OTJ ... with Dale Saunders

Photo by Barry Levine

Photo by Barry Levine

"On the Job With ..." is a weekly feature of Sunday Inc. that profiles a leader of the Southwest Georgia business community. In today's OTJ, staff writer Jim West interviews restaurateur Dale Saunders, who owns three establishments in Albany.

Q. If you were fresh out of school, what would you first do in searching for a job?

A. I'd make myself presentable before the interview. In my experience, too many people don't see the importance of dressing well. Some don't even have their shirts tucked in.

Q. What was your first job?

A. From the time I was about 10 years old, until I was 18, I worked for Fletcher's Exxon in Albany. It was a truck stop, too. Depending on how old I was at the time, I did a lot of things -- from pumping gas to driving a wrecker. When I was older, I even managed the place. At least I thought I did. That was where I got my work ethic, you could say. It taught me how to work.

Q. What was the first thing you bought when you got your first paycheck?

A. I can't remember a first real paycheck. In those days working was just something you were supposed to do. When I was younger, they just slipped me five or 10 dollars once in a while. I was 15 or 16 when I got my first real check, I think. I do remember getting a mini bike at JC Penney when I was about 12 years old.

Q. Who was your role model or mentor in your business?

A. Without a doubt, Robert Worsley was my early mentor. I'd even go so far as to give him most of the credit for my success. Robert was a laid-back, champion barbecue cook. He sold me my first serious meat cooker for $15,500, and Evanne thought I was crazy. He showed me a lot of unique recipes and ways to do things.

Q. How has the recession affected your business?

A. You know, it really hasn't affected it at all as far as I can see. We've been lucky that way.

Q. If you could turn back the clock on one aspect of technology (email, Internet, cell phones, etc.) what would it be?

A. I think technology is a good thing, and it's necessary. But the most irritating thing to me is getting on a telephone and not being able to talk to a human being.

Q. I am up and going by . . . ?

A. About six. But I do enjoy the flexibility to come in when I like. That's the great thing about being the boss.

Q. What is your favorite activity outside work?

A. Evanne and I do a lot of things together. We jet ski and camp. Just about anything outdoors. If there were just one thing, I guess it would have to be fishing. Evanne especially enjoys that.

Q. If you could take back one business decision in your career, what would it be?

A. Not a thing. I wouldn't take anything back because every decision -- right or wrong -- has taught me lessons that money can't buy.

Q. What's the best thing about you job?

A. Without a doubt, walking through my restaurant when people turn and say, "I promise, you have the best barbecue in town, hands down." It's uplifting to the spirit. I'm a businessman, but I'd rather have that than money.

Q. What's the worst thing about your job?

A. When my customers aren't satisfied for some reason. That makes it bad for me. You can't satisfy everybody all the time, and the customer isn't always right, but it's always the right thing to make sure they have a good experience.

Q. What would be your dream job?

A. If we could franchise River Front Bar-B-Q, that would be great. It will probably never happen, but I'd really love to do that.

Q. Finish this sentence: "On the first anniversary of my retirement I see myself . . . "

A. Taking a trip to Alaska with no timeline to do anything. Really, I just might make that trip before then.

Q. What is the one trait a business leader cannot be without?

A. Honesty and patience.

Q. What do you see as Albany's biggest economic challenge?

A. The growth and rebuilding of downtown Albany. I think that in the future we'll see some change, but it won't happen overnight. Downtown doesn't have a good reputation. We'll need to break ground in a serious way or do something real big to get it started.

Q. What are the biggest changes you've seen in your business over the past several years?

A. Food prices. They're really going up. Pork, especially, has just about doubled in the last two or three years. We haven't raised our prices yet, but I'm afraid it's coming.

Q. What was the best vacation you ever took?

A. Deep Creek Canyon in Maryland. It's up in the mountains near Pennsylvania. There was snow on the ground when we were there and it looked like a fairytale. I'd like to go back.