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The Wahlberg Brothers Discuss the Success of Their Small Business

Photos: Courtesy of Wahlburgers

Co-founders and owners of Wahlburgers Donnie Wahlberg and Chef Paul Wahlberg talk tricks of the service industry and the challenges they face due to their celebrity association.

What was the biggest challenge you faced when starting the Wahlburgers franchise?

Donnie Wahlberg: I think for us at Wahlburgers, it’s always been a double-edged sword. On the one hand, we have a celebrity name which is very helpful, but on the other hand, celebrity restaurants tend to not do very well and have a stigma attached to them. Because Mark & I have been successful in other endeavors, people have never really looked at Wahlburgers as a small business when in fact we really are. We have faced many challenges that most small business owners face. Fortunately, Mark and I had the financial resources to overcome a lot of those challenges, but it really showed us the reality of how much small business owners have to overcome. It really made us appreciate small business owners even more.

Paul Wahlberg: As with many companies, one of the biggest challenges is making sure the standards are met when you can’t visit every location every day. One location is very different than 30.

While working in the service industry, what practices has Wahlburgers employed to maintain healthy client retention as a means to grow the business?

DW: With Wahlburgers, the name gets people in the door, but the quality of the product created by Chef Paul and our attention to detail is hopefully what will always bring them back 

PW: It’s really our employees, our food and our family memories that create those emotional connections.

Many small business owners state that finding the next great hire and retaining that talent is among their biggest challenges. What advice would you give small business owners who are facing this obstacle?

DW: Because many small business owners are hands-on themselves, my advice would be to groom their talent from within and allow them to grow within the company as the company grows so you don’t lose that talent to other people. Talent should grow with the business and ideally become part of it and stay with the business forever.

PW: That’s one of our biggest challenges as well. As we continue to grow, developing from within is really key. In this challenging labor market, being an employer who is attractive to talent is more about providing a good day-to-day experience than an hourly rate. You need to take care of your people.

What is one technology trend that Wahlburgers has embraced that you’d recommend other small businesses take advantage of in the coming year? 

DW: Technology has been one of the areas where we’ve faced a lot of challenges with Wahlburgers. For us, it’s a little unique in that we have celebrities names on the sign so we’ve tried to use technology to connect with our customers in the restaurants. Overall, that is our number one challenge and mission going forward — to improve customer experience and use social media and technology to do it.

PW: We have started to introduce our guests to tech that allows us to call our restaurants, or send customized video messages when we can’t be there. It personalizes our customers’ visits by location, connecting them with our family.

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