Photo courtesy of Greg Dollarhyde

Photo courtesy of Greg Dollarhyde

Don’t refer to Greg Dollarhyde as Veggie Grill’s chief executive officer. Chief “energizing” officer is the title he prefers. The healthy eater – who’s focusing on a lighter, cleaner diet these days – has ushered in 30 percent growth at his company each year for the past four years, he said.

A native Southern Californian, Dollarhyde has spent more than four decades in the restaurant business, having helped grow Baja Fresh, Zoe’s Kitchen, which he purchased with his private equity partner, Brentwood Associates, and TGI Fridays.

Veggie Grill, with 28 locations from San Diego to Seattle, is his newest conquest, one he described as “the largest vegetarian chain” in the nation. With menu options ranging from crispy cauliflower to “Crispy Chickin’ Plate” and kale Caesar salad to quinoa power salad, Veggie Grill aims to please even the pickiest vegetarian.

Dollarhyde recently spoke with the Business Journal about his work, family life and how he unplugs.

Describe your morning routine.

Usually it’s getting up somewhere around 6 a.m. or 6:15 a.m. I clear emails and sort of get my day organized. I do some sort of exercising and stretching for about 30 to 45 minutes. I think it’s important to eat breakfast. I’ll have a Power Bar and a bowl of blueberries, cinnamon raisin Ezekiel bread with almond butter and avocado toast. I eat while I drive.

What does a typical work day look like for you?

I arrive around 9 a.m. We’re headquartered in Santa Monica. I leave between 7 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. A lot of the work is around food and how the restaurant operation is doing. Usually, I reserve the later afternoon and evening for catching up on emails. I get hundreds a day. I have phone conferences. Sometimes I have the competition’s food delivered to see how they do. I travel about 20 percent now. It was 50 percent.

How do you maintain work/life balance?

When you’re (chief executive), your work life and your personal life become more enmeshed. The really important thing is when you become (chief executive) you have to have some boundaries. You can only delegate so much. It’s a small company. Everybody handles a lot, and everybody wears a lot of hats. I think everybody needs to have a day when they unplug. You have to maintain balance and work. I live near a long beach where I can get in a three-mile walk. I also love to hike the Santa Monica Mountains. The other thing I really enjoy is dining with friends and talking for two to three hours. I have three kids, so I like to sit and catch up with them. The other area we really enjoy is traveling, seeing new parts of the world. I’m kind of an urban farmer. I have more than 400 vines, and we make wine. We don’t make it to sell. It’s fun to give it away. It’s very enjoyable. It kind of brings home how hard it is to be a farmer.

What is your greatest accomplishment?

I think I’ve been part of a number of fun opportunities in my business; like negotiating the buying and selling of companies and pulling a team of leaders together to accomplish the growth goals. I was the finance part of the team that took TGI Fridays public in the ’80s. Raising money to buy Baja Fresh in the late ’90s and then selling it to Wendy’s four years later. Buying Zoe’s Kitchen with Brentwood, my private equity partner, and setting the foundational team and concept changes necessary to get it ready to go public. The fun thing about all of it is seeing the niche growth opportunities and doing it multiple times.

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