The gig: Greg Dollarhyde, 61, runs Veggie Grill, where the CEO title, he says, stands for “chief energizing officer.” The Santa Monica fast-casual restaurant chain, which serves all plant-based food, was launched in 2006. The number of units doubled this year to 26 stores, and revenue is growing more than 50% a year. In more than four decades in the restaurant industry, Dollarhyde has served as the executive chairman or chief executive of eight businesses, including Baja Fresh Mexican Grill and Zoes Kitchen, and the chief financial officer for two public companies.
All but the picket fence: Dollarhyde’s childhood in the San Fernando Valley was “just like ‘American Graffiti,’ ” the 1973 baby boomer coming-of-age film by director George Lucas. There were baseball games in the street, skateboards, go-carts, a dog, a younger sister. Dollarhyde would cruise in his Ford Falcon Sprint down Van Nuys Boulevard to Bob’s Big Boy or a drive-in movie. He started working at age 14, selling flowers on corners, doing kitchen prep in a restaurant, even enduring a short stint as a gas station attendant. “By 17, I was ready to be on my own,” he said.
Start-up upsets: Dollarhyde moved to Newport Beach to help two friends launch a steakhouse. For a month, he worked at the eatery during the day and slept on the booths inside at night. Within a year and a half, one of Dollarhyde’s partners had embezzled the restaurant’s money and disappeared with his girlfriend. “It’s funny now, but it wasn’t funny then,” Dollarhyde said. With his remaining partner, he went to Lake Tahoe to open a restaurant called Harvest Moon. Three years later, a gas crisis hit, tourist traffic dwindled and a chain restaurant nearby began heavily discounting. “It was game over,” Dollarhyde said. Flat broke, he fled to San Francisco to wait tables. “I swore I would never do start-ups again,” he said. “I learned my lesson at age 23.”