How a Father’s Leadership at Chart House Restaurants Became the Roadmap for Hughes Marino’s Success
Shay’s Three-Part Micro-Documentary
Dishwasher to President of a NYSE Company: Growing Up with Chart House
Shay’s Story: Chapter 1
My Father’s Influence Leading to the Success of Hughes Marino
Shay’s Story: Chapter 2
Historic Parallels from One Generation to the Next
Shay’s Story: Chapter 3
By Shay Hughes
As president and COO of Hughes Marino, one of the country’s fastest growing commercial real estate firms, I’m grateful for many things. We currently have offices in nine markets, with plans to expand into many more. Our smart, motivated team members love what they do, and as a result are revolutionizing the industry, building a bespoke tenant representation firm.
However, the thing I’m most grateful for—the thing that is largely fueling all this success—is a set of principles that I absorbed while growing up watching my dad nurture and grow a well-known and well-respected restaurant brand. Subliminally, these acquired principles have guided Hughes Marino’s values from the very beginning, and bolster our continued success.
Our story begins in San Diego, California, when in 1967 the high school’s star football player (my dad) fell in love with the homecoming queen (my mom).
Graduating a year ahead of her, my dad, Shawn Holder, took some time off with friends to pursue his passion by surfing big waves on the North Shore of Hawaii. The son of SoCal legendary surfer, Dempsey Holder, my dad grew up living at the beach, where he was surfing with his dad as young as he can remember and started lifeguarding at 15.
After returning from the North Shore, Shawn and my mom, Carol, continued dating. Then, at the ages of only 19 and 20, they suddenly found themselves as young parents when I was born. To care for his family, my dad continued his job lifeguarding at Imperial Beach during the day and attended classes at San Diego State University. In 1969, he also took a night job as a dishwasher at Chart House, a restaurant in Coronado, a California resort town on an island in the San Diego Bay.
Charting a New Course
Founded a few years earlier by famed Hawaiian surfer Joey Cabell and U.S. Navy man Buzzy Bent, Chart House by then had four locations. Perhaps due to the unique Coronado location near a naval base, the restaurant staffed an extraordinary set of team members—several Olympic athletes and a group of Navy standouts from the Underwater Demolitions Team (UDT), known today as the U.S. Navy SEALs. Shawn clearly remembers working with “these badass guys,” adopting their stellar work ethic and disciplined mindset. He says he couldn’t wait to get to work because he loved being around this incredible group of young, visionary all-stars.
One day, Buzzy came into the Coronado Chart House and recognized my dad from surfing at Imperial Beach years before. Through chatting with some of the other staff, Buzzy found out that my dad was known as “the hardest worker in the room.” Buzzy asked Shawn if he wanted to move up from dishwashing to waiting tables. My dad took the opportunity, but because he wanted to be sure he’d be good at it, he took Sunday nights and made sure he could go back to bussing tables if it turned out he wasn’t a good waiter after all. Turns out, he was a natural. Soon, he was working every night of the week and finally making “pretty good money” for a young 20-year-old dad.
During this time, my mom—who has always had amazing style, and among many creative talents is a great seamstress—opened a store in Coronado on Palm Avenue, between a Hobie surf shop and a Baskin-Robbins. It was called The Sunshine Company, and she sold bikinis that she crocheted herself as well as bright Hawaiian-print longboard shorts. I remember being with her at the store all day and then going to the ice cream shop for a scoop of rainbow sherbet when we were done with work.
Life was good.
A Momentous Road Trip
In 1971, the executives at Chart House started talking about opening a restaurant 3,000 miles away in the picturesque little town of Chester, Connecticut. They asked my dad if he wanted to go work there. He said he’d never lived anywhere except San Diego, but would love to, and then asked, “What am I going to do there?”
The answer came back. “We want you to be the manager.” My dad had covered for the manager of the Coronado location before, so he knew what the job entailed. But managing a new restaurant in a new part of the country? Shawn being “badass” of course said, “Yes!” They loaned us a “company car” for the cross-country drive—a Ford station wagon with a small trailer behind—and we packed up all our belongings and took off on this great adventure.
The location for the Chester restaurant was an old brushmill that sat next to an idyllic waterfall on the river. While it was being renovated, we lived in the attic and slept on the floor.
First order of business: my dad needed to hire some people. As luck would have it, my mom’s younger brother, John, narrowly missed being drafted to Vietnam (by just four numbers) so he packed up my parents’ green VW bug and drove it out to Connecticut to join us. My dad’s two younger brothers came as well. All three of their wives worked at Chart House, too. It was a true family affair—all these young Californians living in New England.
Eventually, we moved out of the attic into a house with a screened-in porch. That porch became temporary housing for our extended family and some of the new Chart House staff. My mom would make big pots of spaghetti and the music would play: Fleetwood Mac, Crosby Stills and Nash, America. Some of our houseguests played guitar and sang. I was the only child in this world of creative, free-spirited yet incredibly hard-working entrepreneurs. This time left a lasting impression on me: together they were embarking on building something special together that they could each be proud of for the rest of their lives.
One of my dad’s first tasks was handcrafting the dining tables for the restaurant, pouring the resin over nautical charts inlaid on the top—something Chart House became famous for. My mom went to work decorating the inside and making the hostess dresses. I credit my mom with my love of design, as she took me to countless antique stores and fabric shops to decorate both the restaurant and our many homes throughout my childhood. Some of those antiques and quilts still have a place in our homes. My dad is always quick to attribute much of his professional success—and our family’s success—to my mom. He is the first to say he couldn’t have done any of it without her. They recently celebrated 55 years of marriage, and my dad still surfs to this day.
When the restaurant finally opened, it was an instant success. Dad had used a big ruler to draw up some spreadsheets to keep track of everything from inventory to employee scheduling to dinner counts. According to his tracking system, they were doing up to 600 dinners in one night! After just two months of operation, John Creed, my dad’s mentor and CEO of Chart House called. He told dad the Chester restaurant had done 20 percent more business than any Chart House had ever done to date. He wanted to know EVERYTHING my dad was doing and he wanted him to train all the other restaurant managers so they could do it, too. Dad said that was when he knew he had a “career.” He would eventually become Chart House’s president, growing the company to 60 restaurants and taking the company public on the NYSE.
Moving On Up…and Around
With the success of the Chester opening, they tapped my dad to open more restaurants around New England. We moved to open one in Newport, Rhode Island, when I was in kindergarten, and soon after, we opened one in Boston. We moved to New Orleans—where I went to a second kindergarten—and then we moved back to San Diego, where I finished at a third kindergarten. A few years later we went back to New England to open more restaurants. In all, I went to 10 schools in 11 years, skipping third grade and graduating from high school in Encinitas, California, when I was just 16.
While I grew up with a lot of change, the one constant I cherished was the feeling of family, which was a hallmark of Chart House restaurants. Not only were my parents and extended family always around, my dad continued to foster an atmosphere of hospitality with the Chart House team, encouraging the idea that taking care of each other and their customers was absolutely everything. It was just like in the early days of Chart House in Coronado when people with enthusiasm, intensity and tenacity maintained a high level of service to drive the growth of the company.
When I was seven, my dad brought home a piece of art for our house. It was the John Wooden Pyramid of Success—a chart Wooden created showing key attributes to be successful at anything, especially applicable for championship teams like Chart House. It hung in our house throughout my childhood and now hangs in our Hughes Marino offices as well. As president of Chart House, my dad shared similar inspiration with his management teams, giving them books like Jonathan Livingston Seagull and inviting Hall of Famers and Olympic athletes to speak at company meetings.
Family continued to be an important aspect of all the locations, with family members welcome to join in any company event. Management teams would organize fun challenges and do them together, whether it was running the Boston Marathon, surf trips to Bali, skiing in Vermont or Colorado, tennis tournaments or competing in Iron Man Competitions in Hawaii. Everyone seemed to strive for excellence, not only in their work but in their personal lives as well. Everyone wanted to be “the hardest worker in the room.”
Although unusual, I feel so honored and blessed to have grown up in a warm sea of fascinating, remarkable adults who looked after me, shared stories with me and took me on adventures. Looking back, both my mom and dad had an enormous impact on so many lives through the risks they took, their inner strength, their belief in themselves, their leadership, their teams, and the examples they set personally and professionally.
Importantly, my parents included me in conversations about the trajectory of Chart House as it grew into one of the most successful restaurant companies in the nation. I learned so much from them and they continue to inspire me, along with our entire family, to this day.
Similarly, when my husband Jason and I started Hughes Marino, we would talk about the business around our dinner table at night with our kids. Discussions have ranged from growing a successful company from scratch, to taking great care of our special team and the ways we could elevate our clients and their businesses.
Intuitive Company Values
There are many connections between Chart House and Hughes Marino. I don’t think these similarities were as intentional as they were intuitive—just my memories of what my dad did as a leader and the way I wanted us to have a similar impact on our team members and clients. That intuition comes down to the key values I talked about at the beginning and throughout this story—the ones ever-present at Chart House and that we endeavor to instill at Hughes Marino.
- Do the right thing.
This is the first thing my dad credits with his success, both as a person and as a manager. I remember when I left for college at 17, my dad’s parting words to me, and advice whenever I called home, was “You know what to do. Just do the right thing.” At Hughes Marino, we made “Always do the right thing” the first of our ten core values.
- Treat people by the Golden Rule.
Just like Chart House treated everyone like “family,” our clients and coworkers should be treated with a warm, friendly attitude and the utmost respect. They are part of our broader family. This concept is woven into many of Hughes Marino’s values, including embrace the family spirit, build lasting relationships based on trust and generously give to others.
- Do your best every day.
This originates from the military team and the Olympians at the early Coronado Chart House. Have a winning outlook and help those you work with win as well. Hughes Marino has some of the most successful brokers in the nation. We’ve found that high performers set a high bar for the entire team and there is a direct correlation between high-nurturance and high-performance. We’ve emulated this concept in core value #2: Deliver excellence in everything we do.
- Lead by example.
Be known for your character and integrity. Even as the top executive, my dad would do whatever needed to be done to ensure the success of the restaurant, whether bussing tables or helping out in the kitchen. He adopted an empowering management style that made everything and everyone around him better. That attitude permeated the ranks and built an incredible and enduring team. We strive to do the same at Hughes Marino, where we have a favorite saying from one of our long-time coaches, Mike Robbins: We all have different roles, but we all have the same job: to help the team win.
- Always be yourself.
No matter the recognition or success you achieve, continue being you. Stay grounded, humble, generous and grateful. Even when my dad was president of Chart House, he knew most of the employees by name. When he’d visit the restaurants, he would often show up wearing board shorts and flip flops. And most importantly, my mom reflects, my dad was always himself, one ingredient they both credit his success as a leader. Our final core value is to “be authentic, grateful and humble,” and I am proud to say that this value stemmed from my dad’s example he set for himself and everyone around him.
Looking back, I am grateful for all the enriching life lessons I absorbed over the years, watching my parents work hard to get to where they are, building a company and culture they were proud of with a team comprised of family, life-long friends and wonderful people. The life they built for themselves, for me and my younger brother, Dempsey, and the Chart House family is something that I have admired all these years, and it has been a privilege for Jason and me, along with our children and team, to strive to build that same familial culture with a set of core values at Hughes Marino. It’s truly amazing, and I often say magical, to see it all come full circle. We have so much to be grateful for, starting with our family and our very special team.
People used to say that Chart House wasn’t just a place they worked. It was a part of their life, and for many, it was the last place they were going to work because they loved the people so much. We should all be so lucky.
Shay Hughes is president & COO of Hughes Marino, a global corporate real estate advisory firm that specializes in representing tenants and buyers. Shay writes about business leadership and company culture on her blog, Lead from Within. Contact Shay at 1-844-662-6635 or firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.