After 13 years in management for Chipotle Mexican Grill, Ed Berg resigned in December 2011, and wasn't sure he'd would work again. In fact, he purchased a motorhome and was traveling across the United States, along with his partner, Joel Nevarez.
Berg had last been a team director at Chipotle, overseeing 165 restaurants in five States and Canada. But, "it wasn't fun anymore," he said.
While traveling, Berg was contacted by a recruiter who informed him of this small restaurant chain called, Roti Mediterranean Grill. "I had heard of it, but never visited it," he said.
Berg agreed to meet with the Roti CEO at the time, and that also was the first time he had eaten Mediterranean food.
"I loved what I heard [from the CEO]; this was the culture that I was missing at Chipotle," he said.
Berg started at Roti, as it's known for its multiple rotisserie cooking style, on Nov. 19, 2012, as the company's senior operations director. The first thing Berg spearheaded was changing the culture of the restaurant, stressing participation, empowerment and openness, and embracing diversity.
This past March, Roti Chairman Mats Lederhausen asked if Berg would take the reins as CEO.
Berg never expected the offer, and had never been a CEO in the past.
Berg was named Roti CEO in early April, thus leading the ship of the fast, casual, Chicago-based, Mediterranean-cooking restaurant, with six locations in the Chicago market, 11 locations in Washington, D.C., and one in New York City.
"I owe Chipotle so much because they were so good to me. Our lives are immeasurably different and better because of Chipotle, and that's what allowed us to make the decision to travel for a year and then maybe do something different."
As CEO, Berg immediately brought in experienced colleagues because, as he often says, "Having great people on the team is key. I want to develop a great culture that rewards great people for helping us grow.
"The food business at times gets a bad rap, but it has been really, really good to meand I want the same thing for other people. I want Roti to be a great place to live and work, not just to work.
"The most important thing in our company is, the peoplenot the food, or profitability."
Berg, 61, lives in North Aurora, where he's been for the past six years since moving to the Chicago market from Minneapolis. Berg and Nevarez have two dogs and a fenced-in yard.
"It's most important to have great people working at Roti, regardless if they are gay, straight, Hispanic, Black, white, Jewish, whatever; I don't care. I just want people who want to give back to others, work well with others, those who share, and those who care about making someone else better."
Roti certainly is one of the most accepting, diverse companies locallywith its gay CEO, and an out lesbian as the general manager of one of its suburban locations. Roti offers domestic partner benefits to all employees, including the LGBT community.
Berg said he would not have signed on with Roti if that was not the case.
Berg estimated that more than 10 percent of Roti's employees fall under the rainbow flag.
Roti was represented by more than 70, gay and straight, at the annual Chicago Pride Paradeincluding the chairman of the board, who is straight and attended the event with his two daughters. Straight investors in Roti also attended and participated in the parade, as well as a gay male restaurant employee who arrived at the parade in a dress with high heel shoes.
"Pride is really important to me," Berg said. "I wanted Roti to be a part of Pride, and a proud part of it."
The Roti entourage cruised past the near 1 million cheering supporters on and around a double-decker, London-style bus.
Company representatives also gave away t-shirts and free food coupons.
"I wanted it to be a great day, a fun day, one in which we truly embrace diversity. And we did," said Berg who, like almost everyone associated with the company, was shocked by the turn out to represent Roti. Most speculated it would only be 30, and even Berg only predicted 60.
Next year, Berg estimated there will be 100-plus marching with Roti in Chicago.
Roti also will participate in the 2014 gay pride parade in Washington, D.C., and then also in the New York City Pride Parade in 2015.
Roti produced a special Pride t-shirts with the familiar company logo in rainbow colorsand employees were allowed to wear the Pride shirt while working in any of the restaurants throughout Pride Week, and beyond. "We wanted to let people know that we're an embracing culture, an accepting company," Berg said.
Berg visits restaurants almost daily, usually unannounced, including the out-of-state locations. He knows most of the employees, greets them by their first name, and they welcome him, too.
Berg chose the top-selling chicken Roti plate, with a side of hummus and three-piece falafel (made with organic chick peas), to chomp on during this interview. He also praised the salad and told of pizza offered at the Northbrook and Vernon Hills location. He also said the moist, fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies are a mustand I agree.
"To me, the biggest surprise is how good our food is," Berg said. "I had never really eaten Mediterranean food [before joining the company], including hummus, but it's really good and good for you."
Roti offers delicious salmon from the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Maine, sustainably raised and delivered from the ocean to Roti in under a week, Berg boasted. Roti uses chicken from Amish country farms, raised in barns, not cages, and the chickens are antibiotic-free.
By the end of 2013, there will be 20 Roti Mediterranean Grill restaurants in the United States, with more than 600 employees.