Retro diner Johnny Rockets may not be the biggest company ever featured on 'Undercover Boss,' but it probably has the best dancers. It also probably has the worst dancers, ever since President and CEO John Fuller took a crack at showing his moves on national television.
"It was definitely the most embarrassing thing I've ever done and it caused me a lot of mental anguish," Fuller laughs as he describes trying to master the signature Johnny Rockets dances performed by servers. "I'm a big guy. I'm athletic, but I just can't dance."
Still, he says his 'Undercover Boss' experience was worth the humiliation. Even though Johnny Rockets can be found in 15 different countries, on cruise ships, in airports and casinos, "We only have 300 locations in 32 states, so some people might not know about us," Fuller says. "Now they can see that Johnny Rockets is a great place to have All-American fun, to get away, and to have excellent food."
Better at cooking than dancing? Not so much
Unless, of course, Fuller is making your burger. As a line cook on New York's Upper East Side, Fuller worked in food prep for the first time in his life. He didn't do well at the fry station -- couldn't remember all the burger combinations, couldn't cook fast enough and couldn't cook well enough (his burgers were pink inside). AJay, his supervisor, a rapper outside of work who has made a number of menu suggestions to corporate but has been ignored, was patient, however, even though he tossed the meal Fuller cooked him in the trash.
When Fuller revealed his true CEO identity to AJay, he offered to put his menu suggestion, an appetizing concoction of cheese, fries and mushrooms, on the menu on a trial basis. He also offered to fly AJay out to attend the American Music Awards in Los Angeles. AJay made the most of his connections, and is now talking to record producers.
He is no dancing king
Failing at preparing food, Fuller moved on to serving food at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncansville, Conn., which is the busiest restaurant in the system and one of the few franchises that serves breakfast. This is where the fateful dancing fiasco took place. Let's just say Fuller won't be a contestant on 'So You Think You Can Dance' any time soon.
Janice, the incredibly peppy server he worked with, however, had a fabulous attitude and showed Fuller the dance she'd choreographed, telling him the corporate dances "stink." She also told him she has four children at home, that she is the main bread winner, and that that day was the 11-year anniversary of the loss of her father.
Coincidentally, it was also Foster's 11-year-old daughter's birthday. The single father of two was moved to tears when he called home to wish his daughter a happy birthday, realizing that family time is all too short, and that he was missing his girls like crazy while he was was away on 'Undercover Boss' business.
In order to help Janice spend more time with her family, he gave them an all-expenses paid trip to the Grand Canyon, where Janice said her father had always wanted to go with the family. He's also paying her extra to create new dances for the corporation. In addition, he's starting a scholarship fund for her children, donating $2,000 each for the four of them.
A sporting chance at bar tending
While most Johnny Rockets have a retro-diner theme, a few throw sports into the mix. And where there's a sports bar, there's always a bartender -- that was Fuller's next assignment. It was also where his cover was almost blown when he ran into the owner's in-laws. Fuller turned out to be better at handling that situation than he did at mixing drinks. "I don't drink that much, but when I do, I'm kind of a beer guy," he says. "I would have mixed drinks 50-50, but I found out that's not how you're supposed to do it if you want to stay in business."
Fuller noticed that business was slow for a sports bar on a Monday night, but his supervisor, Claudia, was quick to reassure him that business does indeed pick up. Just the same, they went outdoors to pass out fliers to help drum up business. Fuller actually had a talk with that franchisee, when Claudia wasn't around, to tell him they needed to increase their efforts to find more business, or great workers like Claudia wouldn't hang around.
In order to get her to stay while they try to improve business, in the end, Fuller offered to pay her rent for a year.
Fuller had what was probably his most sobering moment at the Atlantic City restaurant, where he worked with Tony, a food runner who had served three years in prison for assaulting the man allegedly responsible for his beloved daughter's death. Once he was released from prison, he lived underneath the Atlantic City boardwalk for three months until he landed the job at Johnny Rockets, which he says has given him a whole new outlook on life.
Fuller was overwhelmed by his story, and offered to give Tony $5,000 to keep a roof over his head, donate $5,000 in the name of Tony's daughter to a children's charity, and send him and his other children on an all expenses paid trip to the amusement park of their choice.
Back up again
"I met some incredible people with some incredible stories," Fuller says of his 'Undercover Boss' experience, adding that it was well worth coloring his hair, combing it back, growing a goatee and long sideburns, and looking like "10 miles of bad road," as one of his colleagues put it.
His cover story was that he was one of two failed entrepreneurs competing to win their own franchise.
"We're growing fast -- by about 20 percent each year," Fuller says. "I hope we make Johnny Rockets an even better place for our employees, and that we got the message out that we're a classic, American diner that's all about food, fun and friendliness." Just don't ask him to dance again.