Restaurateur to Small Business Advocate
Hall, who is 67, has pursued several vocations over the years. The Western Michigan University graduate worked as a computer analyst—or, as Hall puts it, a “computer geek”—for Ford Motor Co. before the entrepreneurial bug bit him. “I was introduced to a fellow who had the franchise rights to Michigan for a Bonanza restaurant. So, after a lot of scurrying to raise the money, I started a Bonanza franchise in 1980,” he recalls.
Located on the border of Dearborn and Detroit, the restaurant flourished. A second location in Detroit proper followed two years later. The food was budget-friendly and plentiful: A 5-ounce rib eye with a baked potato, Texas toast, and all the salad you could eat cost just $2.99. Serving nearly 2,000 diners a week, with patrons queuing up outside the doors on weekends, Hall’s restaurants thrived. Then the growing popularity of poultry and fish as healthier alternatives to red meat stole the franchises’ thunder. “People still liked steak,” says Hall, “but instead of going to one of the restaurants three or four times a month they would come in once every other month, on special occasions. It’s a volume business, so I couldn’t hang on.”
To support his family of six, Hall took a position in the late 1980s as vice president of minority economic development for New Detroit, a nonprofit organization focused on tackling the city’s social and economic issues. Hall was recruited in 1990 to be president of the Michigan Minority Business Development Council (now the Michigan Minority Supplier Development Council) where he often spoke to large corporations about supporting employment and entrepreneurial growth in the Motor City. His efforts led to the then vice president of worldwide purchasing at GM, Harold Kutner, becoming the organization’s chairman. Kutner, in turn, recommended that Hall meet John Barth, then president and CEO of JCI, to gauge whether he would be a fit for the vacant vice chairman post.
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