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Inspiration, People

You may not have heard of Phil Romano, but chances are, youve enjoyed a meal in one of his restaurants. Maybe it was a Fuddruckers (150 locations worldwide) or a Romanos Macaroni Grille (190 locations worldwide). Or how about Nick & Sam’s Steakhouse, Who’s Who Burgers or eatZis Market & Bakery? Through these successful ventures, his Dallas-based company, Romano’s Concepts, has generated more than $10 billion in revenue and continues to produce $1 billion in sales each year.

But Phil Romano feels most successful when he turns his entrepreneurial vision to projects that help people, and even save lives. To help feed the homeless in Dallas, he and his wife Lillie created Hunger Busters; today it feeds and clothes over 70,000 people a year. Keenly interested in medical advances, Romano was one of the original investors in the Palmer-Schatz cardiovascular device, the heart stent that has saved millions of lives. Eventually purchased by Johnson & Johnson, Inc., it is considered to be one of the patents that have changed the world. Now hes helping another potentially life-saving idea get off the ground.

Nation’s Restaurant News magazine named Romano one of the top 20 restaurateurs in 2000 and “Innovator of the Year” in 1995. It cited eatZi’s Market & Bakery as the “Hot Concept of the Year” in 1996. The following year, Advertising Age magazine named Romano one of the “top 100 innovative and inspiring marketers who have most successfully established or repositioned a brand.”

Life is good for Phil Romano and his family, and if he can help his fellow man, he’s more than willing to do it. Recently, I had a chance to sit down and talk with Romano about the people who inspire him, the role of passion and vision in his life, and the rewards of being able to change peoples lives for the better.

Did you always want to be an entrepreneur?

I feel like Ive never worked a day in my life because I love what I am doing. Ive never collected a paycheck from anyone else. I had businesses when I was in collegea couple of karate studiosand at the time I was making more money than the professors who were teaching me. Before I got out of school I got into the restaurant business. So I was always writing my own check.

I think that being an entrepreneur and being successful is survival of the unfit. Not survival of the fittest. At least, when it comes to taking orders, I am unfit. I couldn’t hold a job. I couldn’t have other people making decisions my livelihood depended on. And I don’t like doing the same thing over and over again. I realized early that if I was going to survive, I needed to be in business for myself. So I created my own success and my so-called career doing what I am doing. 

Being an entrepreneur, you are out on your own, all by yourself. You start out to do something and people call you stupid or crazy and say it’s never going to work, its insane. You do it anyway and then, when it works, they call you an entrepreneur!

Do you feel that you are a risk-taker?

I have been very, very, very lucky and very fortunate. You ask yourself sometimes, why me? I think that Ive done stupid things, made stupid business decisions, but those decisions got me where I am today. I did things that the Harvard boys wouldn’t have thought about doing, but I did them and they worked. I was just stupid enough to do them. That is the difference.

Describe your thoughts on being a visionary?

I think its important to be able to see things that other people don’t see. When I look at something, a lot of times I can see a better way to do it. For some reason it is clear to me. 

Problems motivate mecoming up with the answer and figuring it out in a unique and different way. I am 65 years old and Im still going. You have to be doing something. So I keep on doing things. I love doing restaurants. Its a passion and a hobby for me. I also enjoy mentoring and I have great mentoring relationships. I enjoy seeing people grow and build careers for themselves. It is really rewarding for me. 

What role does passion play in your life?

Passion is a key. Without passion, your life is nothing. My passion comes from making people happy.

Passion is the thing that you feel when something just possesses you. Like when you are falling in love. I remember when I met my wife, Lillie. You meet someone and fall in love and bangevery waking minute you are thinking of that person. You can’t wait to please that person and be with that person. When I develop a new concept, I get that feeling again. I think constantly of it and I am possessed by it. I have to get out there and create it. I have to spend the time to make it perfect. I am passionate about bringing it into existence.

I’m an artist too, and its the same thing with a piece of art. I dont know where its going to end up, but when I finally get it done, I say, damn, that came from somewhere inside of me! I created something from nothing. Its something I like and it makes me feel good, so its got to make other people feel good.

Thats what I think of passion. We have the ability to know what makes us feel good and what we need in life. If we can go out and produce that thing that makes us feel good, then other people are going to want it too.

What is your personal definition of success?

I guess in life you do what you like to do. Whatever you like to do is what you are going to be able to do best. I like creating concepts, but I don’t like to get involved in the day-to-day operations. I like to do unique things, different things. I would rather fail at something that is unique than be successful at something that is the same as everyone else.

I used to say that it wasn’t the sweet smell of success that made me work hard, it was fear of failure. If I fail, then I fail, and I’m dead in the water. I am an entrepreneur, so I have to pick myself up. But I had good advice from my father. He would always say that a successful man is someone who does something he can succeed at. And when you do successful things, then you are successful.

Is their a spiritual element in your life?

I am not a religious guy, but I am spiritual. I don’t believe that I achieved my success all by myself. I have some help. I talk to God every morning. Its not just praying, but talking and communicating with Him. I pray for my family and for myself, that I become a better person and a good role model. I want to be a better role model for my son, and for my employees and other people, so I try to do good things and to be good. Its not easy being a good role model. You have to work at it. 

What inspires you about Hunger Busters?

Lillie and I get so much back from Hunger Busters and the people we meet. Hunger Busters may be one of the most selfish things I have ever done. I set up the project because it makes me feel good to do it. I worry about the homeless. They are people that many want to forget ever existed. 

What I am doing with Hunger Busters is saying, this is my community and it starts here. Its up to us, the citizens of the community, to take care of the community. Not Washington, D.C., not the government, but us. We are here and we are human beings and we should take care of our community. So we are doing something to make a difference. We are feeding the homeless people and clothing them, and giving them the chance to stay alive and keep warm and have the opportunity to be healthy and functional.

We see many people who are drunk or on drugs. Well, that is their choice. I am not there to be judgmental. I am there to feed another human being who is hungry. The idea started with a friend of mine who is a priest. Father John buried my father and baptized my son. When I built my house here, I built a place for him.

At first, we thought about doing a soup kitchen downtown. I wanted to charge a lot of money to an upscale crowd and use the money we made from them to feed the homeless. So I started researching it. But then I saw the trucks that feed the construction workers drive by. And I thought, why don’t we take that idea and put our meal on wheels?

When we first went out there we fed only fifty or sixty people. Gradually they began to trust us and know us and know that we were going to be there. We haven’t missed a night in four years. Now we are part of their lives. We have built their trust up, built our customers up, and the quality of our food.

It was funny. It was like sitting down and starting a business, looking at the location and what kinds of clientele are in the area, what they like and dont like. When we first went out there we started feeding them apples. Well, they couldnt eat apples because of their teeth. Now we serve them bananas.

When we started Hunger Busters, people couldnt figure out why we were doing this. Theyd come us to us when we were serving food and say, “What do you want me to do for this? Do you want me to pray?  Do you want me to sing?”  They couldn’t understand why we were giving food away with no strings attached. What is important is that they began to know that someone was out there who cared about them. 

So give back to the community that you live in. Make it stronger. This is a big part of being successful. 

How do you choose to impact humanity?

I have always believed that if you are going to do something, then do something that is going to affect a big market, something that everybody needs, and something good that can really help people. 

Years ago, a couple of doctors came to me and said they wanted me to look at a project they were working on. My attorneys said don’t do it. My accountants said don’t do it. But I liked these two doctors, I liked the product and the market, and I felt like it was going to make a lot of money and help a lot of people. So, I decided to do it. I committed at the time a quarter of a million dollars. The doctors continued to do their research and the work that they did best, and I stepped in to do what I did best. We ended up selling it to Johnson and Johnson for $10 million. 

The product is the heart stent, the device that holds a heart valve open during angioplasty surgery. Today it has made almost $600 million. So here is an investment that people told me not to make, but I did anyway. And weve saved lives. What appealed to me about it was how it would impact humanity. To this day I think to myself, wow! A lot of people would not be alive today had I not invested in this. I get thank-you cards from friends I grew up with saying, you saved my life. All I can tell you is, wow, that is a great feeling. 

Today I am involved with something new that is really exciting, helping people with obesity. Obesity is a major problem. It is an epidemic, and therefore a good market for something that helps people.

Currently, the most radical procedure that you can do for obesity is stomach stapling, which reduces the size of the stomach. There is about a 2% mortality rate with the procedure, and it is irreversible. To my way of thinking, it is just not good. You can find yourself back in the hospital with many complications. And it can cost in excess of thirty thousand dollars.

Again, a couple of doctors came to me and told me about a new procedure they were doing. They had just started and already it had been FDA approved. It is a band that is put on your stomach. Your stomach is essentially a tube, and when they put this band around the stomach, it makes it like an hourglass. The procedure is done as outpatient surgery . You go in the morning and it takes forty-five minutes. And it is reversible. If you have any problems, you can go in and have them take it out. It costs about $15,000 and insurance companies are paying for it. It can be done in surgical centers and the market is growing. So we want to buy surgical centers. 

What I like about it is that it is a creative specialty that is helping people. The patients are losing up to 10 pounds a month. And when theyve lost all the weight they want, they can come back to have the band taken out. These doctors are taking morbidly obese people and helping them to reshape their bodies. It’s like taking a big block of granite and making a masterpiece.

Today there are groups of people who are evangelical about this procedure. I love this because I am doing something that is changing people’s lives, possibly even keeping them from needing a heart stent! It builds so much self-esteem for both men and women in the way they feel about themselves. Many times the whole dynamic of the persons personal relationships changes with their spouse and others. I feel that I am helping people get healthy, and that is very rewarding. These are the things that give an intrinsic value to what you are doing. 

Do you have personal heroes?

My biggest hero in my life has been my father. My father gave me a value system. He was a hard-working middle-class man, second-generation Italian. I remember my first restaurant, The Gladiator. I got into it when I was in college after I had sold my first karate school. My dad had told me he would get me the money to buy my first restaurant, and he did. He mortgaged his house. You talk about pressure and the fear of failure! But I paid him back. When we sold the place, I gave him half the profits.

I spent a lot of time with my father. He was a great guy. When he died I was holding his hand. My biggest regret in life is that my father never saw my son. But my greatest joy is that I know exactly how he would feel about the things I have done. In my heart he is there for me and will always be my hero.


What have you learned from your life that you share with others?

I have an 8-year-old son. I have never had a son before. I drive him to school every morning, so I have a captive audience for 15-20 minutes.  I talk to him and tell him things that he should know, things that he has to know. I hope to give him a value system that he can use. Not a black and white system. I am kind of molding him and bringing him up to be able to do positive things. The world has been very good to me, and I am very grateful for it. I want to give back to it. And I want my son be thinking like that too.

I tell my son, Sam, if you do good things, then good things happen to you. If you do bad things, then bad things happen to you. Its that simple, so do good things. I want to teach him values in life, like the value of saving and the value of giving back.

In my businesses, when I create a new restaurant concept, I say, what are the five things that are holy or sacred to this, such that, if they changed, so would the concept and so would peoples feelings about the concept?  And its the same with life itself. In your personal life, you are a concept: who you are depends on what your principles are. I think you have to establish what are the five things that are most important to you. These are things that you try not to deviate from. Its like the Bill of Rights; if we had deviated from them, the United States would not be what it is today. In the same way, if you deviate from your five ideals you probably will not achieve your full potential.

So here are my five ideals:

Number one is principles.  If you ask my son what principles are, he will tell you, Daddy, that is sticking to your deal. Doing what you said you were going to do.

Second is responsibility. That is doing the right thing.  Knowing right from wrong, and always making sure that you do the right thing.

Third is integrity, which is simply telling the truth and having people be able to trust you.

The fourth is love. You have to have good relationships with your friends and the people you work with, and create a good, strong family you can love. That gives meaning to everything else.

And the fifth is to communicate.  Develop the skills to communicate and listen.


So these are the things that I talk to my son about and teach him. And, most important, when you do good things, then good things are going to happen to you.

Interview by Laurel Barrett


Inspiration, People

Alexandra Paul is a woman on a mission to save the world

On Thursdays, you can find her signing up people to vote. On Saturdays she may be helping at a soup kitchen. Just about every day actress Alexandra Paul is doing her part in making the world a better place.

She is an activist and environmentalist and she is passionate about everything she does. The former “Baywatch” beauty also continues to act. 

The thing that is close to her heart right now is peace. I’ve been a peace activist since I was a teenager and when I was in my 20s I went on the Great Peace March for nuclear disarmament that walked across the country for five weeks. I’ve been arrested at the nuclear testing sites protesting the use of nuclear weapons.”

The population issue is also something that concerns Paul. “The global human population is growing too fast,” Paul says. “We won’t be able to clean up the rivers or the air or deal with our toxic waste if our population continues to double. We add a billion people to our population every 10 years. The population has doubled in my lifetime. It’s a fundamental environmental issue. When I was born in 1963 the population was 3 billion and now it is 6 billion. It’s terrifying. We can’t afford that. It’s in our face but it’s not in our face in America. Our family size is small in America, and we need to keep it down to two kids per couple. I know that is a very hard thing for a lot of people. My parents had three kids, but we need to encourage people to have smaller families for the good of their children.”

Paul has some great ideas on recycling too. “One thing people could wake up and do tomorrow morning is instead of buying something new, they could buy something used,” Paul says. “Say, they want a new TV, they could go and buy a used one. Or they could get the one they have fixed. It seems a simple concept in conservation, but it’s hard to apply to your life. Every once in a while I’ll try going a month without buying anything new, except for food and soap. You have to be clean and fed. At first I panicked, then I realized I didn’t really need anything. I had everything I needed and I felt this huge weight being lifted off of my shoulders that I wouldn’t have to want, yearn or search for anything. We really do have everything. We could live on so much less and we don’t realize it.”

Her activism comes naturally Paul says. “My mother was a raging democrat and my father a raging republican,” she laughs. “We were always very aware of issues in our household. They didn’t rage at each other, but my mom voted, recycled, she gave blood and didn’t do it with a lot of fanfare. It was just a part of our life. When I was seventh grade I was at my friend’s house and I saw a cat food can in the garbage. I’d never seen a can in the garbage before. I was just stunned. I know that sounds strange, but we just didn’t throw things away. My mom was from England and grew up in the war and you just don’t waste things. It is something I feel like we have forgotten in this country.”


Inspiration, News, People

For more than 40 years Jane Goodall has been working to raise our awareness of the animal kingdom and the world we share with them. She is an inspiring woman who has written countless books and won many awards for her great humanitarian work. Being involved with nature is an essential part of Goodalls existence. She has spent her lifetime trying to make the rest of the world understand why its so important for us to care for the world we live in.

For me, being in the forest has always been living very close to God or the Great Spiritual Power, because when you are out in the forest there is a sense of timelessness, and an enormous sense of the interconnectedness of all life, Goodall says. The cycle of living and dying is very clear. Its also very peaceful but can be tumultuously, wildly exciting when there is a thunderstorm and rain batters down on the canopy. There is the music of the streams. And the animals, if you are there long enough, will accept you.

Her passion for nature developed when she was young child. From a very early age I was in love with animals. When I was about 10 years old I fell in love with Tarzan of the Apes from reading the books. I was very jealous of that Jane of his, Goodall laughs. I thought I would be a much better mate for Tarzan. Right then and there I determined when I grew up I would live in the wild with animals and write books. Everybody laughed at that. We didnt have any money. It was the end of WWII. And how would I go off to Africa? It was still thought of as the Dark Continent full of dangerous animals and poisonous arrows.

But my mother never laughed. She would say, Jane if you really want something, you work hard enough, you take advantage of opportunity and you never give up. Then you find a way. That was the background and support I had. It was basically a family of women. My father was away in the war. There was never anyone in the household who said, You cant do that because you are a girl.That just didnt come into our way of thinking. Eventually I saved up money to go out and join a friend who had invited me on a holiday in Kenya. Thats where I heard about the late (Dr.) Louis Lekey. He offered me a job as his assistant, which led to an incredible opportunity to go and learn about the chimpanzees. But from all of this comes the most important message that we as individuals are capable of following our dreams.

Goodall says she feels lucky to have heroes and mentors in her life. I have so many personal heroesI actually find teachers to be heroes, she says seriously. So often families become dysfunctional and they break up because of increases in violence and drug abuse. Sometimes the teacher is the only person standing between a child and ruin. More and more they have to deal with the most terrible levels of violence in the schools. Some of them are so committed and dedicated. They face these things and actually help children to escape from their backgrounds.

She believes there is still more we have to learn from the animals with which we share the world. The Chimpanzees have taught us that we are not the only beings on this planet with personality, a mind capable of rational thought and emotions including happiness, sadness, fear and despair. And once you realize this, you have a new respect not just for the Chimpanzee but for all of the other amazing animals, because there isnt this sharp line dividing us from them. So it really teaches us humility and we better understand our place in nature. Her life has been about creating a safe haven for the animals she loves. The Jane Goodall Institute began in 1976. Back then it was strictly a mechanism to raise the money to keep the research going on these famous chimpanzees, but even back then I knew it was going to need to expand, says Goodall. So right from the beginning it was the institute for conservation, wild life research and education. Now it has expanded absolutely into all of those areas. Weve carried on long-term research. Weve worked with 33 villages around the national park to improve the lives of the people so that they in turn can care for the park and prevent the encroachment that was destroying everything.

We also care for orphaned chimpanzees whose mothers have been shot, mostly for food in the illegal bush meat trade in Central Africa. We are working to slow down that trade and to stop the trade of endangered species.

One of the ways she believes we can change the world is by teaching our children about protecting our environment and the animals that live in it. The Jane Goodall Institute developed a program, which is in 60 countries around the world and is called Roots and Shoots. Its preschool through university and it is about making the world a better place for humans, animals and for the environment we share.

I see no point in trying to conserve a species or a habitat if at the same time we arent raising a new generation to be better stewards than we have been. The entire planet is in danger,says Goodall. Species are disappearing every day and we are poisoning the air, water, and the land. We are bringing children into a world that isnt safe for them. And weve got to try and turn this around for them before it is too late.

“The big problem today is that we are one person plus six billion other people in the world. Although most of us know the kinds of things we can do each day that will make the world a better place that will allow us to live in harmony with nature, we don’t always do them. We can save water and pick up trash, so that it doesnt leak toxins into the ground. We can turn the tap off when we clean our teeth. The point is that if every one of us lived that way the world would change rather quickly