By Michelle Payer | Photographs by Ricardo Mejia –
With JFC (Just Food Concepts), Miami HEAT team captain Udonis Haslem and his business partner RamonaHall have come up with a way to enrich the community
by investing in it, creating employment opportunities and a workplace environment
that makes staff members understand—and enjoy—the value of teamwork.
Hometown hero Udonis Haslem is everything the Magic City could want: a star athlete (15 years with the NBA, all in the city he loves), a Miami Heat captain, three-time NBA champion and avid philanthropist, especially for Miami youth.
Now, add entrepreneur to the list. It’s not uncommon for athletes to explore business opportunities and investments in preparation for when a stellar career comes to its inevitable end, but for Haslem (who is only 38), there’s more to it than that. “It all started with friends and family members that needed money,” says Haslem, “Further along in my career, I realized that giving them cash was crippling them. My whole conversation with my accountant was finding where I could own something and help family and friends to prosper on their own instead of me giving them a check, which is over once you spend it.”
While some athletes look for distant global investments to provide financial returns,
Haslem was adamant about keeping his money in Miami. “For me, it was huge to invest back into my city,” he says. “It started out helping people who I knew may have had some tough breaks but who I knew were good people [and needed] a second chance to be successful.”
Haslem credits fellow entrepreneur Ramona D. Hall for mentoring him in an area about which he knew nothing. The two met at a Heat season ticketholder event in 2014 where Hall congratulated Haslem on his recent nuptials. Destiny brought them together when they later (and unknowingly) bid on the same franchise space and lost, but recognized each other’s synergy and drive. Haslem and Hall forged a friendship and, as she was already a veteran in the franchise world, she became his mentor. “She was very patient with me,” Haslem admits.
“She was eager to help; I was eager to learn. I would call her a couple of times a week and ask questions about Subway, about Einstein [Bros. Bagels], about franchising…and she helped me understand the business.”
Through Hall’s mentorship, Haslem opened his first Subway franchise in Broward County. Why Subway? “I grew up as a chubby kid,” he says. “I’d try to eat Subway as much as possible to manage my weight. I started eating it as a young kid and always liked the brand.” With increased experience and business acumen, the veteran power forward became a franchise investor in five Subway stores and two Auntie Anne’s Pretzels in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. He visits the stores as often as he can, interacts with his employees, and stays true to his initial mission of giving family and friends opportunities to earn their own money and become independent. “I pride myself in being a man of the people,” says the articulate and humble Heat captain. “I understand it’s a working relationship and I’m your boss, but I want everyone to be comfortable around me and be able to speak. I believe in being happy and coming to work and having a good work environment that makes you want to be part of the growth process.”
At the same time, Haslem and Hall continued to develop their rapport and exchange ideas, realized they made business magic together, and formed JFC (Just Food Concepts) to tackle two licensed operator bids in 2015: Starbucks and then Einstein Bros at Jackson Memorial Hospital. It was close to home, as both were immersed in charity work there and knew the hospital well. “Ramona brought the experience and how to run a business in the franchise area,” says Haslem. “On my end, I brought financial backing and a little bit of
star power; it translated into meeting people and starting this.”
They won the bid and thus began a formal collaboration. Haslem stops by the stores whenever possible, takes fellow Heat players to lunch at Einstein’s or Starbucks after games (it’s open 24 hours at Jackson Memorial), and works closely with Hall to understand the nuances of being a franchise owner. “He’s all in and so am I,” says Hall about Haslem’s dedication. “For me, as a business person, he was engaged. He was willing to learn, he’s very bright, he remembers everything, and he doesn’t need to take notes. He’s a human calculator. It was a good fit and continues to be a good fit.”
Hall and Haslem share intense integrity, drive and business acumen to make their collaboration work. She is equally devoted to mentoring and finding talented
staff that may have been overlooked for jobs in the past and takes pride in championing
the underdogs and grooming them to be successful individuals. Beyond Haslem’s family and friends, they source talent from Overtown CRA (Community Redevelopment Agency),
CareerSource Florida and Employ Miami Dade.
The duo regularly schedules surprise team-building adventures that include canoeing, soccer, bowling and beach outings to enhance interpersonal communications skills, develop talent and strengthen the “family unit,” as Hall calls it. They created an acronym, RIACT (respect, integrity, accuracy, communication and timeliness), as a tool to resolve miscommunication and conflict between employees. “We can ask employees, ‘How did you use RIACT in this situation?’ and it makes them stop and look at the circumstances around the conflict,” says Hall. In a 30-day trial using RIACT for better communication, in addition to training and weekly meetings, sales increased 20 percent year over year, Hall says. To show her appreciation for employees’ commitment and success, she and Haslem are hosting a dinner party to celebrate their achievements. “We do things differently from what they’re used to in the past,” says Hall, and that translates into happy, engaged employees, low turnover and good business.
So good, in fact, that Haslem and Hall won 2017 Franchise Company of the Year at the Black Enterprises Summit for their work with Starbucks and Einstein Brothers stores they operate with JFC Miami. “It was a proud day for myself, JFC and Ramona,” says Haslem about the award. “All the hard work, the meetings, traveling around and looking for the right locations; to have that kind of success off the basketball court after being challenged in a whole new way—it was huge,” he says, the pride evident in his voice.
As the Heat captain for 11 years, Haslem knows his success is a team effort, starting with Hall and his business manager and “righthand man,” Sylvester King, Jr. “A team that works together will be successful,” says Haslem. “No one can do it alone. Everyone has someone they can look back at along the way and say thank you to.” What’s next for the dynamic duo? An Einstein Bros. Bagels and 24-hour Starbucks at Miami Central that begins construction this month. “Wherever you are, you should always give back to the community,” says Hall. “You make a return on goodwill.