Graham Hallen – Egg Harbor Café
On a bright sunny morning in 2014, Graham Hallen and his business partner at Egg Harbor Café were on a 1.5-hour drive to the Rockford, Illinois, location. They were apprehensive about the visit as, due to unforeseen circumstances, the entire kitchen staff and much of the wait staff had quit—almost on the same day, which happened to be Mother’s Day.
According to Hallen, Mother’s Day is Egg Harbor Café’s highest volume day of the year. He and his partner were emotionally wrought and racing to the location to manage everything from supporting the remaining staff to cooking, cleaning, and serving customers—all while trying to recruit new staff and chefs.
These thoughts were running through Hallen’s mind when, at around 6 a.m., his partner yelled at him to hit the brakes. There, in the middle of the deserted road, was a horrendous automobile accident, with one man unconscious in the road and another hanging halfway out the window of an overturned truck with a broken leg.
They called for help and stayed with both men until the police and ambulance arrived—both men made a full recovery.
“That’s the kind of company Egg Harbor is and the type of culture we cultivate; people come first,” says Hallen, who started with the company as a server in June 2007 and is its current head of brand growth.
Egg Harbor Café, which serves breakfast, brunch and lunch, has 16 locations across Illinois, including two in Chicago. One is in Streeterville and the other, in River North, opened in February 2023. A 17th location is planned to open in Evanston by fall of 2023. The company, which has over 800 employees, also has four locations in Georgia with two more on the way, and one in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.
Part of Hallen’s growth strategy is to grow location availability and accessibility through the Chicagoland and Atlanta regions. He says the company plans to open eight new restaurants within the next few years.
In his role, Hallen focuses on finding new locations, designing the restaurants and managing the general contractors and buildouts. He says he does this while keeping the family-owned environment present in its current locations. This means everything from decor to kitchen efficiencies and branding all the way down to locally sourced furnishings. Hallen is currently working on re-branding, re-investing in and renovating various locations so the presentations are consistent.
One of Egg Harbor’s long-term goals across current and new locations is establishing regular customers whom they know by name.
“It’s not just about having more buildings but creating an oasis, one that people want to enjoy over and over again, regardless of which location they visit,” Hallen says.
A sizzling career
Egg Harbor Café’s culture is the main reason he joined the company in 2007 as a server, just months after graduating from Trinity International University with his bachelor’s degree in counseling and social services. And it’s why he’s never left.
In the 16 years he’s been with the restaurant, Hallen has worked his way up into corporate management, created a centralized kitchen and developed company-wide preventative maintenance initiatives. He was promoted to his current position as head of brand growth in June 2020.
Hallen has recently expanded his development department by creating a new head of community engagement role and promoting a dedicated team member to the head of facilities.
Hallen reached his current position and title through hard work and vision, he says—and the unwavering support from the organization’s leadership.
“The people-first approach that exemplifies the Egg Harbor Café culture is why I’ve never worked anywhere else,” he says.
View this feature in the Blueprint Vol. VII 2023 Edition here.
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