How An MBA Helped This Entrepreneur Build A Multimillion-Dollar Restaurant Empire

Justin Rosenberg came up with the idea for honeygrow during an MBA at Temple University’s Fox School of Business. He’s raised over $50 million in VC funding to date

Justin Rosenberg learned how to write a business plan during his final MBA semester at Temple University’s Fox School of Business.

His wife had just given birth to his first daughter—working at home was tricky. So, Justin took refuge in Alter Hall, working late into the night on his new business idea.

That was 2009. Today, Justin’s fast-casual dining chain, honeygrow, boasts a network of 20 restaurants across nine states in the US. New restaurants are opening soon in New York, Massachusetts, Illinois, and Pennsylvania. The aim is to expand to 25 locations by the end of the year.

honeygrow is known for its healthy, fresh, locally-sourced food, but also for its use of the latest technologies. honeygrow’s self-service kiosks allow customers to custom-make their salads and stir fries to order.

Earlier this year, Justin introduced Virtual Reality (VR) technology – a 20-minute, 360-degree immersive experience – to aid in the on-boarding and training of new recruits.

Before business school, Justin worked in real estate, doing multi-family apartment acquisitions and ultimately asset management for a commercial real estate firm. Through his MBA at Fox, he travelled to Israel, teaming up with engineers from a local university to help an Israeli tech startup strategize its expansion into new markets in Europe and the US.

On campus in Philadelphia, with his own startup idea—honeygrow—Justin was selected to enter Temple’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC) Incubator to develop his business.

Justin now juggles a growing restaurant empire with three kids and a busy family life. The support and skills he gained during an MBA at Fox have helped him in both building and running his business. honeygrow has raised over $50 million in Venture Capital funding to date.

How did the idea to start Honeygrow come about?

My first daughter was born at end of 2008. I had one semester to go at Fox, and I really wanted to make an impact and create my own business. I wrote a large portion of my business plan at Alter Hall. I’d go to class in the evening, and then I’d sit there and work on my plan until they’d throw me out!

I enjoyed my job at the time, but I wanted to pursue my passions for food and design. I wanted to create a restaurant concept to make people come back, not just more than once a week, but more than once a day—salad for lunch, stir fry for dinner—much like people go to Starbucks and get a second cup of coffee.

I wanted an environment that was thoughtfully designed using technology in the ordering process. We designed our self-service kiosks, and the rest is history. My goal is to create amazing experiences through nourishing foods, and if we can do that on a consistent basis I’ll be happy.

How important is the use of the latest technologies for your business model?

We’re not using tech for tech sake. We like to leverage creative solutions to anything that might help us grow. We want to be able to engage people in ways no one else has. On our new app, there’s a video game where you can collect loyalty points simply by playing.

With the VR, it’s the same thing. We’re entering new markets where nobody knows who we are. How do we recruit managers and get them psyched about who we are from the get go?

We use VR as a recruiting mechanism and a training mechanism. We closed one of our stores to film it. You’re in our store and you go through all our core values and aspects of our operations. Then, there’s a game, where you’re organizing a walk-in refrigerator, tied in with food safety.

Why did you decide to pursue an MBA at Fox?

I just felt like I wasn’t done with learning. I felt like I needed to know more about the whole business world.

I ended picking Fox over a lot of other schools. It was somewhere I could see myself being happy. I thought that if I wanted to start my own business, Fox—with its reputation for entrepreneurship—made sense.

How has the Fox MBA helped you in starting and running your own business?

Fox helped expose me to the different elements of what it takes to go and run a business.

For our business, there’s site acquisition, real estate development, operations. Our operation is like a manufacturing plant—people are creating custom orders, and we have to create them to be 100% correct 100% of the time. We also talk about things like Six Sigma to make sure we can minimize any defects in these orders. This is all stuff I learned at business school.

My professors discussed my business plan with me. When I was looking for investors, the school tried to help. When I first launched honeygrow, we were in Temple’s startup incubator. We won an award to be there as their concept of the year.

The more I was in school, the more I was thinking about creating my own business. Sitting in class and learning the theory behind something, then taking that and applying it at work, it makes you much more dangerous as an entrepreneur—in a good way!

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