVID era.
Owen recently launched DOM Food Group, a Los Angeles based venture studio that consults, invests in, and incubates the leading scalable food businesses of the future. He resides in Los Angeles with his wife and three children.