The hardest part of creating a new path is finding people to believe in your dream. Every morning, I would wake up to pitch new people on the idea that a successful restaurant is no longer confined to building brick and mortar structure, and that a brand can thrive in a digital, delivery, and on-demand world. I was met with no after no, but I woke up every morning to repeat this process because I knew in a sea of a thousand no’s, I only needed one yes.
The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.
As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing William Bonhorst.
William Bonhorst is the CEO & Founder of Man vs Fries. Thinking outside the brick and mortar restaurant space, he built Man vs Fries as a delivery first brand born on DoorDash and raised on Instagram. Prior to becoming a food entrepreneur, his passion for leveraging technology in antiquated industries like parking and urban mobility led him to consultancy roles for San Francisco technology startups including portfolio companies of K9 Ventures and Khosla Ventures.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I’m from a small town on the East Coast: Bristol, CT — the home of ESPN. Growing up, I had two idols: my father and Kobe Bryant. Their grit and work ethic was my source of inspiration as they both had that “mamba” mentality. I clearly remember when my father told me he only missed two days of work in his life: when my older sister was born and when I was born. As a child, Thursdays were special for us as it was payday for my parents, which meant we could eat out. This is when I became a connoisseur of french fries: from KFC wedges to iconic Golden Arches fries (I still remember when Burger King changed their fries)! For us, fast food was special. Much to my mother’s dismay, I put fries on every burger or chicken sandwich with glee. I never met a french fry I didn’t love.
We didn’t have much growing up, and having seen my parents struggle, my friends seemed so privileged, I could count on one hand the people who looked like me. So from a young age I knew if I wanted to help my family, I would have to leave. At 18, I moved to California for college where I started working in the hospitality industry valeting cars in Hollywood. I ended up scaling that company and moved to the Bay Area to do the same business. In San Francisco, I began consulting for technology startups in urban mobility and the parking industry. I worked with passionate founders looking to change the world in a city that embraced and encouraged you to dream big. I did that for a while and opened a restaurant as a side hustle with a friend. Soon after that, I built Man vs Fries and the rest is history.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” It’s not the most poetic quote, but I believe it is profound and connects the common human suffering we all share in life. I am convinced the only thing we have control over is our reaction to what happens in life. Your ability to accept, pivot, and execute out of situations will determine your success.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama. I am convinced that in life we find our greatest inspiration by representation. If you see it, you can be it. Until 2008, it was audacious to dream of seeing someone who looked like me to be the leader of the free world. I only wish that one day I too can inspire and give hope to those who look like me to follow their dreams.
Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?
I began working with tech founders to help build their dreams in San Francisco, and eventually opened a once-upon-a-time side hustle restaurant that took on a life of its own. Cinco TacoBar — a Tex-Mex build-your-own creations restaurant with a focus on fresh handmade tacos — is where all the magic began. After this unassuming taco spot in a strip mall quickly became popular, we had to expand. Naturally, our next brick and mortar location had to be bigger, better, and had to have a bar to maximize the consumer experience. This all came with a price, in more ways than one.
Opening a restaurant is often romanticized, but the truth is it’s a daily struggle. We were often month to month from a financial standpoint, but I knew if I could leverage technology in the restaurant space we might have a chance. I built Man vs Fries as a digital-delivery-first restaurant born on DoorDash, raised on Instagram, and operated from the kitchen of the new restaurant to keep it alive.
The success of Man vs Fries as a digital popup restaurant prompted me to create a space where this brand could reach more people, so I opened what is now known as a “ghost kitchen” in Oakland, CA. This new space focuses on a delivery-first model with minimal overhead while delivering the best product.
What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?
I built Man vs Fries from a place of desperation just prior to the pandemic. The pandemic simply poured fuel on the full digital pivot.
Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?
I have always looked at ways in which I could leverage technology to make the world a better place. Everyone told me: “Avoid the restaurant industry,” “The margins are horrible,” “You will never have time for a family,” “95% fail,” “It is too capital intensive to grow,” but I knew there had to be a path to success. The first day I made Man vs Fries available on DoorDash, orders flew in, and I knew I no longer needed the traditional path to open a successful restaurant, I simply needed kitchens.
How are things going with this new initiative?
I am blessed to have partners like DoorDash and REEF Technology supporting Man vs Fries. They allow my creativity and french fry dreams to reach neighborhoods far beyond the San Francisco Bay Area. Man vs Fries is now a National Brand with over 100+ locations across the US and Canada.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
The hardest part of creating a new path is finding people to believe in your dream. Every morning, I would wake up to pitch new people on the idea that a successful restaurant is no longer confined to building brick and mortar structure, and that a brand can thrive in a digital, delivery, and on-demand world. I was met with no after no, but I woke up every morning to repeat this process because I knew in a sea of a thousand no’s, I only needed one yes. One of those pitches was to Ari Ojalvo, Alan Philips, and Bruce Schroder at REEF Technology. I still remember my first call with Bruce when after my long-winded pitch: he said “Let’s do it,” and it is for those three simple words that I am forever grateful.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
I can tell you the most rewarding part of this journey is seeing the pure joy and excitement on people’s faces as they try our food for the first time. Whether it is a tourist visiting the Seattle Space Needle who is eating our carne asada curly fries with Cheetos or college kids in their dorm in Atlanta devouring a Cali-Crunch, or a local snowball fight in Toronto while refueling on NorCal burritos, I love getting to witness people experiencing our food on social media.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. Know yourself. Know your worth
2. Be your biggest critic and fan
3. Sometimes more is less
4. Don’t sell yourself short
5. Refuse to accept other people’s standards for success
Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?
Sea. Air. Sun. And family. These are the elements that keep me grounded in life and connected to this world.
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Since I was a small child, I always thought that the world would be a better place if everyone simply paid it forward. Change starts with a single action followed by a ripple of smaller reactions. If we as a society change the way we perceive value, those who can’t pay it back, can pay it forward.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why?
How can our readers follow you online?
Thank you so much for sharing your time and your excellent insights! We wish you continued success.