Feb. 24, 2021

Charley Woodsby- founder of RED LOBSTER! Not overnight success! amazing story and man!!! ❤

JEFF STERNS CONNECTED THROUGH CARS! - this is a worthwhile listen!

Charley Woodsby is a self made, very successful man that is worthwhile to listen to due to his natural business acumen, experience that can only come with age (and it doesn't come with age if you don't pay attention!), his humility and faith, he's an achiever and never-give-up and work ethic. Charley is a great family man, friend and car enthusiast! After this conversation, I wondered how I got away with it at no cost! Charley is a wealth of knowledge and constructive reflection! Enjoy, subscribe, comment, share! 3:50 Charley talks about his new book RED LOBSTER THE BEGINNING Buy it here and I get a 5% cut! https://amzn.to/3dywoXQ Ge one for you and one as a gift!

5:28 How Charley really feels about the Bentley Continental GT back seat!

7:58 Is there really a Charley?

9:27 Charley on the value of his staff:

13:57 When Charley stopped driving Rolls:

15:53 When Jeff went through a barrier as a passenger in a Ferrari 360 and was the driver decapitated?

20:28 When Charley stopped riding enduro:

26:47 Charley gets into the restaurant business in NY then, culinary school.

28:50 Charley opened his first place:

29:26 Charley builds a bigger place and goes bankrupt. He was forced to take a job. He became a milkman...

31:22 Charley goes back into the restaurant business.

33:40 Charley is a partner / owner again...and the relationships would affect Charley's future:

36:20 and the Red Lobster concept and location was formulated:

36:53 Charley sets an as of yet unbroken record by opening 72 locations (of a non-fast food) in 3 years!

40:45 Always humble, Charley gives the credit to God. How do you not love that?

41:12 Cape Canaveral engineers to location managers?

43:30 Charley retires...and gets bored:

45:36 Charley on the necessity of college:

49:17 What did people interviewed in line at the original Red Lobster Lakeland, Florida location often say?

53:00 Why didn't the original Red Lobster offer desert?

59:24 Charley on firing employees:  

1:00:00 Charley on training:

1:00:37 Charley on the entrepreneurial spirit of his employees:


Charley Woodsby  0:00  

ran that track at 100 miles an hour. I think it was silver spur.


Jeff Sterns  0:06  

And I was sure that his head that he got decapitated, and then that his head fell on my lap.


Charley Woodsby  0:12  

I used to Hill Climb on motorcycles, lay my jump, and it was with it into the mud. And I went down, and a guy hit me It ran across my back and felt burning all the way to my feet. I said, Oh, my God, Charlie, you're paralyzed. And not so good, handsome profit. I built a bigger restaurant. And actually, I went broke. I went bankrupt. And guess what? He didn't have hurricane insurance. So he was another broke guy. And he was a little bit like me, but older. And he was motivated to get back into business. And he and I developed the concept of red lobster. And we sold it to General Mills at that time. And we signed a three year management contract with him. I worked my three years and open 72 restaurants for them. Before I left. God is always been in my life. And God as always direct me. And the time is always been perfect.


Jeff Sterns  1:49  

A buddy of mine that I told that I was going to interview you this morning, said find out if the biscuits were his idea.


Unknown Speaker  2:00  

Jeff Sterns connected through Guys, if they're big wigs, we'll have him on the show. And yes, we'll talk about cars and everything else. This is Jeff Sterns connected through cars.


Jeff Sterns  2:18  

You know, it's just it's mind boggling to me how great you look how great you sound when when we met, I was around 35 years old. Oh, and you are a super old guy that I figured, you know, how could he even drive? He's 70.


Charley Woodsby  2:33  

Super Olga.


Jeff Sterns  2:37  

A 70 year old my god and look at now. So here's what's you know, interesting about you. I was reading a little bit about your history. You retired from who bought Red Lobster General Mills.


Charley Woodsby  2:49  

Yeah. General Foods. General Mills, General Mills,


Jeff Sterns  2:52  

and then you work for them. But then you retired? Around 50 years ago,


Charley Woodsby  3:01  

after Well, yeah, I was returned and 73. So me yours is that?


Jeff Sterns  3:11  

Oh my god. Well, let's see. I'm 55 Born in 65. Take off eight. So 4747 years ago,


Charley Woodsby  3:19  

used car salesmen who could count real fast.


Jeff Sterns  3:23  

We could do the tax the tag the luxury tag


Charley Woodsby  3:27  

on your feet.


Jeff Sterns  3:29  

Well, now you know how I do it. It's like Well, let's see. Here's how old I am. Here's the year I was born. So it's just so interesting that somebody could use the word retirement and then here they are. 47 years later.


Charley Woodsby  3:42  

Yeah, well, I went back and booms Of course, of course. I'll show you. I wrote a book. Yep.


Jeff Sterns  3:55  

Lobster the beginning I see it. Yeah. Okay. And all my history is in that book. Folks. I'm sitting here with the world famous at least North American famous Charlie Woods be. It's so funny. I mean, to be so legendary that some people don't believe your real.


Charley Woodsby  4:20  

Oh, come on. Well,


Jeff Sterns  4:23  

it's true story is first of all the car that we met so we met Of course in the car business and this podcast this show is about interesting people I met through the car business. So even though you're not necessarily a car dealer or a car manufacturer, personality, you're certainly a car person because if you're not interested in cars, you wouldn't have been looking at the I think and you got to correct me if I'm wrong. 2000 Bentley are nice. Sunset colors at the car. We met over


Charley Woodsby  5:00  

Yes. That was the first one I think.


Jeff Sterns  5:04  

I also think that I think it was very low mile, maybe one year old Pre Owned or something like that. Could it be?


Charley Woodsby  5:12  

I think you're right.


Jeff Sterns  5:13  

Okay. And then later and there might have been another maybe there was two of those could there have been?


Charley Woodsby  5:19  

There was


Jeff Sterns  5:21  

okay. And then later you got a very early and this part I don't remember either the Continental GT coupe or Ford or


Charley Woodsby  5:28  

it was a small hatchback. And the backseat was large enough to seat to midgets. I don't


Jeff Sterns  5:41  

want to leave. Okay. So this was after I left the retail Bentley business. So you must have done that one outside of me. I hope you felt guilty because I wasn't involved.


Charley Woodsby  5:54  

I bought it from you. Well, maybe


Jeff Sterns  5:56  

you did. Okay. So let me let me look in some notes here.


Charley Woodsby  6:00  

For you. Maybe you sent me to North Carolina to pick it up. The dealer in North Carolina? Well, I'm


Jeff Sterns  6:07  

very good friends with Jeff IID. The dealer in high point.


Charley Woodsby  6:12  

That's where I went to pick the car. Okay. So hungry gray. And then I bought another one after that. Which was a super spur.


Jeff Sterns  6:28  

It wasn't Bentley.


Charley Woodsby  6:30  

It was a Bentley.


Jeff Sterns  6:31  

So that's flying spur the Ford or


Charley Woodsby  6:33  

launch force? Okay.




Jeff Sterns  6:37  

And what do you like about these cars? Why are you driving this instead of Forgive me, Buick?


Charley Woodsby  6:45  

Well, I don't know if I should say this on camera. But I'm not driving them now.


Jeff Sterns  6:53  

Okay, what are you driving now?


Charley Woodsby  6:55  

I'm driving a Mercedes.


Jeff Sterns  6:59  

Well, you know, Charlie looked at some people could say, oh, why does this person get all the good fortune or whatever. But in my, I think 20 years ish, of knowing you. You, you know, it's funny. And I was reading before this meeting. I was reading your talk of a town website. And it says something to the effect of, you know, Charlie treats the staff or employees with respect, and that sounds a little bit like corporate mission statement PR stuff. But I can attest that even as your car salesman, you always made me feel like you were waiting on me.


Charley Woodsby  7:44  

Oh, thank you.


Jeff Sterns  7:45  

That's a sincere, and I was happy to talk to you. So the here's the legendary part where people don't believe you exist. That's serious legend. So after, maybe two times or three times, after a couple or a few of these car deals, you'd give me a business card, one of your business cards. And you'd write on their steak dinner for two and initially or something like that. And I had taken my first wife to the restaurant a couple of times when you give us these. And I never nailed you bad because I don't drink or anything. So just so you know. And you know, I could have got you for another 2030 bucks, I'm sure. But I remember at the end of one of these meals, I hand the business card. And of course, I still want to tip the guy, you know, but I hand the business card to the waiter. And he looks at he goes, What's this? I said, Well, Charlie Woods be one of my customers. He gave us dinner he goes, and we're a Charlie Steakhouse. He says there's no, Charlie.


Unknown Speaker  8:55  

Ah, ha.


Jeff Sterns  9:00  

So this is when you're legendary. You know, maybe we should I haven't named the podcast yet. Maybe we'll call it legends or something. So I wasn't upset, you know, I was entertained by it. I said, Do me a favor, just go grab your manager or ask your manager. And the manager came back and looked at it. And he explained to the waiter, so yeah, there was a Charlie, you know, and we talked about y'all, but that was really funny.


Charley Woodsby  9:27  

I tried to be right with my employees, because they're the greatest asset they have. And we treat them well and take care of them.


Jeff Sterns  9:42  

Well, I know that because any of them that really believed you existed, Always. Always had the best things to say about you. And especially when we would be doing a deal and I think I had to do it through I think I would do paperwork or something through talk of the town, corporate office, and I can't remember the name of the person I would deal with there.


Charley Woodsby  10:07  

Dennis Dharma ages retired. been with us for over 30 years


Jeff Sterns  10:15  

about you. Are you eating out? Speaking of COVID?


Charley Woodsby  10:21  

Oh, yeah, we know. But we watch the restaurants that we eat in. And we go back to the same ones that were comfortable with. And if they're not doing what they're supposed to do, we don't go back.


Jeff Sterns  10:39  

Well, and you have a serious awareness of what a restaurant or right to do. You're very, very aware


Charley Woodsby  10:47  

of the rules. Right.


Jeff Sterns  10:50  

So when you are driving, Bentley's even though you left Bentley's, because of, let's say, notoriety or getting noticed, did you lean towards driving the car? Because people like looking at them and talking about them? Or was it more of the performance and comfort and luxury?


Charley Woodsby  11:09  

I like both enjoyed driving the car. I enjoyed the way and in fact, the last Bentley, the sports car that I bought. And I bought that one in Clearwater because they had on Saturday, a group of cars that they sail, and they got the track on 33rd Street in Lakeland, and let everybody run a track. And I ran that track at 100 miles an hour. And I enjoyed the ride and the drive on that car. And it was just a great performing car. and kept that car. I don't remember how long but the reason I actually got rid of it was because it was so small. The backseat not kidding you two measures could barely get in there.


Jeff Sterns  12:29  

I agree. It was really like almost a Porsche 911 backseat.


Charley Woodsby  12:33  

Yeah. Right. It was Yeah. But I enjoyed the drive. I don't remember how many Bentley's? Oh, totally. I may go back and look it up. But well Rolls Royce Really? I bought my first rolls in in West Palm Beach. And believe it was in 98 or 99


Jeff Sterns  13:08  

it was it was in a silver saref or silver springs.


Charley Woodsby  13:16  

I think it was silver spur.


Jeff Sterns  13:19  

So this would have been the NBA square body.


Charley Woodsby  13:21  

It was a Magnolia color. I don't know if you remember that color course. beautiful color.


Jeff Sterns  13:29  

Very, very popular.


Charley Woodsby  13:30  

Yeah. And everybody that would see it would turn their head it was a really a nice car. And and I bought a lot of us a lot of three or four years ones after that. And I enjoyed driving the Rolls Royce. But I felt like it was time to get rid of it whenever the people started following me home and and we're we're moving with a new home. We have a guarded gate. So Marie lucemon push me again. But I don't know that


Jeff Sterns  14:22  

like we have now it is it will be a gated community or will you have a gate in front of your property?


Charley Woodsby  14:27  

is a gated community 24 hour guards.


Jeff Sterns  14:33  

Well, you know, I know a guy that can outfit it up with the machine gun turrets in the back and smokescreen oil slick.


Charley Woodsby  14:43  



Jeff Sterns  14:44  

Now, when you went and driving 100 miles an hour at Lakeland Speedway. Yeah, it was Lakeland Speedway, right.


Charley Woodsby  14:52  

Yeah. Right.


Jeff Sterns  14:53  

Can I tell you a little story about that. So we had a very, very good A customer good friend. And it probably was related to the event that you had there. Who was a partner in that Speedway and a partner in the driving school, the name escapes me. We had a ride and drive day when the new Bentley or NIJ t came out. So this would have been around oh one. And we brought a hauler with, I think maybe half a dozen cars like we always did at various events, we parked cars out front and hope somebody fell in love with something and had had to take it home. But we are inviting people to come and drive their own cars on the track. So there would be people in there Bentley's or Mercedes or Jaguar or you know, whatever they brought, it was all good because it was fun car day. But we had all of our cars set up. Well, one of the cars that we brought was a late, a Ferrari 360 spider. So it was probably around 2000 or something. And the fella that owned part of the speedway asked if he could take it for a ride now, he was already pretty known in Hooters cup cars,


Unknown Speaker  16:20  

okay. So,


Jeff Sterns  16:23  

I mean, I'm not gonna act like I know how to drive. I mean, I can drive but I don't, you know, I don't know how to drive. I don't race. And he says he wants to drive. So what's the harm? So he gets in the car, I'm riding passenger, we're going around like the road course thing where you got to make a turn before a wall and the cones it wasn't like oval. Yeah. And, of course, when you're the passenger, it's always scarier than when you're. So I'm in the passenger seat, I'm doing what I pretty much always do when I'm in the passenger seat. And I'm saying I'd be breaking right now, you know, we're coming up to a turn I'd be breaking right now. So we're going around faster and faster. And as we come to this wall where we've got to make a left turn, I'm terrified because I am in the passenger seat and we should be braking and he's still celebrating. And finally, the third or fourth time around, he's getting more and more comfortable and learn in the car. So he's going a little faster. We start understeering we're heading to the wall. He turns the wheel, the car doesn't turn. Ooh, we're heading straight for this like cement barrier that you can move. Yeah, he gets the car to turn. Now we're heading straight for a chain link fence.


Unknown Speaker  17:41  

Ooh, which I'll


Jeff Sterns  17:43  

take it over a cement wall, right. And I see the bar of the chain link fence heading straight from my eyes. So I duck down in the seat like that my eyes are closed. And I was sure that his head that he got decapitated, and then that his head fell on my lap. Wow, my eyes were closed, something falls in my lap. Finally, he says something so I'm pretty sure it's not his head. And I opened my eyes and our our windows were open in the passenger mirror broke off and flopped down into my lap about that big Wow. But it's funny, you know, psychologically when you think something. So the first thing he says is I'll buy the car Don't kill me on the deal. And it was mainly just scratched head to toe because it went through the chain link. And he kept it a while. And amazingly, he also owned part of a restoration shop or a body shop or something. He didn't do any paint repair, you know, like paint work like painting, but he did do polishing work on the car. And when he traded it back into me It had a few like on the front edges of the Scuderia shield, you know, the yellow shields on the fender of the Ferrari. It had a few like on the front trailing edge of those and a few on the front, but he had polished out 99% 97% of the scratches on the car.


Charley Woodsby  19:14  

Hmm. With just polish. Yeah.


Jeff Sterns  19:17  

And then we took it back in on trade later and who knows what but when you mentioned Lakeland Speedway, that's the story I always think


Charley Woodsby  19:23  

of, right? Yeah, I enjoy driving that. That was my first and last time


Jeff Sterns  19:31  

to get hairy.


Charley Woodsby  19:33  

Well, you know, that was an experience that I had. And I enjoy it. And if I went back, I probably driving 110 120 on that Speedway and I may not be here today. So you know, there's a lot of experiences. I used to Hill Climb on motorcycles. Yeah. And also raised locally. But I would was raised in Christian, Florida, which is east of Orlando, and was run. Actually, I got off real fast and I made my jump. And it was wet into the mud. And I went down, and a guy hit me It went across my back and felt burning all the way to my feet. I said, Oh, my God, Johnny, you're paralyzed. And, and they went by me, because I was in front. And I was able to move my toes, my feet. And finally I got, I was able to get up. I push my motorcycle off of the track. And I'll walk back to the trailer to trailer my bike. And so Charlie, you like to play tennis? You like to play golf? You like scuba dive, and there's a lot that you like to do. Wow, are you out here on that bike? And I never got on a bike again for owner trap, or hill climb.


Jeff Sterns  21:45  

When you went down like you live before he came down in the mud. You jumped? I mean, you used to.


Charley Woodsby  21:49  

Yeah, Aaron was jumping. Yeah, I was jumping because you run over. The obstacle was like a hail in front of the job. And I jumped out into the, into the front, probably, maybe 2030 yards, and hit the mud. And I held on to it and finally laid it down. Well lay down fine. And this guy ran over my back. And that's when I experienced that. And you're laying


Jeff Sterns  22:29  

there and you're you're wiggling your toes, but you're almost afraid to try right? Because right? What if it doesn't work?


Charley Woodsby  22:35  

Right? And so I got up jolly no more. You like tennis? You like scuba diving you like I said why?


Jeff Sterns  22:50  

Play now? What era was this?


Charley Woodsby  22:53  

It was it was in my 40s. Okay, so is, what, 50 years ago, roughly?


Jeff Sterns  23:02  

Well, I think you've always defied age. And, you know, now that I just had a baby. And you know, of course, a lot of people, everyone that I know at least acts happy for me, but I get a lot of the jokes about it. Like, when will I experience empty nest, go ask your mortuary and you know, but you really defy age. I mean, even what you're doing now. And then not a lot of guys are doing this hill climbing in motocross at 40. Yeah, we're in their 40s. Yeah. Now, if I recall, you have kids, right? Yes. And do you? Did you ever forbid them to have motorcycles or anything like that?


Charley Woodsby  23:48  

Well, my son had one. And he used to ill climb with me. Okay. Yeah. And he never did race but he hillclimb and I am you know, if that accident hadn't happened, I probably would have got further and further and further and deeper and deeper into racing something serious gonna happen. And, you know, it's just time for me to quit. I experienced it, was it?


Jeff Sterns  24:25  

I don't want I tell my kids. They're not allowed to have a motorcycle on the street, at least in Pinellas County.


Charley Woodsby  24:32  

I never wrote one on St. Never.


Jeff Sterns  24:35  

It's crazy.


Charley Woodsby  24:36  

He still does. Eagle. He has a group of they're actually professional doctors and lawyers. And they'll send her motorcycles by van to Colorado or wherever they go on and fly out there and ride them for maybe a week. 10 days, whatever they want to do, and they'll get back on the plane, come home and truck the motorcycles back. Well, that


Jeff Sterns  25:09  

sounds like a wonderful thing to do to take the bike to a destination. Yeah, right. Same thing, even with vintage rallies or whatever. I mean, you haul your car to the location. I mean, when I was riding bikes with my late father, in Clearwater, Florida, and you know, for the listener that doesn't know Clearwater, Florida, heavy density, tons of retirees. I can't tell you even with the loud pipes, how many times someone changed lanes into me, and I'm riding on the median strip through bushes. On a, you know, soft tail, Harley Davidson?


Charley Woodsby  25:45  

Well, you know, in a car, it's quite difficult to see a motorcycle. There's too many dead spots in the mirror to see a small motorcycle. Unless you hear him and see him up close. You don't know they're there. If you pull over in front of him,


Jeff Sterns  26:07  

I've upset a few of them and felt terrible about it that I didn't see if I can empathize. Yeah. So do you mind if we go back in time? A little bit?


Charley Woodsby  26:18  

Yeah, go ahead.


Jeff Sterns  26:21  

So I don't want to spoil the whole book. And I want people to have a good reason to buy the book. So you can get the better building materials on your Lakeland house?


Charley Woodsby  26:31  

Well, it's almost finished. Okay.


Jeff Sterns  26:35  

Hold tank in the Mercedes. Mary, get Mary Lou the the Bentley early. I mean, take us back. Like what got you into the restaurant business? Where were you? geographically Carolina's?


Charley Woodsby  26:47  

Yeah, after I got out of the Air Force. I went back to the Carolinas Spartanburg and my brother at a restaurant in New York City diner. And he was on vacation in his wife. And he asked me to come and work for him. And the money was good. And South Carolina. Back in those days, restaurant business went very good. And so basically, I went up there and worked for him. And I had a chance also to go to do school with RCA in New York to become a field representative. So our for my brother and I liked it. And I went to culinary school. So that's where I got my training.


Jeff Sterns  27:55  

Got it. So how does it go from that to opening this first restaurant?


Charley Woodsby  28:01  

Well, always wanting to be in business for myself. And it's a real progression. Jane and I lived in New York, we had our first child there, right, boy, and we didn't want to raise him in New York City. So where do we go? food business, you don't go back to Spartanburg. So we decided Atlanta would be the place for us to go. Okay, we went we went to Atlanta, and bought a little tea room that was open for dinner only. And as peach tree was businesses were moving out peach tree. They were buying these big old state homes and turn them down and building high rise businesses. So I started out in for breakfast. And then I started opening for lunch. And I build a big business in this room Tea Room. only seen about thing about 50. And if I can do that here, I'll just build a bigger rust sale this and build a bigger restaurant. And not so good and some profit. I built a bigger restaurant. And actually, I went broke. I went bankrupt. But I had three kids at that time. And a wife Jane and I had to feed him. So I got it with Miss Georgia dairy. And by then they were doing house to house delivery. On milk. You may not remember that your age. I had a milkman in Detroit.


Jeff Sterns  29:59  

Yeah, yep.


Charley Woodsby  30:02  

So. So I was delivering milk, they gave me a route that was very, very low with a very low salary. But every new account that you added, you got a bonus. And so I was up at three o'clock in the morning, I would set my milk off, and I would have set off by eight o'clock, I would go have some breakfast. And then I would start knocking on doors. And I built the account up so fast, or the route up so fast. They want to make me a supervisor. And I came home and told my wife, gee, and Jane said, Charlie, she says, you know, your heart's not in the milk. said you are is in a restaurant business. And said, I think you're gonna go back into the restaurant. And so I thought about it, and she was absolutely right. And I probably rose up with a company because I would just that type person. What I did. I got a job with Davis brothers cafeteria, operate in a cafeteria for them.


Jeff Sterns  31:29  

What's that is this? No,


Charley Woodsby  31:30  

this is in Atlanta. Okay. Atlanta, Georgia, made the rose up to supervise another one, two, and I went to three. And we had a restaurant convention in Atlanta. And Bill Darden. From waycross, Georgia, he was the president of the restaurant association, Georgia. And I met him there, and his brother in open the Thunderbird in Jacksonville, and was losing money profusely. And they need a manager. And he talked to me about a manager. And I told him, I said, Bill, I'm not really interested in a manager's job, I got one. And I got a good one. And I said, I'm interested in going into my own business, our partnership. And he said, Well, his brother's name was DC. He said, DC and I are looking for a partner. So we want a manager. I said, Okay, fine. So a month later, I went back to Atlanta. and a month later, he called me up. And he said, Charlie, would you come down to Jacksonville? I said, Bill, I said, if you send me an airline ticket, I'll come down on the weekend. And we're taught and so he sent me an airline ticket madman to airport pick me up. And I spent the weekend with him and finally negotiated a deal with him. Where, where he would pay me 5000 a month salary. And the first 10% profit that I made, went toward me buying into the business at book buy, not at to buy after I built the business up and made it worth a lot of money. Right, because you can work against yourself.


Jeff Sterns  34:08  

Right? Right. And What year is this Charlie?


Charley Woodsby  34:12  

  1. It was lovable. Good managers were making probably six. But I was willing to take a chance and willing to you know, make the move. And I moved my family down there and managed Thunderbird first thing I did I clean the place up our professional chef from Chicago and put the girls in a nice uniform and actually taught him you know, the How to be a waitress and how to treat guests and things like that. Right and built a business and He and I actually were partners and five restaurants when we went into when we opened our first red hopster.


Jeff Sterns  35:11  

So he didn't resent the fact that he had to bring you in as a partner. He didn't know


Charley Woodsby  35:17  

not after losing all that money,


Jeff Sterns  35:20  

right, you put them in. So how do you go from this was Jacksonville. So how do you end up in Lakeland? How do you know what who knew what Lakeland was back then?


Charley Woodsby  35:30  

We bought a restroom. Orlando call Gary stuck in and I was supervising five of the restaurants at that time, and we are a manager from Clearwater to run a restaurant in a restaurant on the beach. His name was Wally Buckley, Hurricane came through and took his restaurant down. And guess what? He didn't have hurricane insurance. So he was another broke guy. And he was a little bit like me, but older. And he was motivated to get back into business. And he and I developed the concept of Red Lobster, Edgar Eggers, duck n. And we opened the first one in Lakeland, Florida, in 1968.


Jeff Sterns  36:35  

How did you choose that location, Charlie?


Charley Woodsby  36:38  

Well, at that time, Polk County was approximately 250,000 whole county and we wouldn't be away from the water. We didn't want to be on the water because we knew a restaurant and water would be very successful like that. So we wanted it and we're going to test it and see how it would do. And why did you think waterfront was a negative? Because a seafood restaurant owned the water will always be successful.


Jeff Sterns  37:19  

All you wanted to see if the concept could work off the water. Right? Got it. I thought you were saying that it wouldn't work on the water. I've my mistake. Okay,


Charley Woodsby  37:27  

no, no, I get it. And so we tried it and like we looked around in Florida to begin with. And we discovered Polk County and the population in Polk County and we did some demographics and that's where we decided to open the first one. And at that time, Lawton Chiles don't know if you remember walking Lawton, a become the Senator from Lakeland. The state center, actually national senator. And he actually was an attorney in bill Ellsworth, which was his law partner had a piece of property in Lakeland on Lake Parker. And we leased that property from them and bill on property. And from day one, it was a success lands around the building.


Jeff Sterns  38:45  

No kidding.


Charley Woodsby  38:46  

Yeah. And we knew we had a winning concept. And so that's when we, we open another one and


see, we opened in St. p. We went on temple Causeway that was the second one. Third one was in St. Pete and then we went to Orlando. And then to Ormond Beach. It wasn't on the beach but was the name of the community.


Jeff Sterns  39:21  

And I drive in Orlando. I drive was nothing like now.


Charley Woodsby  39:25  

Oh, yeah, it was nothing at all. It was still dirt and woods. And we just had General Mills. We had two or three people that were trying to buy us and we finally hooked up with General Mills. And we sold it to General Mills at that time. We have signed a three year management contract with him worked My three years and open 72 restaurants for them before I left, which is almost is unheard of not almost is unheard of nobody had ever done that.


Jeff Sterns  40:17  

And there's been no restaurant chain that opened locations at that rate prior.


Charley Woodsby  40:22  

Right? Full service chain, McDonald's or drive throughs. Or, you know, that type of thing. Fast food? Yes, maybe. Right. But no full scale restaurant,


Jeff Sterns  40:35  

and you had no experience in that. So it wasn't like, Hey, I'm the guy that knows how to open 72 locations. So how was it for you? In the middle of that?


Charley Woodsby  40:45  

I think that God is always been in my life. And God is always direct me. And the timing is always been perfect. The timing for Red Lobster was perfect, then nobody ever opened a seafood restaurant chain like that. And especially enman. And we were very fortunate at that time. The cape had a downfall. And they were laying off engineers. And we started hiring engineers from the cape. And we started the Red Lobster school. A school for the managers that we hired. And they were very successful people because they were educated and they followed directions and, and a lot of them are ex military. And they make great managers and just the right time to do something like that. And basically, that's what up.


Jeff Sterns  42:04  

Well, you did that for three years. You You filled your contract. Now I know your personality. I mean, I know you personally and you do like activity and you do like accomplishing. So there had to be some adrenaline in that there had to be some life satisfaction and accomplishment in that. What made you say, Okay, I'm done with my three years Goodbye, or did they not want you anymore?


Charley Woodsby  42:26  

Well, oh, yeah, they asked me to stay. But you know, I actually felt like I burned myself out. Oh, okay. I really had, and I was away from home a lot. And I wouldn't spend more time at home. Okay, I bought a 41 foot Hatters and cap it down store. And believe it or not, I couldn't find anybody to go fish and women, because they were all my friends at that age was working. Right?


Jeff Sterns  43:04  

You know what to play with in your early 40s retired? Right,


Charley Woodsby  43:07  

right. And same thing with golf, I will go to the golf course to play golf and his senior citizens and to play with antennas. I had no one to play with. But ladies and kids. And I said finally said, Charlie, what are you doing? I was, you know, I really wasn't happy. And I will shoot in the pool with a friend of mine and lakelyn Andy Williams. And I said, Andy is and I'm bored to death. We said what are you going to do? I said, I don't know. But I said I'm really bored to death. I said I'm gonna try to go back into the restaurant business. I had signed a no compete contract with General Mills for five years. And finally I got permission from them to go back into the restaurant business and business but not seafood steak. And so then he said, Why no, no Howard Johnson downtown Lakeland that said you can steal that place. So why don't want to know how are Johnsons they said we are going to take a look. And it was a no oh one. And I went in there and took a look at it and sat down with a pad and I had to have 4000 square feet. And it was only about 25 it was one of the older ones 2500 square feet and I sat down and drew on paper, enough space to get 4000 square feet in there to get liquor license. And so finally I bought it from the guy. And first thing I did was take the roof off and put a mansard roof on it and completely renovate the building and put antiques in it back in those days, antiques and stained glass and things like that was in and I put those in. And our son had just gotten out of the Marine Corps, and I asked him where you want to go to college? And he said, Daddy says I don't want to go to college. I said, What do you mean? He said, I want to be in the restaurant business. And he says, you can teach me more than I can learn in college. And he said, Oh, I would like to work for you. So I actually took him in as a partner


Jeff Sterns  46:08  

in that restaurant, Charlie, you know, dealing in exotic cars, obviously, I've dealt with a few people that hit okay, financially, okay, in their life. And I can't tell you how many stories there are about no college, about entrepreneurs. I mean, obviously, if I'm dealing with a doctor or an attorney, they have to go to college. But many of the entrepreneurs probably couldn't even have made it. I mean, they terrible study habits, terrible attention spans, which made them terrific at what they were interested in.


Charley Woodsby  46:47  

Well, most sun blue or not. You can ask Mary Louise, one of the brightest businessman. I will say today, but he's a bright businessman. Okay, verse that says, so he


Jeff Sterns  47:05  

was a partner immediately.


Charley Woodsby  47:08  

Well, I didn't really need a partner. Right. But I took him in because I felt like if he had that attitude, as he knew what he wanted to do, and a lot of people his age getting out of the Marine Corps, they don't know what they want to do. That's right. And so um gfo is head the neck to MLS people and read them pretty good. And I think God gave me that. I think God gave that to me.


Jeff Sterns  47:45  

Back to Red Lobster for a minute, the, the roles or the biscuits, whatever those are.


Charley Woodsby  47:52  

biscuits came up to me. After I left. When we opened we serve hush puppies.


Jeff Sterns  48:02  

I actually remember those days.


Charley Woodsby  48:03  

Yeah. But


Jeff Sterns  48:06  

a buddy of mine that I told that I was going to interview you this morning said find out if the biscuits were his idea.


Charley Woodsby  48:14  

No, that was after me. Okay, they change things around. My, my original concept was basically a sit down face food face service. And we didn't serve any desserts. At that time, they change that we didn't take any credit cards or cash or cheque. And that way we keep our prices down. And we had a motto at that time that a family of four could eat for 10 bucks. Okay. Yeah. And that was true. And our prices were very low. a heck of a deal. A lot of people when they went to the Lakeland store in the beginning, they were interviewed in line. And several of them said, we want to eat one more time with these people before they go broke. And they didn't


Jeff Sterns  49:32  

do it. They didn't think you could sustain it.


Charley Woodsby  49:34  

Right. And with a sign out front was a $5,000 sign. And we had to put up right before we open and we were going to go to the bank and finance it. We pay cash for the first month's profit and how was that And 60s.


Jeff Sterns  50:01  

So if your prices were so reasonable that the customer the diner is thinking I better eat here again before these people are gone. That means the market would have probably bared dinner for for for 11 or 12 or 14. What made you come in below market? What was the model, just volume,


Charley Woodsby  50:28  

volume. Okay. That's what we went on. There again, it was timing. Like king crab, we will get big king crab and big around is my thumb. We're bigger right here. And we're paying 97 cents pound for our the package packaged in a package. And we're paying 331 3233 cent for fillet of flounder. And prices were cheap on lobster. But this is the Europe and Japan and not come out of there. You know, World War Two. At that time, they hadn't fully recovered. No, they are not. And they were not buying lobster, shrimp and king crab and you know the upper end product. And we were able to buy it at that price. And we made a profit on that price. And we felt like it a that was a way to do it. And it was a concept that we felt like that we could open nationwide. And it was and finally red lobster. And I think they basically probably had to start getting credit cards. We and we had a brick, brick red floor, they started putting carpet on the floor. They started upgrading and raising their prices. Because of food actually the material that they were selling cost more to purchase. And at that time, and so they had to raise and get a better margin. And they started out serving key lime pie. And then more desserts. And they changed the concept really.


Jeff Sterns  53:00  

I'm not in the restaurant business. And I'm sure many of our listeners are not restaurant owners managers. What makes you say no dessert. I'm just curious when you said that.


Charley Woodsby  53:11  

loco sin waterbuck, Guinan developed the concept of gears duquenne. And it was a seafood restaurant. And we knows that a lot of people would buy a piece of pie or cake with four people at the table. And they would sit there and everybody would take a taste. And they would keep the table tied up for another 20 minutes or so drinking coffee. And we did not want him sitting at that table. We turn the table at that time, believe it or not. In approximately 20 to 25 minutes. There was a table turn, which is almost impossible. You couldn't do that today, I don't think because of the variety of menu and things like that. Okay.


Jeff Sterns  54:14  

I understand now. So the things that you're measuring, when you're, for example, I asked you about your pricing model, you're Of course measuring the cost of food, you have to put in your other overhead factors into that. You're doing volume, but I wasn't thinking about the velocity of turn on the table. How many times you can see that table one night.


Charley Woodsby  54:35  

That's right, that's what we did. And what we did, we got to the point where we would when we got to rush at five o'clock. We would only see a party ever three minutes. So we wouldn't bog the kitchen down and they could get it out and turn over It was like a factory Really?


Jeff Sterns  55:03  

So, but another thing that you invited me to and it was, I was very, very honored, very honored, is I think you called? And you said, I'm getting this lifetime achievement award.


Charley Woodsby  55:15  



Jeff Sterns  55:16  

Was that in Orlando? Yes, it


Charley Woodsby  55:18  

was a Universal Studio.


Jeff Sterns  55:22  

Just the fact. I mean, I was really honored that you thought of calling and inviting me. But what was funny at that, I mean, first of all, it was very touching. I mean, you had to be moved, when they were going over what you accomplished, it was almost not to be believed, you know, as they ran down. I mean, you really are a go getter. And I'm a salesman. So of course, the most interesting thing to me, we can definitely have another one of these after I read your book. But the most interesting part so far, Charlie, is you going door to door selling the dairy, selling the milk delivery. Yeah, I'm so intrigued in the salesman aspect of that, and how you did that. But it also shows that you were willing to do what others weren't willing to do.


Charley Woodsby  56:09  

But I think a lot depends upon how you were raised to a lot of people, I feel sorry for them. They're, they're not really taught, you know, the right principles. And I think I feel sorry for them when they are not,


Jeff Sterns  56:32  

well, you're a worthwhile guy to listen to, you know, from an advice standpoint, because it didn't fall on you. And you'd even been bankrupt once. You could have packed it in you could have stayed in a safe salary situate, you know, what, whatever. Yeah, you yourself made. But I love that you you mentioned the upbringing of parents. I mean, just like you give credit to God, you give credit to parents, you give credit to your staff. I mean, your point of view is really amazing. And I can tell that it's not like a well practice the PR department. point of view. I mean, this is you because I know you and this is how it always was when I was with you. And that's why it was always enjoyable for me. Every like, every time I got a chance to be with you, it reminded me of a great friend or uncle gonna come in going to come to town because you were coming from I think, Orlando. Yeah, when you would visit me at the dealership, and I was always very happy. I hope that we got a deal. But I was always happy that you were coming. You were an uplifting guy, or someone that I could learn from and that sincere thank you. You're welcome. And it's true. So at your lifetime achievement award, I don't know if you know this, or remember this. So out in the audience talking to some fellow about what I do, or who I am, or however, came up. And the guy next to me says, Are you Jeff Sterns that sold cars to Jon Voight avec and he owns a national restaurant brokers. And I said, Yeah, I sold him a gray turbo or a dark grey turbo or I believe Bentley turbo. Or he says, Well, I've heard about you. He's mentioned you. I'm his brother. And he was the at the time CEO, I believe of beef o Brady's, and now the founder of the little Greek.


Charley Woodsby  58:25  



Jeff Sterns  58:27  

So it was, that's what was happening for me out in the audience. Well, you've already Charlie given some tips for success. Like it's not gonna fall on you. If I asked you directly any other tips for success for a younger person, or? Well, heck, you weren't even that young when you started over again, or you know someone in the middle of their life, needing to keep going. Any advice,


Charley Woodsby  58:49  

first of all, discover or find? What do you really like to do? And then apply yourself and learn everything you can about that business. And don't give up when you hit an obstacle. And if you do that, you will be successful.


Jeff Sterns  59:13  

Choose your direction, and then don't give up. How about a restaurant tip?


Charley Woodsby  59:17  

I've always had the motto, Jeff. I've never fired anybody my whole life. They always fired themselves by their actions. And I don't have I don't have to go up and chew them out or mean or nasty tune. I really don't. Like they actually by their actions fire themselves.


Jeff Sterns  59:40  

You tell them your expectation. Tell them what the measurables are. I'm here if things don't go right, you give them some counseling. Right? And then you can look yourself in the mirror because it's usually either matter of they don't know or they don't care. That's true, though, as long as you can look yourself in the mirror that they know


Charley Woodsby  1:00:00  

You got to train them, right? And my motto is train, retrain, retrain, retrain. And you got to train them right and keep them trained. Because they forget sometimes you keep them retrained. And you know, it's like a waitress. They actually are in business for themselves, too.


Jeff Sterns  1:00:33  

That's right. It's tips. Sure.


Charley Woodsby  1:00:37  

Absolutely. And I've put them, give them their own little business here to run. And if they run it bad, they're not going to make the money. And if I run it good, they're going to make money.


Jeff Sterns  1:00:56  

And that's my philosophy on my employees in front of the house, they can have a direct impact. It's not a fixed income, their attitude, their recommendations, their knowing to interact or knowing when the guest wants to be quiet or just right. Absolutely. Gotta be able to read that get That's right. That's right. Yeah. I love that train. retrain, retrain, retrain. Yeah. That comes from one of the most successful record breaking restaurant tours and business people in the United States. I really appreciate the time that went by quick for me, Linda, quick for me after this. I'll send Mary Lou my address. If you don't mind. I'll I will take a book and read it.


Charley Woodsby  1:01:47  

Okay, I want you to


Jeff Sterns  1:01:49  

and if it's good, I promise I'll like you know, I won't give you one star on Amazon.


Charley Woodsby  1:01:54  

Oh, okay.


Unknown Speaker  1:01:59  

This has been Jeff Sterns connected through cars.


Transcribed by https://otter.ai

Charley Woodsby Profile Photo

Charley Woodsby

restaurateur, entrepreneur, owner, car enthusiast

Charley Woodsby has a long tradition in the restaurant industry with a career spanning over 60 years. He began his career by attending culinary school in New York City and in 1954 opened his first restaurant in Atlanta, GA. He then moved to Jacksonville, FL in 1960 and formed a business partnership that would change the rest of his life. This partnership owned and operated numerous successful restaurants in Florida and in 1968 they opened the very first Red Lobster in Lakeland, FL. In two short years the partnership sold all 5 of their Red Lobsters to General Mills. Charley stayed on with the company to open 72 Red Lobster Restaurants across the country. At the age of 42 Charley left the General Mills organization to retire, but anyone that knows Charley knew his career was far from over. In just one year, Charley was back in business with his son, Ron. Together they opened the first Talk of the Town Restaurant in Lakeland, FL. Over the next five years they would open a Talk of the Town Restaurant in Winter Haven, Clearwater, St. Petersburg and Orlando, FL.

In 1984, the Woodsbys decided to take their restaurants in a new direction and open a high-end steakhouse using only the highest quality and standards. Talk of the Town Restaurant in Orlando became “Charley’s Steak House” and the rest is history. Charley Woodsby is the founder of one of America’s Top Ten Steakhouses and although he is semi-retired now his legacy lives on. He was recently honored with the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award. This award is presented to those individuals who have “distinguished themselves in an extraordinary manner during their careers” not only in the industry, but also in community involvement.

Charley formed a charitable foundation in 1992 that supports a multitude of programs designed to help the needy in the United States and Honduras. In his free time Charley enjoys playing golf, croquet and traveling around the world.