A lifelong education: Scott Colosi (BBA ’86), Distinguished Alumni Award winner

Scott Colosi
Scott Colosi

One of the greatest lessons Scott Colosi ever learned happened one Friday night in a Pensacola Pizza Hut.

Business was brisk and Colosi, who was helping the team take orders and prepare pizzas, watched as the crew made pizzas faster than they could go through the oven. Pizzas were stacking up, delivery guys were growing frustrated and the phone continued to ring, and ring.

“This restaurant had a double-decker oven — two levels, two conveyors. I asked the manager ‘why don’t you have a third oven?’ The manager tells me ‘corporate says I don’t do enough sales,’ ” Colosi says. “But I’m standing there and I can see the pizzas stacking up. If corporate is looking at the whole week of sales they might come to that conclusion, but if our data says most of your sales are on Friday night and Saturdays, it would justify another oven. This guy is doing all he can, all the right things, but we haven’t given him the tools to better grow his business and take care of our guests.

“It always stuck with me — you can’t make a decision without digging deeper sometimes,” Colosi adds. “There’s no substitute for being in the restaurant.”

For the better part of 30 years, that’s where Colosi has been. First with Burger King, on through Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, KFC and now as president of Texas Roadhouse, Colosi spent his career in the food business leading the best way he knows how — by being there.

“You’re going to school the whole time. I didn’t realize this for a number of years,” Colosi says.

Hired as CFO for Texas Roadhouse in 2002, Colosi was named the company’s president in 2011. The Louisville-based chain was privately held when he became CFO and operated 120 restaurants, but now the publicly traded company owns and operates more than 550 restaurants in 49 states and seven countries. With founder and CEO Kent Taylor, Colosi sets about ensuring the company stays true to its motto — “Legendary Food, Legendary Service.”

“My role is to recognize people and try to get us to work better together,” Colosi says. “Culture is important, so is how we operate and reinforce our core values, which are passion, partnership, integrity, and fun with purpose. Texas Roadhouse is by far and away the best company I have ever worked for.”

“Scott’s grounded and sincere and cares — about his job, about other people and his Texas Roadhouse team,” says Scott Gregor, a longtime friend and president of Buffalo Construction, the company that builds each new Texas Roadhouse. “He likes to have fun with them and brings energy with him. Scott’s not a behind-the-door kind of guy.”

Colosi’s circuitous route to Texas Roadhouse started in Miami, Fla., where the sports-minded kid spent days excelling in the classroom, and afternoons and weekends going to the beach. Though his parents divorced when he was 2, he had a great relationship with both his dad, an accountant who ran a small CPA firm, and mom, who worked her way up from an administrative assistant to become a human resources manager.

When it came time to look at colleges, his main goal was to find somewhere new in a place that could nurture his natural ability in math, but not too far away from his South Florida home. Georgia fit the bill.

“I wanted to go away, all I knew was Miami. I went to visit Florida, Florida State and I’m thinking ‘All I’m going to do is hang out with my high school buddies.’ I loved my buddies, yet I also wanted to meet new people and experience something new,’” Colosi says. “Going to Georgia was great, I lived in Russell freshman year, went to all the Georgia-Florida games. I met a lot of wonderful people and have tremendously fond memories. I always felt the classwork was challenging and all of my professors were pushing us hard.”

He picked finance, a major he chose more out of gut-feeling than anything else. “I did what I felt made sense,” Colosi says. “I knew I was built for this financial side. In finance you’re trying to tell a story, you’re trying to say what can or can’t be in the world.”

On his collegiate path, he met Earl Leonard, a mentor who Colosi says stressed the concept of “being available” to those seeking advice and help. Colosi was thinking about getting an MBA and Leonard, seeing him as “not one of those people who starts working and then quits working and goes back to school,” told Colosi to go straight through. He took Leonard’s advice and headed to Florida to start the MBA program.

But a year into the program a summer internship in Miami with Distron, Burger King’s food distributor, turned into a job offer. Colosi wanted to complete his degree, so Burger King made him an offer: Transfer to the University of Miami, work for us, and we’ll pay for graduate school.

He happily agreed. A year later the move back home proved fortuitous for another reason.

“I met my wife Elena at Burger King,” Colosi says. “I was in the distribution side going to grad school at night, she worked for Burger King in their Miami division office and she’s also going to grad school at night and we have a class together. We know each other from being in the Burger King world. Turns out she grew up 10 minutes from me.”

As a newlywed and newly-minted MBA graduate, Colosi’s first assignment was solving his employer’s distribution puzzles, but two years later he exchanged logistics and burgers for finance and pizza, moving to Wichita, Kan., to work with Pizza Hut. Two years later, Colosi was tapped to determine why Pizza Huts in Puerto Rico, St. Croix and St. Thomas were struggling financially. After Colosi and his team turned the fortunes of those restaurants around, he was named finance coach in Pizza Hut’s Florida division, which included 600 restaurants from Macon to Key West.

“It was my first experience being out in the field where you’re in restaurants all the time,” Colosi says. “I learned the dynamics of restaurant operations — the people side, the consequences of turnover, what are short-term things that are stupid, what are long-term things that make more sense. I learned what rewards and incentives motivate people and which ones don’t.”

After a career working for subsidiaries, he made the jump to a parent company in Louisville-based Tricon, which would become YUM! Brands. In addition to Pizza Hut, YUM! Brands operates KFC and Taco Bell, and as part of the financial department, Colosi got experience dealing with Wall Street, a board of directors and the international business of their restaurant chains.

The journey culminated in 2002 when Texas Roadhouse came calling. “That was cool,” Colosi says. “I love that Texas Roadhouse is an operations driven company. We run restaurants, make all the food from scratch, are heavily staffed, have great service, great energy, and are much more a hospitality company.”

For Scott and Elena’s family, which includes their sons, Nicolas and Christopher, and daughter Emily, Louisville would remain home. Being in one place gave Colosi the opportunity to better practice “being available,” and he has served on a variety of nonprofit boards throughout Louisville, including Leadership Louisville, Louisville Metro Police Foundation, and The Healing Place, a nationally recognized drug and alcohol addiction recovery program, where Colosi served on the Board for six years including two as Board Chair.

“When he was our board chair, we had a plan to take on a $29 million building project. We could not have accomplished that project without Scott’s leadership,” says Karyn Hascal, Healing Place president in Louisville. “We raised all the money, the construction is done. It all went well, exactly as planned, and Scott was instrumental in guiding us cautiously and thoughtfully through that process. It’s huge for our community, and he got nothing for that except a lot of extra work and, sometimes, some real stress.”

Close friend Scott Gregor is no longer surprised by Colosi’s unflappable approach to tall orders.

“Scott’s a thinker, he’s not a quick trigger. He asks a lot of questions before decisions get made,” he says. “He has a thought pattern behind everything. He’s very approachable, compassionate, and he cares.”

After more than three decades in the food business, Colosi has the confidence to lead but knows there’s always more to learn.

“It’s a lifelong education,” he says. “And I’m still getting it, by the way. Many times I feel like I’m just getting started.”