The president of McAlister’s Deli, Paul Macaluso, is getting his hands dirty by learning more about the people who know the brand best—its franchisees.
Paul Macaluso’s storied career in franchising starts at Taco Bell.
As a graduate of the Florida State University MBA program, Macaluso took an opportunity to join Pepsico/Taco Bell Corporation’s management training program—an opportunity that would give him his first job as a restaurant manager. His dedication and enthusiasm for the restaurant industry would help him turn that initial opportunity into a 10-year run with the company, where he worked seven different positions spanning four different departments.
His early successes had a rippling effect on a variety of other senior level marketing positions over the years. From director of product marketing for Burger King Co., to vice president of marketing for Sonic, to chief marketing officer at Moe’s Southwest Grill, Macaluso’s expertise in branding and marketing has evolved with each new career milestone that’s come his way.
Today, as the president of McAlister’s Deli, he’s leveraging all of those past experiences to spearhead ongoing growth and innovation for the 400-unit brand. And to this day, he credits that very first experience as a Taco Bell general manager for helping him get to where he is today.
“I look back on my time as a restaurant general manager as one of the most challenging jobs I’ve ever had. The work was character building. It also opened my eyes to the ins and outs of the industry in a way that only a hands-on experience can,” Macaluso said. “As I moved into marketing and into more senior level positions, having that foundation and perspective of what a restaurant manager has to go through on a day-to-day basis has really been invaluable.”
That experience also ignited Macaluso’s deep love for the restaurant industry itself. The fast-pace of a busy kitchen; the energy of its employees; the excitement of interacting with guests—every little detail inspired Macaluso as he worked his way from brand to brand. He was ardent about understanding consumer needs and behaviors, too—relentlessly working to find new and more meaningful ways to interact with guests on all levels.
But it wasn’t until he started working directly with franchisees that he realized just how big of an impact this industry could have on the lives of others.
“Later in my career, I had the opportunity to work with more and more franchisees—it was an experience that really rounded out my love for the industry. When you work with these owners and see their entrepreneurial spirit, it helps to energize you and maximize what you do,” Macaluso added.
Macaluso brought that energy with him when he joined McAlister’s back in the winter of 2016. After a year-long stint as the senior vice president of brand marketing strategy for Focus Brands—McAlister’s parent company—this new role would give him the chance to grow a brand that had long defined the fast casual restaurant experience. And his job started with spending his days getting to know the people who truly live and breathe the brand every single day—its franchisees.
“My No. 1 priority right now is building relationships. I’m calling franchisees in our system, taking the time to get to know them, hear their stories and understand what their experience has been like with McAlister’s. There are some great stories within our system—stories of entrepreneurs who have built something really meaningful with McAlister’s for their families and their communities,” Macaluso said. “I believe that when we take the time to really get to know our franchisees and listen to their input, we can be better franchisors.”
Putting a greater emphasis on fostering relationships also extended to his executive team. Macaluso makes it a priority to stay aware and assertive when it comes to building and sustaining relationships and pushing himself to break out of his comfort zone. At McAlister’s, he’s deliberate about making visits to different floors of the company to stay personally connected with his peers. After all, every single one of the brand’s restaurants is fueled by an unwavering promise to provide each guest genuine, Southern-style hospitality. And Macaluso believed he needed to personify those values, too.
“At its core, McAlister’s is a place where people can share stories and connect with each other. Why shouldn’t we embody that internally as well? When we’re talking about the future of the brand and building relationships together—like a family—we can accomplish a lot more,” Macaluso added. “Being respectful of others and their abilities, empowering them in their current role and beyond and bringing them along for the journey is vital.”
In the years ahead, Macaluso’s overarching vision for the brand is to take advantage of its limitless runway for growth. In an industry filled with more than 39,000 sandwich businesses, McAlister’s prides itself on being different. By putting a greater emphasis on offering healthier, quality ingredients, a wide range of customizable menu options and a more comfortable fast casual dining atmosphere, McAlister’s has risen above the fray over the past two decades—proving that it’s so much more than just a sandwich chain. Macaluso’s goal now is to continue leveraging that unique position within a rapidly-growing industry, while also innovating and evolving along the way. And he aims to do so by inspiring others to believe in—and support—his vision for the McAlister’s brand.
“Great leaders inspire when they need to. They’re persistent. They remain calm and steadfast. And they’re passionate about helping others. These are all qualities that I learned when I first entered into the restaurant industry,” Macaluso said. “Now, it’s my mission to motivate a new wave of leaders, doers and entrepreneurs and to unify each and every one of us as the McAlister’s family.”