'We have a moral obligation to feed Australia': Guzman y Gomez CEO Steven Marks explains how the franchise is dealing with COVID-19

SuppliedGuzman y Gomez CEO Steven Marks
  • Guzman y Gomez founder and CEO Steven Marks told Business Insider Australia how the company has been surviving during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • He said the company has “a moral obligation” to feed Australians through the pandemic.
  • Guzman y Gomez reduced the price of its burritos for the duration of the crisis, and began offering its product on multiple delivery platforms.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

Guzman y Gomez (GYG) founder and CEO Steven Marks sees an opportunity during the coronavirus pandemic.

As people “have to eat” Marks sees GYG being able to help facilitate that need. “We have a moral obligation as a food company to feed Australia,” Marks told Business Insider Australia.

He explained that during these times “there’s so much opportunity”, with a chance for GYG to “shine”. He said GYG slashed the price of its burritos from $11.90 to $9.90, with no pushback from franchisees.

“I said guys it is our time to shine right now,” Marks said. “We talk about culture, we talk about values of a business [and] it is our time to feed Australia. And all the franchisees were in. All of them. Knowing they were going to make less money and less profit because we had such an obligation to feed Australia.”

Marks highlighted that during times of crisis, what can help a business survive is a “great culture” and “great investment in the foundation of what you have”. He explained how GYG – with more than 130 restaurants and more than 4000 employees – was already established when it came to takeaway and delivery, but still reached out to more delivery companies when the pandemic hit.

Despite the dominance of Uber Eats and Deliveroo in the food delivery market, Marks was impressed by the capability of Menulog and DoorDash.

“I was so proud of their ability to work so quickly because I literally called the CEO of both companies on a Saturday when we knew, come Monday, delivery was going to be even a bigger part of GYG,” Marks said. “These guys mobilised so quickly with us to get us on their platforms with free delivery.”

Marks explained how the restaurant responded to changes brought on by the coronavirus pandemic

GYG has ramped up how often staff wash their hands – which happens every hour – and if they are feeling unwell, they are encouraged to stay at home. Marks added that none of the workers have contracted the coronavirus. “I think we’re doing a great job in supporting our people considering we’ve had zero cases of coronavirus out of 4000 staff because we’re vigilant in their health and our guest’s health.”

He said GYG teams around the world, including in the US, Japan and Singapore, all share information and best practice, “and that’s been key to the survival of GYG.”

In addition to this, the company has a COVID-19 response team that listens to coronavirus related news to ensure the company knows how best to respond.

“We have five different scenarios for anything that could come out in government and we’re ready to move quick,” Marks said. “And I think that’s the difference between a big corporate environment and a company like GYG. We’re not that small anymore but we’re so flexible.”

He explained how quickly the company was able to move when social distancing rules were first imposed. “Within 12 hours all of our stores had tape on the floor making sure people were social distancing,” he said.

Each morning, Marks speaks remotely with the company’s head office team, the franchisees, restaurant managers and crews. “I always say it’s the power of the family,” he said. “I think the GYG family is very strong because we communicate and look after one another well.”

Marks is optimistic about the future of the franchise

Marks is originally from New York but decided to remain in Australia, rather than travel back to the US, to support Aussie businesses.

“I’m staying in Australia,” he said. “All Australians need to support Australian business and eventually support Australian tourism [and] our airline carriers. This is our country to take care of and everybody needs to do their role to make sure this economy is ready to roll once all the cases are gone.”

And Marks is optimistic about the future of the company, with plans to open more GYG restaurants over the next year.

“GYG is in a very strong financial position to really go on the offensive,” he said. “We have a real estate team of six to eight guys to go find us triple A real estate. We’re going to open up another 20-plus restaurants in the next 12 months. For me, there’s so much opportunity.”

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.