From summer job to spearheading the SERG Restaurant Group’s continued growth.
By Ellen Linnemann
What started as a summer restaurant job on Hilton Head Island while a student at Miami University of Ohio turned into something far more over the past 22 years than Alan Wolf probably would have imagined.
As president of the SERG Restaurant Group, Wolf credits his success not only to his longtime love of the restaurant industry and commitment to providing the Lowcountry with “quality cuisine, exceptional service and genuine hospitality,” but to a strong work ethic gained in those early years of employment – including working at his very first job as a summer custodian with the local school system.
“As summer custodians, our job was to refinish classroom floors, scrape gum off the bottoms of desks, clean lights and other maintenance tasks to get the schools ready for the next year,” he recalls. “I was working with union guys who took breaks twice as long as they were supposed to, and when I went back to work and left them in the breakroom, I remember getting in trouble for working too hard.”
That initial experience of being singled out for his hard work helped take him from early roles managing some of SERG’s restaurants (including general manager at Marley’s in 2003 and Frankie Bones in 2004) to key leadership positions throughout his decades-long career at SERG.
Wolf oversees the group’s 16 locally owned and operated restaurants – which includes Nectar Farm Kitchen, Frankie Bones, Giuseppi’s Pizza & Pasta, Marley’s Shrimp & Burger Shack, The Black Marlin Bayside Grill, Holy Tequila Mexican Kitchen, One Hot Mama’s American Grill, Skull Creek Dockside, Poseidon, Charbar Co, Skull Creek Boathouse, The Rooftop and WiseGuys – as well as its to-go business with SERG Takeout Kitchen. With 33 local partners across these restaurants, and more than 1,200 employees, SERG is one of Hilton Head’s largest employers and continues to grow at a strong pace.
Wolf uses a Google calendar, and stays productive all day by “executing what is on the calendar for the day, addressing the emergencies that come up and planning for the future each day.” When it comes to making lists, he’s got a three-level system: Evernote online for longer term topics and initiatives, a spiral notebook for intermediate issues and a Field Notes pocket guide to take notes in the moment. He also points to delegation as being an important part of SERG’s success – as well as his own career growth. “We have leaders in every store with whom I work and trust to execute and a tremendous executive team and group of partners at the next level,” he notes. The father of six children ranging in ages from 3 to12, Wolf also notes that participating as a parent in all activities is “only possible with a truly amazing wife who keeps us all in our lanes.”
When he’s not working, Wolf’s hobbies include fishing, coaching kids in baseball and family time. And when it comes to what he might be doing if he hadn’t entered the restaurant industry more than 20 years ago, Wolf notes that “it would probably involve lots of variation and different business disciplines, as that is what I love about the restaurant business.” As for what he wanted to be growing up, Wolf recalls wanting to be president of the United States because “I felt like common sense, decency and hard work are the types of things citizens would appreciate.”
With his passion for the restaurant industry, proven leadership and longtime commitment to hard work, Wolf is certainly appreciated by both locals and visitors to our area – bringing great food, innovative dining experiences – and successful businesses – to life here in the Lowcountry.
Alan Wolf’s tips for success
1. Prioritize what needs to be done and try not to over-promise on tight timelines. “I prefer to plan items into my calendar and spread out the timing of deliverables.”
2. Take care of any issues or problems immediately, before they turn into crises. “Keep a close eye out for any and all issues that can later turn into a bigger problem or crisis, from staffing issues to technology problems to anything affecting your particular industry, to prevent small issues from becoming bigger problems.”
3. Treat your employees well — and show them how much they are appreciated. “As a manager at Marleys in 2003, I saw the partners Steve Carb, Tim Onorato and Rob Jordan buy Executive Chef Nick Unangst a Ford Expedition. It was a gesture of appreciation and thanks to him for getting Marleys on the right track – and I was amazed by the sincere appreciation that Chef Nick showed and the fact that I was working for a group of people who cared that much about taking care of their employees. Chef Nick went on to become a partner in nine restaurants and the backbone of our culinary program. If it wasn’t for that day, he might have ended up going somewhere else rather than being an important part of our growth.”