Ask The CEO

Photography by Rebecca Baxter By Molly McCartney January 1, 2011

Lee Roy Selmon made a big name for himself as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer defensive lineman and later as a member of the National Football League’s Hall of Fame. Now he has returned to his roots to promote the values of hospitality and good food that he learned growing up as the youngest of nine children on a farm outside Eufaula, Okla. “My dad and mom always wanted our visitors to know they were welcome, and they would go to the extreme to get the house straightened up, to make people feel welcome. Now I want everyone who comes to the door of our restaurants to have that welcoming experience as well as our good food,” says Selmon, 56. He is the brand and face of the Lee Roy Selmon sports restaurants, which feature Selmon family recipes at six locations from Tampa to Fort Myers. Selmon partnered with Outback Restaurant co-founders Chris Sullivan and Bob Basham to open the first Lee Roy Selmon restaurant in 2000.

How did farm life help your restaurant career? We worked about 80 acres. We had horses, mules, wagons, plows and nine kids. I was the youngest. As soon as we were old enough, we were expected to help. There were animals to feed. If it was planting season, you planted crops. In the summer months, you weeded. In the fall, it was harvest time. We grew cotton, corn and grain to feed the hogs, horses and mules. My mom had a large garden with many vegetables, mostly for the family. She would cook all our meals, and early on, before we had a gas line running to the house, she cooked on a wood stove. We had homemade biscuits and a lot of other good food. My parents didn’t have a lot of money, but what they gave us was invaluable. I bring all those teachings and ideas for good food to what I do now.

Size of your business? We have about 400 employees working at six restaurants in Southwest Florida—two in Tampa, one each in St. Pete, Bradenton, Sarasota and Fort Myers. Since we opened in 2000, we have served more than 1 million people. We have filled about 32,000 orders for fried green tomatoes.

How are sales? It’s trending upward. Customer count is up. We’re up partly because the economy is better, but also because our staff works very hard.

What is your business motto? I liken it to my career in sports. No one is going to let you win. You have to go out and earn it.

Toughest part of your job? There isn’t one. I enjoy it too much.

Best part of your job? The food. You can tell that by the size I am—6 feet, 3 inches and 250 pounds.

Three words that describe you? Humble, energetic, easygoing.

Tips for managing people? As athletic director at the University of South Florida, I always told the staff that I would never fire anybody. I said you could fire yourself. If we have in place a clear outline of your responsibilities, and you are carrying out your responsibilities with integrity, you are going to be fine.

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