Lawler Foods: Following 'Plan A'

by Shane Whitaker
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Mike Lawler basically grew up in the cheesecake business. Through his teen years and during college, he worked in almost every department in the company. About two years ago, the 38-year-old took over the reins of the family business.

“I started out in menial, easy-to-trust-a-teenager jobs such as packaging, and then into decorating and mixing, and oven room and warehouse, delivery truck and sales,” he said, rattling off the positions he worked during summer and winter breaks while he was in high school and away at college. “My breaks weren’t spent exclusively here, but that is when sales or delivery drivers like to take vacation.

“I think the experience of working going through school gives you a perspective on work, and that has helped a lot,” he continued. “I worked through the facilities in just about every department. It helps immensely in a managerial role to have such perspective, especially when you have different departments coming to you to get a point across or when they bicker with one another.”

After earning a bachelor’s degree in finance at Texas A&M University, Mr. Lawler received an associate’s degree at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), Hyde Park, NY, studying in the culinary arts program for two years. “My parents said, ‘Don’t think you are going to graduate college and at 21 come in here and start calling the shots.’ They were still heavily involved at the time,” he added. “They said, ‘The place may burn down. We may sell it. Business may go away. You never know. You can’t rely on building your entire plan around this. You need to be able to go and support yourself if you need to.’”

So while CIA was a Plan B, Mr. Lawler’s time there also has been beneficial to running the family business. “I like to look at it as my own little master’s degree program on how to run a food business,” Mr. Lawler said. “I can connect better with our pastry chefs. On top of that, we deal with chefs in the industry. We have to convince corporate chefs that there are legitimate reasons why our desserts are superior. It also doesn’t hurt that you gain some connections in that industry. You can talk to others whom you met along the way and bounce some ideas off of one another, or if you see them at trade shows, they may be working for your customers or suppliers.”

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