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About The Episode

In this episode, we have the pleasure of sitting down with Jonas Reinholdsson, the remarkable founder of O’Learys, a renowned sports bar chain that has taken Sweden and beyond by storm. Join us as we delve into Jonas Reinholdsson’s inspiring journey of scaling O’Learys from ground zero to an impressive network of over 100 locations.

He will share his experiences and provide valuable advice on the strategic decisions, operational adjustments, and branding initiatives that allowed O’Learys to capture the market and expand its reach.

Read the interview

Carl: Hello, I’m Carl Jacobs and I’m co-founder and CEO of Apicbase. At Apicbase, we are building the world’s best back-of-house management platform. But in this podcast series, it’s all about finding answers on how to grow and scale your food service business. I’m talking to numerous experts and industry professionals who are passionate about building a healthy food service industry. Join me on this fascinating journey of entrepreneurship in food.

Hello, everybody. Welcome to the Food Service Growth Show. And today I have with me Jonas Reinholdsson, who is the founder of the O’Learys Group. I’m very happy that he’s here today with us. Jonas, just to get started, maybe you can introduce yourself quickly.

Jonas: Hi. Yes, that’s right. Jonas here. I’m 61 years old. I’m born and raised in Gothenburg in Sweden. I started my restaurant career in the summertime and summer island, just outside of Gothenburg, called Marstrand. And then after high school, I just continued in the restaurant business and I’ve been doing that all my life. So that’s me.

Carl: All right. And yeah, so let’s talk a little bit about this concept that you started in the 1980s. If I’m not mistaken, which grew to over 130 locations in 15 different countries. 

What is O’Learys?

Jonas: Yes. Like I said, I had a dream when I started in the restaurant business to open up my own restaurant. And after, like I said, high school, I worked a couple of years in Gothenburg in a couple of good restaurants. I mean, front side, so a waiter, bar, a head waiter, those kinds of jobs I’ve been doing front of house. Two years in Stockholm. After that, I got the opportunity in the mid 80s to go to an island called Grenada in the West Indies and run a restaurant at a hotel there. And during that year I was there I met three American guys that also opened up a restaurant on Grenada, and they had restaurants on an island called Nantucket outside of Cape Cod in Massachusetts. We became very good friends.

When I went back to Sweden again, this is 1986, I got one of the guys, Joe’s telephone numbers, and he said “Give me a call if you want to come to the States and visit or work.” So I got back to Gothenburg, then 86, and I got my first restaurant manager job in Sweden, opening up the first brasserie in Sweden actually. And I did that. But after seven, eight months I felt, oh, I always wanted to go to the States and work. So I called my friend Joe and said, “Can I come over?” So in April 1987, I just had a six month visa. 

I actually went over and worked for them for six months and had a great time. I learned a lot. I mean, Nantucket is a beautiful place. It reminded me of Marstrand, the island I grew up in, in the summertime as well. And like I said, a lot of Europeans didn’t think so high about the US gastronomically, but like I said Nantucket there was a fine dining restaurant that I worked at and was just fun to learn a lot and so on.

But during the six months I also went into Boston a few times and I really fell in love with the city of Boston. I already was a big sports fan. So on Nantucket as well, every bar had a TV screen on and showed the Boston Red Sox games and also the Boston Celtics were in the prime then in the mid 80s. I went to the NBA finals against the Lakers. So it was a vibe with everything. And I really loved it and actually went to one of the games in Boston Guard one of the conference finals games. So there I really fell in love with Boston and the New England culture and the whole sports scene and food and drink scene that was there.

Carl: Was it there that you got the idea already?

Jonas: That’s really where the seed was planted. When I got the real feeling about it. And the other idea was, of course, one day I was working in the restaurant I worked as a waiter in the evenings and the bar was open during the day and me and another guy we had the bar, we split it every day. So one of the days I was working, it was a Sunday. It was very, very quiet. But two girls came into the bar and one of them was a girl named Ann O’Leary that’s from Boston. And she was on Nantucket helping her brother build a house. And so we talked and, you know, just like that, they were in for an hour or two. They left.

The next day I was not working, but I went in to say hello to my colleague in the bar and just, you know, take a coffee. And then Ann was sitting there. She thought I was working and we start talking for a long time and something must have happened there. We swapped telephone numbers. The next day, she was going back to Boston. And then about six weeks later, I went back to Sweden. So we really just had phone calls before I left. I didn’t have time to meet her again. But well, back in Sweden, I was, you know, after six months, I didn’t really know what I want to do. My father said, you have to go to study, get a normal, you know, get a proper education. I was a little bit tired of the restaurant business after moving back and forth.

Gothenberg, Stockholm, the West Indies, Gothenberg, US. So I kind of took like a break from the restaurant business, but Ann and I had contact and after a while she said “I’ll come and visit”. So she came to Sweden for two weeks and this is 1987-88, Christmas, New Year’s. And during those two weeks it said ‘Click’ and we really fell in love. So what do we do then? So during the winter, early spring of 1988, we decided “Oh, I’ll come to Sweden” she said. For me going to the States, it was a little bit more complicated. With work permits. We probably had to get married. And you know at that time we really, really didn’t know each other.

But also then during that time I was a little bit tired working 8 to 5, and I really missed the restaurant business. And like I said earlier, I really had a dream to open up my own restaurant. And then kind of the jigsaw puzzle kind of got together there. I had a feeling about Boston, New England sports, and that’s really when the kind of embryo to O’Learys started. I had to go over to the US to interview with the Swedish consulate in New York and meet her and then go up to Boston. And really there I really got more inspiration, stole or borrowed menus, took pictures and also looked at other restaurants and pubs in Boston. And everyone, of course, was showing sports, chicken wings, that kind of casual dining food.

So you took a concept that was already quite well-known in Boston and in the United States. But how did Sweden react to this kind of typical American Irish kind of bar concept?  Was Sweden ready for this?

Jonas: It was definitely something new like I said. Also, the TV series Cheers is based on a bar in Boston, also a huge inspiration. And that was a big show in Sweden as well. But of course, when I opened up and found the first location, it was not easy. I was 25 years old and I was looking for a place and I found a really rundown restaurant, good location in Gothenburg, a flight of stairs up. That’s always difficult in the F&B industry, but I really found it and I took a really big chance actually.

It was a restaurant that was on the verge of bankruptcy and the owners were desperate to get rid of it. So I really took over the restaurant for one Swedish crown which is a 10th of a euro. Yeah, but I also took over all the debts they had and loans. But before I did that I sold in the idea to all the creditors. And I did a deal with them and just paid 25% what they were owed. I managed to take over some loans with help of my father and some friends and then basically started working. And this was the 1st of October 1988. And in six weeks we transformed this kind of really rundown place. Very, very simple, really. Ann went back to Boston, bought a lot of stuff, some pictures and some stuff from the sports teams. She went up to her parents attic.

Carl: For the people that are not very familiar with the O’Learys concept, who knows, can you summarize the concept in, let’s say, two sentences?

Jonas: A neighborhood Irish American, Boston sports bar and restaurant. And like I said, like the bar in the TV series Cheers. If you see that. That was kind of the feeling I wanted to create and did create.

So then you get off on this incredible adventure and you open your first restaurants. You had a lot of debt. You have your own pub for one crown. But did it take off instantly? 

Jonas: It did. It was just a big chance. Of course, as every entrepreneur, you have to believe in what you do. And I really believed in it. And also, like I said I had a very good network already in that age in Sweden and in Gothenburg. We also got very, very good staff. So everything really came to pieces there and we opened up and I was really, I mean, I know Ann was very nervous and I said, This is going to work. And we just had a soft opening. It was not a grand opening. We waited a week for the grand opening and people just came. A lot of people came and I think it was like a Tuesday or something and then it was packed Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Sunday. It was so much people. And then we had the grand…

What do you mean by “I had a great network already and it helped me get going.” I mean, what kind of network are you talking about?

Jonas: No, I think in the restaurant business, I mean, if you open up a restaurant and as an owner, it’s good if you have the contacts, of course. And also if you have the right staff in the kitchen and bar and service. They also have a big network, of course. So the restaurant business is like that. And if you have the right people, they get people. And the talk in town was very, very quick. So that was pretty fun. For about a week after we opened up the soft opening, we had the grand opening and it was crazy. It was lines outside. And then, you know, we started something.

We were kind of the first place in Sweden, what I know about, we started our kind of after work, but we did it a little bit differently and I got the inspiration from some pubs in Boston. Was that in Sweden we did Fridays but a lot of these places they put up a little buffet. There’s some snacks it could be celery, blue cheese, some nachos, some chicken wings and so on. So we did something. We called it TGI Friday. We call it TGI Fridays because ‘Thank God It’s Friday’. It was before Fridays the chain came to Sweden. But still, that was the whole concept of it. And people really liked that. It was just free food. They just got a little plate and a small fork and a napkin. Everybody that bought something. We didn’t expect, we just expect that people from 4 or 5:00 would pop in. But just after two weeks or something, it created a…This is before email.

So fax machines in companies in the central office, especially people in the advertisement business and finance business, people fax to each other “Let’s go to O’Learys.” So that’s how it all started with the Fridays and so on. And then also sports, was that showing sports on TV was something new as well. People rarely saw green walls, the memorabilia on the walls, the American style of bar. When you work on the bar and we serve like beer and you drank from the bottle and also we put up like four 28 inch TV screens in the first O’Learys. And people thought, they would say, “He’s lost it. This is never going to work.” But suddenly it started more and more.

And also the timing is very important as well. Just then like the TV and the satellite, you know, Sweden just had, and many other countries, even in the Nordics and even in Europe, just had maybe have two, three, four channels. But when the satellite dish and the satellite came out, it was much more to be shown. So from just having a couple of maybe Saturdays and big events at the World Cup in soccer or football, for instance, maybe then it was showing on TV. Now it started to showing more and more. Instead of one Premier League game. Premier League started a few years later, we opened and then the Champions League. So we were very lucky that the whole sports thing also kind of grown a lot in the late 80s, early 90s, and that was very, very beneficial for us.

Carl: Yeah. And you know, of course that outlet number one, you could say that’s the basic one, the first one, the one that you put all your efforts in. Afterward, it grows to 130 and more even maybe outlets.

Did you immediately say, even before the first one opened, if this works I want to scale this up? Or was this kind of an idea that grew over time?

Jonas: I had a plan before we open up, so a lot of my inspiration came from other restaurant chains. That was big casual dining chains in the US. Fridays I mentioned before, of course, the Chili’s, there was Houlihan’s and Bennigan’s a couple of casual dining chains in the US that was big in the 80s and 90s, Hard Rock Cafe, of course. So in the back of my head, yes, I had the thought that it would be a chain and somebody told me, I even said it would be a franchise chain that came in later. I don’t think I said that before I opened up the first unit, but everything I did with the first unit was that I put out the logo on napkins, sugar packages, matchboxes, drink sticks and so on. So it looked very professional.

From day one, it looked like a chain. And actually people just five years ago and maybe even today, a lot of people thought and still think O’Learys is an American chain and not a Swedish chain. People were surprised about that. So when we opened up the second restaurant, that was in Stockholm, because I also there had a big network and then we did, you know, we started we could take staff from Stockholm, take them to Gothenburg for training.

When we started, we had the same purchasing agreements with all the vendors, the same staff close. We started doing manuals and then the third restaurant, fourth restaurant and fifth restaurant opened up. And all those restaurants I own myself and I had two partners in a couple of them as well. And then in 92, when we opened up the second restaurant with the two partners, that’s when I started O’Learys trademark and I had the franchise rights in a separate company. And that’s really when I started my first franchise agreements. Even with the restaurant I owned in Gothenburg still, and the future restaurants I opened up with partners.

About those early days when you opened the other locations. How long did you stay operational? And when did you say “It’s not for me anymore to close down the bar. Somebody else needs to do this”?

Jonas: Yeah, I mean, with the first restaurant, of course. I worked on the floor, bar, head waiting, waiting and did everything and Ann was not supposed to work. She’s not from the restaurant business. She had an MBA from Boston College and she was looking into working in finance, but she had a tough time getting a job, really. And like I said, O’Learys was such a success. So all the, you know, all the bills was piling up in the office. So she took a role in taking care of the economy. But she also, you know, we cleaned in the mornings. She had to help working in the bar as a cocktail waitress.

So everything was hands on, of course, in the first unit. And really, really fun. And the better it got, of course you could. But like I said, I didn’t have, it took like three, four months before we really could have any vacation or anything. You could take a day off or a night off. But then the restaurant business, even when you were off, I always came into the restaurant as well because that was my home and my hobby. But really, when the second restaurant opened up in Stockholm, then it got more traveled every time. I still worked on a schedule a little bit so I could be on the schedule in the bar here and there. I mean, my then wife Ann, lived in Gothenburg. And I went to train back and forth to Stockholm to Gothenburg for about a year or two.

And then when the third restaurant opened up, then I couldn’t be as operational. And then, of course, then you had to. When we scaled up, I took care of all the things marketing and still took a shift now and then.

Carl: Just to touch base with, you know, how it goes there, I guess. And then, you know when the business grows, you say, okay, I took care of other stuff. How difficult was it to let go of this operational, let’s say, execution within the restaurant? Because that’s how you start. Its passion. You know, it’s this hospitality thing.

How difficult did you find it to let go of that and become kind of more of a CEO or somebody who had to manage multiple people and businesses?

Jonas: I hadn’t made up in my mind that it was going to be a chain. I know that when we opened up in Stockholm, O’Learys in Gothenburg was very much to me and you heard, “Oh, when you’re not there, it’s not as good.” And so on, so on. But I also had great staff that also was very personalized and so on. So it didn’t really affect it so much. But of course it was a step. But I made up my mind. Like I said early, that this has to work. I have to have good managers. I can’t be operational all the time.

But of course, I always was there. I mean, it’s a story, you know, I came back, you know, I haven’t been in Gothenburg for a week and I didn’t say hello to my wife or anything. The first thing I did when I got back to the restaurant, those days people smoke, was change the ashtrays. I hated full ashtrays. I was learned when I was early in my days that always have clean tables and so on. So before I just got back from the train station, took off my jacket, left my briefcase. I started working right away before saying hello to my wife or anything. And so that’s the feeling as an entrepreneur you have.

But can you share a challenge that you had at that time where you think “This was something that always went wrong”? Or what were you struggling with at a certain moment in time? In the early days with many outlets.

Jonas: I mean, I think the obvious is the same challenges everybody has. You can’t copy-paste yourself. You wish you could duplicate or clone yourself all the time. So you just have to kind of work that through that you can’t be in 2 or 3 places at the same time. But otherwise, I noticed that I wanted to grow and I wanted to open up my second restaurant. So first of all, finding partners and I did that for the next four restaurants.

We opened up two in Stockholm, one in a town north of Stockholm, about two hours. And then we opened up in another town, mid-sized city called Norrköping. So those restaurants we opened up myself and we had good managers. The two partners we had were silent partners. So it took me time to go through all these restaurants. So I did all the check ups, quality control and so on to make sure all the restaurants were doing well. But I also noticed that if we were going to grow again, it was through franchise. So already 92, 93, when I started the O’Learys trademark, I got contact with a good franchise lawyer in Sweden and drafted out the first franchise agreements.

I also did all the agreements with all our vendors, suppliers as well. So that’s really, the next step was finding franchisees. In the early days because O’Learys was such a success and the sport thing was growing. People were calling me and so on.

So it was, I wouldn’t say easy, but we opened up one restaurant in 96 in Luleå, and then another restaurant in 97 and 1998 was two restaurants, and then 99 was six restaurants. And then you had to scale it up. You had to, I mean, I had my own restaurant so I could use staff there for training. I can use the restaurants for training as well. So that’s really the next step of making it a chain. And then you come into phase, I would say phase three. The first restaurant, the next four restaurants, and then the first franchise restaurants, and then from there building up the company that is still O’Learys trademark today. Is basically how then it started in the mid-90s to be a franchise driven restaurant concept.

Carl: With the franchise model. So you say it took you till, let’s say the end of the 90, to grow to how many 20-something outlets?

Jonas: 15 restaurants. So it took about 12 years to be 15 restaurants. Yes. You have to say also, I mean, franchising in Sweden wasn’t really big. It actually was very, almost looked, the political in Sweden was very kind of socialistic. So franchising was American, bad thing. So it was nothing people look good about really. It was really in the 90s. It started growing. Of course you had McDonald’s, Burger King and so on. So the franchise kind of business model was getting more and more accepted in the 90s, but it took a while and look in the restaurant business.

Yeah, it was a lot of good restaurateurs, but they really just had one restaurant that was there or 2 or 3, 4, 5, but it was really no chain restaurants. If you look in, if you take away the fast food, of course. So we were really one of the first kind of building up a concept that you could scale up and so on. But we had to do it. Like I said, we had to do it. We had to get from the beginning with a handbook and all the manuals, and that took some time to create, but I had good help with that.

Carl: Yeah, fantastic. And you know if I then look into the scaling after 2000, so it took you 12 years to go from 1 to 15, and then it took another ten years to go to 15 to 120. Something like that?

Jonas: I would say it took from 15, we say from the turn of the century to 2000, those next ten years we went from 15 restaurants up to about 75, maybe.

Carl: 75. So that’s a tremendous growth in ten years’ time.

Jonas: And that was the next step. That was the phase four because I understood that, okay, I can’t do this by myself. So, one big thing we did was that we got some help. I tried to get a better board. I also, in 2003, hired an outside CEO because I said I don’t have the capacity to be a CEO. And then we had then, 2003, was 25 restaurants also. Then I had started looking for a partner and had really failed with that. But when Villa came in as CEO with his network as well.

I was going through a divorce then with Aan, so for two reasons. I need to settle financially the divorce, but also look for a strong both financial partner. A partner with know-how. And that’s how Select Service Partners, SSP, came in and they bought was it 51% of the company from me and then they bought 44% in 2008. So they own 90-95% of the company 2008. But with SSP, we got the know-how. We also got the security from them. We could build up a small head office, you know, we didn’t have a CFO or anything so we could hire from, from 4 or 5 people. We could put in 7 or 8 more people. So we had a little bit better organization. And then of course, we could grow slowly when we opened up more restaurants.

Carl: Yeah. So one thing that I find intriguing is you get on board this investor or this partner, which kind of gives you the financial stability you need to grow the business and allows you to open up multiple restaurants and many restaurants in ten years time. But you also give up a little bit of control of your business, of course, because you’re not the only decision maker anymore.

Is there anything you want our audience to learn from this experience? Like “be careful when you do this” or “no I would recommend doing this”.

Jonas: Yeah. I mean, I’ve done it a few times now so, but yes, I would of course I would have kept a larger stake, but myself, I wish I had done that. But I also had a saying that I’d rather own 10% of a restaurant company that opens up 200 restaurants than 100% that just opens up, you know, 25. But yes, also finding the right partner and SSP was right. This was SSP Sweden. They had a really good CEO then, Hans. Then later he got another role in SSP and then Losh was the CEO and they were really good.

And also SSP is a great food and beverage company. They, especially of course, in their field, the travel locations, airports, train stations and so on. But they also knew the business. So that was good. We spoke the same language, but with their network, my dream was to be an international chain, that was really, I really wanted because I looked at we’re going to be bigger than Fridays, you know, that was like the goal I’d set up. So I saw it and I still see it, even if I’m not really happy the way O’Learys has been going since I left the company. But still, the potential for O’Learys was really to work in every other country in the world. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it to open up in the UK, in the US you have to open up if you want to be a strong international brand.

But with SSP, we got to the airports, we got the international and we did a run for it. But also they let us work pretty independently as well. We had a board meeting with SSP in it and we could work. We had very close working together with them and developing the concept. I had, still my Stockholm restaurant, I had till 2010, so I still had a foot in the business. We could try out recipes and training and stuff there as well. So that was good. But yes, that was really important for us to have that partner with us. And then of course, they were my compass group then.

Then they were sold to Equity Venture Capital Company. So after 2010, we saw that, they’re going to do an IPO of SSP. So it was a little window. So actually we bought back me, my CEO and my COO, Christa. We bought back the company, but we had two brothers that came in as investors. So they bought out, we bought out SSP and then me and Christian and also Villa got a little bit part of the company as well. And then we could continue to develop the company from 2012 and forward. And we did that very well as well and really start growing a lot.

Did you grow after 2010? And did you bring in another investor or did you stay independent at that time?

Jonas: No, we continued. The franchise model really was very good for us. We grow with very low risk. We didn’t have any corporate restaurants at all until 2016-17. I think was the first restaurant we did. It was a big step for us to do that. But we came to a point, you know, like I said, 2010, maybe 75 restaurants or something. And then by 2018, we were closer to 150 because we had a couple of other brands as well called Boston Grill and so on, but totally close to 150 units when we turned 30 in 2018.

We felt then that, okay, if we want to take the next step from the 100 plus restaurants we had and really succeed, we need to have a different kind of business model. And one way was having our own restaurants and we opened up some flagship stores and that’s what we started to do around 2015. And then we needed more capital and we looked into how to get more partners in. And then actually that’s how we went out and found a couple of companies that were interested to come into O’Learys. And it ended up with a Swedish equity company called Altru. But then it’s a big, big step. Running your own restaurants is more risk and you have to do it right, have the right staff.

Carl: And it’s much more capital intensive I guess.

Jonas: It is. It is. And I think, I mean, even before Altru came in, we did some mistakes, but also we started a little, after 20 years or 25, we needed to do some stuff. We needed to improve the the interior, modernize a little bit. And we did a big project we called it the Fenway Edition, where we really changed a lot of design. And we did it, of course, every restaurant during we open up, it always tweaked a little bit, but we did a big thing around 2012-14 where we did a big change of design, still kept O’Learys of course.

We did a lot of internal work. We started to because when you come up to a restaurant, a big thing like all chains have, is how are the quality? How if you go to this restaurant there and that one in different countries it always has to be O’Learys And when you come up to 100, 100 plus restaurants, that is a big, big challenge. But we did a big project that we did for about three years, so we really took all the restaurants. We did a big, big investment in all the staff and we did a lot of training, a lot of improvement of quality, and we had these huge conferences. Also with all the chains, all the staff within the Nordics, we could do that. And it really boosted the whole thing.

We really, in around 2015-16, were ready for the next step. We also starting to improve the menu. Of course we needed to get better. We had lost a lot in Sweden then as a lot of other parts of Europe, a lot of these more fast casual burger chains started to come up. We had lacked a little bit of food quality. We had taken some shortcuts that we shouldn’t have done. And we had a lot of debate at the board about this, of course.

Can you tell me about that a little bit? What kind of shortcuts can’t you take in a food business?

Jonas: Of course, you have to look at what the guests wants to have. I mean, that is really, really good. And also, we had some very big franchisees, especially the company I talked about before, SSP. And, you know, sometimes you have to, we maybe gave in in a couple of things for some of the franchisees and everybody does mistakes and those things happen. But also, what also was happening a lot, you know, and today you can see it as well. I wish, I mean, all the tools you have technology today with programs you have for staff control and ordering and so on. I mean, in the old days, you didn’t have that.

So it’s in one way, also easier to run a restaurant today, but also it’s more and more competitive. I mean, it’s a lot of brands out there and that you see that in Sweden just having a few casual dining brands. It was explosion, you know, in the mid 2010’s with a lot of casual dining all Swedish concepts. That wanted to grow and also start with franchise or own like Boston Burgers, Pinchos and a lot of other concepts and the quality of the, I know, the mom and pop stores was also much better so the competition is really really hard. But we went through a phase there during, like I said, 2015 up to 18. But then we decided that we needed to get a stronger financial partner in as well.

I hear you saying that food quality became more and more important in the franchise and in the concept. Did it become more and more important for O’Learys as well?

Jonas: Even Fridays, I mean that kind of casual dining food or those food chains have, that were really big in the 80s and 90s and so on. I think people got a bit tired of it. The competition also got a lot better. People started looking more into health issues. Of course, the whole thing with none, plant food came in and so on and we were maybe a little bit late on that that but we looked into it. But so the whole market kind of changed and people of course, expectations get higher and higher. People travel more and see other things. You need to update your brand in a way.

And we were a little bit late in that, especially the burger side. We didn’t keep up the quality. But we worked hard on that and we really started to get back to that. You know, before 2018. And then when other people came in, they started changing everything over again. And this is, in my private opinion, not for the better, unfortunately. But that’s the way it is.

We’re almost at the end of this podcast, so I wanted to fast forward to the moment that you decided “It’s been enough. I have or I want to sell”. When did you leave O’Learys?

Jonas: No, like I said, know 2018, when the venture capitalist company came in to be the head owners together with the brothers, the small owners, most of us sold out what we had. I had a little piece left that I kept. My plan was to continue working with the restaurant, being, you know, as the founder and also working with what I’ve done all the time with expansion, you know, finding locations, finding franchisees as basically what I’ve been doing in the last 25, 30 years. So that was my plan to do that.

But, you know, when in this case it wasn’t the perfect fit, not for me. And I think they did a little bit too many changes. They changed out everybody in the staff and they got a new CEO that doesn’t work there anymore. I could have told him that right away it was not the right fit. It was not the same company anymore. And when we had SSP, it was fine because they were in the business. They knew the restaurant business, they knew the service industry. When these, you know, beancounters come in, it was different. It wasn’t fun. Again, it could work, but in my opinion it didn’t work.

So I decided about two years ago to leave the company, sell the little bit I had there left. And do something different and that’s what I’m doing today. I’m semi-retired, but I still work as a F&B senior advisor in a couple of companies. I’m sitting in a few boards and I’m helping some Swedish and even some Scandinavian chains, other restaurant chains to grow and so on. And I hope to continue doing that a couple more years.

Last question. After 30 years of growing a fantastic brand and making waves, what are the pros and cons? What are the lessons learned in those 30 years? What is the lesson that you want to give the listeners?

Jonas: Oh, yeah, that’s a big question. It’s a lot of things. I know it’s hard to say that in one sentence. I mean, first of all, when you start, you need to really believe in your idea. You really need to give it 100%. It could be a chance. But you also have to have a good concept. You also need to get good people around you, a good staff and good advisors. I did some mistakes during that, that I had listened to the wrong people.

I also did some good things as well during all these 30 years. But in the long run, I’m really proud of actually building up a very, very well known brand, especially in Scandinavia. Like I said, we were over 150 restaurants in 15 countries, 2018 when we turned 30 years old. So I’m really happy and proud of that. I’m still called Mr. O’Learys, and I always lived with that all my life. It’s sad that the divorce or break up with the O’Learys trademark didn’t really get a soft landing that I hoped. But those things happen sometimes you collide. We just look different at things and it’s not only, it’s my fault as well, it’s both fault. So I left the company. I wish it ended up better, but who knows?

You never know in the future what happens. But I’m glad for that. I’m very proud and so on. Actually, I’m in Gothenburg right now because I’m up here doing some work and some meetings. Actually, I had a meeting in downtown. I actually passed the location where the first O’Learys opened up and there’s actually a plaque on the building. The landlord put it up that says “Here is the first O’Learys restaurant.” So I went by today and took a picture. I’m very proud of that part of that journey. Fun journey.

Carl: Fantastic. Thank you very much for this interesting podcast. It’s been great having you and thank you for sharing all of your experience with us.

Jonas: Yeah, okay, good. And people who want to know more. They could Google me and you can read a lot both in English and Swedish.

Carl: I’m sure some of them will definitely.

Jonas: Love your show. Good to have you. And it’s interesting when you’re in F&B and the restaurant business, it’s part of your life forever

Carl: This brings us to the end of the show. My name is Carl Jacobs, and I hope you enjoyed this episode. The Food Service Group Show is all about growing your brand into a profitable and healthy business. Subscribe to this channel for more hands on interviews and insights. Until next time on The Food Service Growth Show.

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Jonas Reinholdsson


Carl Jacobs

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