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Tom Ryan

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Profile

Tom Ryan is a prolific figure in the world of fast-food, having worked for over twenty years in marketing, branding, consumer research, and concept/product development for package goods and restaurant/retail companies. He is an alumni of Michigan State University, acquiring an undergaduate degree in food science, a Master's in lipid toxicology and his doctorate in flavor and fragrance chemistry.

Ryan entered the food industry soon after completing his doctorate, working at Proctor & Gamble followed by Pillsbury. At this stage, Ryan wanted to be more involved with the product, to combine his creativity with his love of culinary science. His skills were put to use in 1998, when Ryan began working at Pizza Hut as their Director of New Products, tasked with distinguishing Pizza Hut from the competition with their product. His innovations include the Stuffed Crust Pizza, the Lover's specialty pizzas, and the short-lived Bigfoot Pizza.

Following his success at Pizza Hut, Ryan worked with a team at McDonald's to identify and design a series of new products fitting the chain's on-the-go criteria. Ryan's "big win" at McDonald's was McGriddles, having created a sweet product that fit in with McDonald's existing savory breakfast items. Other hits include The Dollar Menu, Fruit 'n Yogurt Parfaits and the various McFlurries.

In recent years Ryan has been experimenting with new ideas, founding the fast-casual burger restaurant chain Smashburger in 2007. Since its inception, Smashburger has been a hit, even landing Forbes' accolade of America's Most Promising Company in 2011. A large part of Smashburger's success comes down to their unique cooking method--smashing them--made possible with a smashing tool of Ryan's design.

Ryan is currently a Managing Partner and Chief Concept Officer at Consumer Capital Partners alongside initial Smashburger investor Rick Shaden. He has created two more chains since Smashburger--Tom's Urban in 2012, and Live Basil Pizza in 2013--both of which promote sustainability and use locally-sourced ingredients.

Companies and Investments

Smashburger (Founder), Consumer Capital Partners (Managing Partner, Chief Concept Officer)

Lessons Learned

When faced with the commercial failure of the Bigfoot Pizza at Pizza Hut, Ryan learned that his job entailed not only creating an appealing product, but developing the story through which it can be sold to the consumer. While Pizza Hut at the time was known for their pan pizzas, the Bigfoot Pizza had a regular crust--a change that would catch customers off-guard. Customers assumed it would be a pan pizza, a factor Ryan hadn't considered when creating the product, and were soon turned off to the massive pie. While there was an initial interest, the product fell off the menu only a year and a half after its debut.

Inspiring Quotes

Tom Ryan's Quotes

When I die I want my soul to haunt the Luberon Valley, in the south of France in Provence. It is gorgeous, its a food mecca, its simple. The people who live there take for granted everything I admire every day, and can. Its beautiful.

Tom Ryan

have a couple of bad habits — wine and antique watches. I think the wine collection is the worst of the two evils. Im down to about 500 bottles.

Tom Ryan

The vision is only as good as the execution.

Tom Ryan

Smashburger is magic. We have struck a chord with consumers because of our great burgers, our menu variety, our service and our ambience.

Tom Ryan

I love the Midwest winters, the springs and falls and summers. Also, and not at the expense of Western folks, but I think there is a notion of practicality and pragmatics and humor that is unique to the Midwest, whether its Chicago or Minneapolis or wherever. I have an appreciation for it. Its different. We grew up there. You always long for what you grew up with.

Tom Ryan

Influential Books

Mentors

Joe Hesse (high school chemistry teacher)

References


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