Pancakes, Queso & EBITDA: How an iconic Austin Restaurant utilizes a big heart and open book management to scale

Restaurants have a notoriously high failure rate and the ones that survive often have razor thin margins. 60 percent of restaurants close or change ownership in the first year of business, 80 percent fail within five years.

The fact that Kerbey Lane Cafe in Austin, Texas serves food is almost where the similarities end between Kerbey Lane and most other restaurants. For over 25 years, they’ve done business differently: from hiring to training everyone (down to the table bussers) how their role contributes to the company’s EBITA goal using open book management.

Today we are talking to Mason Ayer, the CEO of this unique business. He explains how this family-owned restaurant chain, started by his parents, has always seen their business as more than merely serving food. That passion made Kerbey Lane Cafe an Austin Icon with seven unique locations. Mason, the recent winner of the Best CEO award by the Austin Business Journal, shares the insight he’s learned from running the business from a genuinely open book and a big heart.

You’ll hear the victories – and struggles – they encountered on the way. You’ll also hear how their leadership style made it all possible.

This episode of the For You Leaders Podcast covers a lot of ground, some of the highlights include:

  • The advice Mason shares with people on the verge of making a significant change in their life.
  • The secret sauce Mason attributes to Kerbey Lane Cafe’s continued growth and success and how you can apply these same principles in your business.
  • How Kerbey Lane Cafe uses Open Book Management to empower employees with financial information to help meet the goals of the business.
  • The Open Book Management numbers he gives everyone in the business (and the numbers he doesn’t).
  • How he aligns everyone with an EBITA goal
  • Why Kerbey Lane Cafe gives every hourly employee financial education, even when Mason knows that most employees will not stay at Kerbey Lane Cafe.
  • Mason’s journey from pivoting in a career as an attorney to becoming the CEO of the family business.
  • How Mason intentionally got out of his comfort zone to be an incredible, For You Leader.
  • The way he views work/life balance with his wife as the controller of the business.
  • Mason’s favorite restaurants (besides Kerbey Lane Cafe!)
  • The one job he recommends everyone have at least once in their life.
  • The impact of having ESPN College Gameday at your business

Listen to more of Kirk Dando’s leadership podcasts.


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