Chris Stong was a telemarketer at age 14. Literally, his employers had him call names out of a phone book to sell whatever “slipshod, crazy idea they had talked people into doing that week.”
“It was miserable,” he said.
His father, Neal, needed a dishwasher at one of his NuWay Burgers restaurants.
“It looked like a real move up in the world,” Chris Stong said.
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He’s been working for the 84-year-old chain, known for its crumbly burgers, ever since.
Stong calls himself director of operations, but he says he doesn’t actually have an official title.
“What should I tell people my title is?” he said he asked his father once.
“He said, ‘Vice president.’ I said, ‘Of what?’ He said, ‘Of everything.’”
Q. 1 Your father hired you, but that’s not who you initially worked for, right?
A. My dad told me, “If the manager wants to fire you … it’s up to him. … This is a job. This is a responsibility. You need to take it seriously. I got you in the door. That’s it.” I can report that I took it seriously.
Q. 2 What were some of the lessons you learned as the years progressed?
A. With that kind of experience, you just learn what’s important in making business work day to day. You have to have customer service. You have to work hard. … You’ve got to try every day. You have to be the best you can in every situation.
Q. 3 Some of your fellow downtown Rotarians have offered you advice. What is it?
A. A lot of people have come up to me knowing what I do, knowing who my dad is. They say these are irreplaceable years that you have a chance to spend in a family business with your dad that people who don’t work in a family company never get. A lot of these guys are older than me and have been in family businesses, and their fathers have frankly gone on. … They say they miss it. They remind me all the time to cherish those times.
Q. 4 When NuWay started more than eight decades ago, there were hardly any national chains. How has the business survived against so much more competition since then?
A. God, those were the days. I wish I had been there. … There was so little competition, in fact, the owner and his wife would close roughly about Christmas till roughly about tax time. … They’d go to Florida.
Q. 5 What’s your favorite item on the NuWay menu?
A. NuWay Deluxe, extra juicy. (We have a) cast iron machine. It’s like a gigantic, half-the-size-of-a-bathtub cast iron pan, and there is a slope inside the cooker that allows us to vary … what level of juices the customer gets. … Our regulars know exactly how they like it.