Leadership Series: 15 Restaurants in Four Years, Justin Rosenberg Keeps honeygrow Growing

Before starting honeygrow, Justin Rosenberg was a financial analyst by day (make that 10-hour days) and was a student at the Fox School of Business by night. Upon graduation, Rosenberg felt a void in his life. He wanted to start working toward something he was passionate about, so he began writing up the business plan for a healthy fast-casual restaurant he would eventually call honeygrow. 

After thoroughly researching how to run his business and putting in long hours with one of his chef friends in Washington, D.C., Rosenberg set out to find investors to back his idea. He proposed his business plan to almost 100 people before someone said “I think you got something here.” His first location in Philadelphia opened in 2012.

Since then, Justin has faced his fair share of hardships. As he recalls, “The day we opened, it’s one of those cliche stories but it’s true. 

We ran out of product by 2 o’clock, HVAC died, two people quit on the line and we had a 40-minute wait time and I just remember coming home that night thinking, ‘This is going to be tough.’”

Now with 15 locations and another one on the way, honeygrow has established a name for itself within the healthy fast-casual space. Just last year, the team secured a 20 million dollar investment led by Miller Investments in Philadelphia. Rosenberg plans to use those funds to expand in the Mid-Atlantic region and work on consumer-facing technology.

Rosenberg cites passion as the reason for his success. He insists that newcomers to the fast casual space define why they want to enter the market, "Everybody now wants to get into fast casual. I think you have to take a step back and ask yourself, 'Well, why do I want to get involved in this?' If it's just 'I'm an investor'...I just think you're doing it for the wrong reasons."


Q&A with Justin Rosenberg, Founder and CEO of honeygrow

Foodable: How are you growing and keeping your business competitive? 

Justin Rosenberg: We are growing intelligently [by] not jumping on real estate or overspending on real estate.  We're keeping the company competitive by simply driving home the basics for our team — it's all about a consistent, great experience. We've also made key hires, such as VP of Operations and VP of Development to take us to the next level as we scale.

Foodable: To what do you attribute the longevity and success of honeygrow

JR: Our success stems from having a solid vision for the company, finding great people that believe in the vision and can execute this vision, and remaining disciplined at all times as we grow.

Foodable: How important do you think mentors are for aspiring executives? 

JR: Mentors are very important. Everyone needs to learn from someone else, especially from people who have done what you've done. Take the time to find a mentor and appreciate the fact that they've been in your spot.

Foodable: What is the most impactful lesson you have learned throughout your career? What made such an impact? 

JR: Cliché, but true: It's all about the people. You need a team that will support you and vice versa. At the same time, you need to lead them and help ensure their success. Nobody can do this by themselves, so be sure to work with the A-team only.

Foodable: What do you need to do to stay on top of this business in the next year to five years? 

JR: More sleep.

Foodable: What is your advice for a young person wanting to start up in the restaurant business? 

JR: A lot of people have finance backgrounds — myself included — and think that by simply creating a concept and then collaborating with an experienced restaurant partner, that they will be successful. My advice? Get yourself into a restaurant and get after it. It will be a beautifully painful experience, but once it clicks, there's nothing greater than working within a fast-pace restaurant environment. Take the time to learn the business.

Foodable: What are you seeing on the horizon in terms of the healthy fast-food business? 

JR: In the future, there will be more people and concepts jumping into the space; more fine-dining chefs will look to enter the healthy fast-casual arena; larger non-health focused existing brands will be getting involved; there will be severe competition for real estate; and a potential lack of buy-in into the sector because of the crowded atmosphere. Only the concepts that truly have an authentic vision and execution will survive.