Get The Butter Crust: Lou Malnati’s President Mark Agnew

Casey Gordon | September 29, 2016

He used to do private equity. Now he does pizza.

As president of Lou Malnati’s, Mark Agnew is responsible for more than just business operations: he’s got his thumb on the pulse of one of Chicago’s most well-known success stories and cherished culinary traditions.

The roots of Lou’s famous deep dish pies are pretty deep themselves, going all the way back to the 1940s when Lou Malnati made pizzas with his father Rudy. The original Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria opened in Lincolnwood, Illinois in 1971, and since then the family-owned company has grown to 46 locations throughout Chicagoland employing 3,300 people. They also run the nationwide shipping service Tastes of Chicago.

Mark joined Lou Malnati’s in a professional sense in 2011, but he’s been a member of the Lou’s family ever since he worked at their Wilmette location as a high school student.

In the interim, Mark picked up a BS from Cornell and an MBA with honors from the University of Chicago before moving through a number of finance gigs at Deutsche Bank, Glencoe Capital, and Dixon Midland Company, where he served as Vice President.

Mark has certainly brought his financial acumen to bear on his first foray into the restaurant industry, making seasonal budget adjustments enabling Lou’s to purchase more local produce — specifically the holy trifecta of tomatoes, green peppers, and basil. (Fun fact: Lou Malnati’s has sourced its cheese from the same Wisconsin purveyor for more than 40 years.)

Under Mark’s leadership, Lou Malnati’s was one of just nine business out of an astounding 4 million nominated to be part of Chase Bank’s 2013 Mission Main Street campaign, a multimedia advertising and lending initiative focused on unique local business success stories.

Lou Malnati’s also boasts six consecutive years and running as a top ranked workplace by the Chicago Tribune.

Mark shares 5 key difference he’s observed between finance and food:

1. Vulnerable leadership. The restaurant biz is a relationship-driven culture.

2. Listen first. The best way to get the job done is listening to employees to see what they need.

3. Laser focus on safety. Not a big concern in the finance. Paramount importance in restaurant management.

4. Get away from the computer. Manage by walking around. Talk to employees and customers.

5. Have fun. If you’re not having fun in the restaurant industry, you’re doing it wrong.

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