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Speaker Stories: Martha Hoover, Founder of Patachou

Jan 25th, 2017

The power of forward thinking and collaboration is at the core of the success of Martha Hoover, founder of the Patachou empire.

Before opening her first restaurant in 1989, Martha didn’t have any food industry experience. In fact, she was a lawyer, who had worked with the Indianapolis sex crimes team, only the second unit of its kind established in the United States. She was looking to open a restaurant for herself and to serve her neighborhood with a place that created a home away from home feeling and featured high-quality food. With this, Cafe Patachou was born.

It took nearly three years for Martha and her team to realize that they had something special with their business. But with this realization came great responsibility – something that manifested for Martha in the form of what she calls a “Jerry Maguire” moment. Shooting awake at 3 a.m. one morning, she was hit with two thoughts: how can I get everything done for the business while also dealing with what needs to be done in my home life, and if we aren’t prepared everything can come crashing down. A fervent goal setter herself, (she sets them for her personal life, business and family and reviews them every three months) Martha realized that Patachou needed a company vision to serve as a guiding light for all employees to hit both professional and personal goals. Together with her team, they put together the 2020 vision of Patachou. “It’s the power of collaborative thinking and kindness. If I’m the one doing all the talking, I don’t learn anything,” said Martha.

Based on five key elements, the 2020 vision addresses all the areas that are important to the Patachou franchise, but also to its employees. This includes continuing to support family and small farms for their food sourcing, offering compelling customer service, practicing environmentally-sound sustainability practices and two other critical areas: commitment to community and to staff.

For employees, Patachou offers professional training, but also classes that empower people in their own lives. “Relationships have to be given 100% and expect 100% in return. You have to share with your staff what you expect of them, but also what they can expect of you,” says Martha. Classes include a finance workshop – which 30% of employees take advantage of – as well as goal setting courses. The company also started the Patachou Employee Relief Fund, which provides a safety net fund, completely seeded and administered by the staff, for the benefit of fellow employees who may need help with an emergency.

For the community, the Patachou Foundation was started to give back. Though the company had previously given gifts to those in need, Martha and her team didn’t feel as though the giving was having an impact with employees or customers, no matter the amount of dollars shared. After a chance run-in with a customer at a doctor’s office, Martha decided to focus the giving in one area – impoverished children. By giving healthy food and empowering children and families to make healthy meal choices, the Patachou Foundation now helps to feed 1,000 per week.

Martha is not only an entrepreneur, but an advocate for women in the Indianapolis business community. “We need to stop the negative cultural narrative around women. By speaking up for other women in the workplace, especially large corporations, and in their lives, we can do better for each other,” says Martha. She also advises women to embrace failure – it is what you learn from the failure that really matters. “Owning up to a mistake and studying it is how you ensure it doesn’t happen again.”

So how did she learned to balance a business that is on the verge of opening its 15th restaurant in 28 years and an active personal life? She remains positive and dives into the deep end of every project. “I am not risk adverse and I don’t enter a project thinking that it will fail or with a plan B,” says Martha. Learning to delegate has also helped. Once she figured out what she could do and what others could do, it made her free to spend her time doing the things that she was best at executing. “The challenge is to find people that you trust and that understand your company vision and how to evaluate and measure performance,” said Martha. By letting people understand how they fit in the vision of the company and letting them know they are accountable, you create a space that breeds diversity of thought and talent. “That is what makes you succeed.”

Want to connect with Martha? Check her out on Twitter at @marthahoover15!

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Martha Hoover at LIW event