Since 1939, Pink's has been serving up hot dogs to crowds that line up day and night in front of the Los Angeles stand. As Gloria Pink notes, even the stars come out - and wait, just like everyone else - for a Pink's hot dog. Here, Gloria and her husband Richard discuss the finer points of maintaining the health of both family and business in a family business, and keeping customers happy even as they wait in a notoriously long line.
What is the key to a successful family business?
RICHARD: Somebody has to be the final decision maker. To the extent that authority is shared, it just simply causes conflict and paralysis down the road. If it's a family business that's inherited and a person says, "Well, I want to give it to all the kids and I don't want anybody to be mad at me" - this actually hurts the situation. Because you need somebody who says, "I have the authority to make a decision." They need to be open to comments, but ultimately, that's it. It's true with any organization and it's true with a family business: Somebody has to ultimately be in charge.
Does that play out in your relationships outside of the workplace?
RICHARD: If people have feelings that are preserved and not ignored, it's fine. But if someone is going in the absolutely opposite direction of the rest of the people in the family, then they just need to talk it out more and more until people kind of believe in the rationale behind the decision, not the emotion behind the decision.
GLORIA: Then there's a real sense of fairness.
Being located in Los Angeles, you've had a star-studded history. How important is that factor, and how much do you think that has contributed to your success?
GLORIA: There's definitely a cachet in that. Customers tell me all the time, "I was waiting in line and I saw Nicolas Cage." Or, "Brad Pitt was kidnapped for a show called 'Jackass' on MTV." Or, Cuba Gooding Jr. was there recently. So, even though it's not a daily occurrence, it happens often enough that people know to look forward to possibly having a star-sighting.
RICHARD: And Gloria has assembled 150 personally signed celebrity pics on our walls. What it does is, it kind of validates [Pink's]: "It must be good if the movie stars come here." Secondly, "I'm going to a place where movie stars go," so that makes people feel good. So it also is a bit of an atmosphere thing. This is where movie stars go when they really want to get down and be their normal selves. Not when they're putting on pretenses and they go to the most elegant restaurants. This is where they hang out with the jeans and t-shirt and baseball hat.
GLORIA: People come to Pink's in everything from pick-ups to limos. Pink's is very egalitarian. We say we have an "equal opportunity line." The other night, Jay Leno was waiting in line and people said, "You have to wait in line with everybody else?" He was.
Speaking of the line, what is the secret to keeping customers happy even while they wait, and wait, and wait?
RICHARD: First of all, there's a positive energy in the line. People tend to talk to each other. And there's a lot of people-watching going on. They key is keeping people preoccupied.
We're on a very busy street, so there are a lot of cars going by and a lot of people waiting in line in all different kinds of clothes and looks, so it's visual. The other thing is, the food is interesting; it's also visual. We're over-the-counter, so someone can watch their food being made.
Have you ever thought of doing anything about the long line?
RICHARD: Well, originally we had what's called a crash-up system, where there'd be like five lines, but the problem with that was, if you got behind some guy who wanted 50 dogs to go, it just killed that night.
All we can do with the line is just that the employees work as fast as they possibly can.
The other solution would be to open alternate windows or maybe put out a cart for people who just want to grab a hot dog and go. But what's interesting about the line is that it is the most sincere form of mouth that there is. Anybody driving down our street and sees this huge line, they may not come in - they say, "oh my God, there's this huge line, I've got to wait an hour" - but they talk about it. They say, "That place must be really good; do you realize you have to wait as long in line there as you have to wait for a first-run movie?"
The line has become a way for us to convey to people, this must be pretty good.