In 1997, Thompson formed a partnership with Compass Group North America, a division of publicly traded global food service provider Compass Group PLC. The joint venture, Thompson Hospitality Services L.L.C., gave majority owner THC economies of scale enabling it to purchase large quantities of food and supplies at a deep discount. And over the past five years, the company has expanded its reach into healthcare. It has also re-entered the retail arena with ownership of 23 outlets that include Austin Grill restaurants; Marvelous Market, gourmet-style convenience stores; and American Tap Room, a bar and grill in Reston,Virginia, with another location scheduled to open this summer. (see chart on next page). THC now consists of five lines of business:
Retail (10%) incorporates casual dining restaurants and a local chain of Tex-Mex restaurants as well as a gourmet convenience store bakery concept. This group also includes a car wash business, Ashburn Car Wash.
Business and industry (38%) focuses on corporate dining, providing cafeteria food services, vending, and coffee service to large corporations around the U.S.
Education (36%) provides food services to colleges and universities as well as K–12 school districts.
Healthcare (8%) contracts with hospitals across the country to offer food services.
Facilities management (8%) provides janitorial services, window washing, landscaping, concierge service, and mail room management to corporations as well as colleges and universities. Like a savvy investor, Thompson has structured a balanced portfolio of businesses to minimize risk. “The economy hurt the retail part of the business but it really helped the contract side of the business,” says Thompson, a 1981 graduate of Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia who earned an M.B.A. from University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. “During these economic hard times, we have seen an increase in the number of students eating in the cafeterias in urban school districts. We have also seen about a 9% growth in students on historically black college campuses over the last three years.”
His executive team watches the numbers closely, though. “We have a saying in the company: ‘You manage the nickels and the dollars will take care of themselves.’ We do a weekly operating report and it’s shared all the way up to Warren’s level,” says Shawn O’Quinn, senior vice president of business development. “We flash these numbers, as we call it, which shows all the controls and the metrics and the dashboard reporting in every location in every type of business. It’s all there for the entire executive team to review and comment on. We’ve got to figure out a way to save money and be able to stay competitive or somebody else will come in.”
Entrepreneurship was in Thompson’s blood. Growing up in Windsor, a rural Virginia town about 180 miles south of Washington, D.C., his late father taught him the importance of having multiple streams of income. Both parents were educators; his mother, Ruby, taught home economics, and his father taught math. “I became very good at math, and I could also cook. That sort of gave me the groundwork for getting into the restaurant business at a very early age,” Thompson says. In fact, one of the early businesses the Thompson family ran was a hog farm.