CYPRESS, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Baja Fresh CEO and serial entrepreneur David Kim knows what it takes to build restaurant empires from the ground up. And on last night's episode of CBS’s hit series “Undercover Boss,” Kim showed America what it means to give back when he offered a Baja Fresh franchise – valued at more than $50,000 – and personal mentoring to Las Vegas general manager Jose Manzanarez. The gift was among the biggest in the show’s history.
“America is the greatest country on the planet,” said Kim, who came to the United States from South Korea. “I wanted to give the Baja Fresh family a piece of the American Dream I’ve been blessed to experience. Giving ignites success. I tell our employees, ‘Don’t follow your dreams—chase them!'”
Baja Fresh (www.bajafresh.com), the fast-casual Mexican pioneer known for its fire-grilled hormone-free chicken and all-natural steak, now operates or franchises 255 Baja Fresh restaurants in 24 states and Dubai. David Kim said he wanted to go on CBS’s hit show to reconnect with employees and to ensure that the company’s passion for freshness—Baja Fresh maintains a strict “no can openers, no freezers, no microwaves” policy in its restaurants—is being carried out. The executive says he was extremely pleased with what he saw.
Kim was the latest executive to appear on CBS’s Emmy-nominated show, which follows high-profile chief executives as they slip anonymously into the rank and file of their companies. The show, currently in its second season, was television’s number one new series in 2009-2010, setting a record for the most-watched premiere episode of any reality series in television history.
David Kim is known for his unorthodox leadership style. The author of “Ignite!: The 12 Values That Fuel Billionaire Success” (www.DavidKimIgnite.com) and the CEO of multiple food brands, including Sweet Factory and La Salsa, Kim refuses to carry a smart phone and foregoes a cushy executive corner office, instead working out of a small cubicle alongside other staff at Baja Fresh headquarters.
“People are what matter most,” said Kim. “Fancy phones and huge mahogany-walled executive offices separate leaders from what matters most in business—people.”
For his stint on “Undercover Boss” Kim worked with Manzanarez, Rami Mohammed Abuelhawa, a general manager, Carrie McCharness, a district manager, and Anthony Abinuman, a cashier.
Like Manzanarez, each earned a reward from Kim for dedicated service to Baja Fresh: Abuelhawa of Mesa, Arizona received $5,000 toward his education and another $5,000 for a vacation with his father and a year’s mentoring from Kim; McCharness, based in Boise, Idaho, received $5,000 for her business-building ideas and $7,500 for her daughter’s education; and Abinuman, who works at the Cypress, California Baja Fresh location, received $15,000 to support his family and $2,500 for his uncle’s ministry.
“I always believed in the benefits of eating well, being active and making contributions to the communities in which we live. But being a CEO has so much more to do with people than with business,” said Kim. “Going undercover merely reminded me of all the reasons I am so passionate about the Baja Fresh family and the guests we serve.”