Joe Casper told his son that when he turned 14, he had to play a sport or go to work.
He didn’t give him a third option.
So Blake Casper found himself in a McDonald’s in Carrollwood learning the business from the ground up. The lessons he got there went far beyond manning the grill and running the cash register.
“I think it was great training and great exposure,” Casper told me last week. “Most important, it taught me what it meant to be part of a team. Work is like sports. Your teammates are counting on you, you’re counting on them. There were a lot of times I showed up late or I showed up not ready to work and I had to learn about the consequences. That was probably the most important lesson.”
Casper said he eventually realized he had to take ownership of every act in his workplace, which gave him the confidence to take risks. Now, at a time when he could be kicking back and enjoying his reign over the 64 McDonald’s owned by the company he operates with his sister Alison Adams and her husband Robby Adams, he continues to take chances.
Casper, 45, has guided his team into the creation of experiential restaurants in downtown Tampa (the Oxford Exchange) and inside Johns Hopkins All Childrens Hospital in St. Petersburg (The Peabody). He’s overseeing work on a similar project in Baltimore that will transform a former bank building into an upscale restaurant.
Meanwhile, Caspers Service Company, an umbrella organization that offers a range of services for commercial outlets (especially restaurants), recently moved into a new facility just north of the Florida State Fairgrounds.
CSC, as Casper calls it, provides everything from HVAC, construction and plumbing to equipment and kitchen design. Cox Electric, a well-known area brand, also operates under CSC.
Why is he stoking his entrepreneurial spirit instead of resting on his laurels and eating Egg McMuffins every morning?
“I’m still eating Egg McMuffins,” Casper said. “I’m doing both.”
It’s a noteworthy balance. McDonald’s thrives because of its systematic framework, consistency and speed. But the independent restaurants Casper is building require a focus on the unique.
“People want individual, independent places that tell a story,'' he said. "Everything has to have this experiential component to it. But at the same time, we have to execute to make a business of it.”
Sometimes the execution runs into challenges. Casper’s plans to turn South Tampa’s historic Stovall House into a private dining entity drew the ire of some residents and grew into a contentious zoning dispute at Tampa City Council.
Casper, who eventually gained council approval, insists his plans won’t disrupt the upscale neighborhood near Bayshore Boulevard and said the dispute took him by surprise. But his ambition continues to show few bounds.
At its core is a simple element.
“It’s fun,” Casper said. “Life is short. You gotta get out there. It’s a great way to live a life.”
Something tells me if Joe Casper had allowed his son to sit around the house and enjoy the spoils of wealth, Blake Casper’s definition of fun wouldn’t involve taking risks or fostering teamwork.
That’s all I’m saying.