Love of country runs deep for Jay Warwick. He grew up with a father who served in the U.S. Air Force, won a bronze medal for Team USA in Taekwondo in the 1988 Olympic Games and has been donating to The Home Front Cares, a nonprofit that provides emergency financial grants for Colorado service members, veterans and their families for the past seven years through his Colorado HuHot Mongolian Grill franchises.
And, during the annual HuHot Cares Day, to take place September 18 at six Colorado locations—four in Denver and two in Colorado Springs—he plans to give back 100 percent of gross sales from the day to the charity, with a goal of raising $50,000. We recently spoke with Warwick about the event ($136,000 has been donated since 2011). An edited version of the interview follows.
When did HuHot Cares Day begin and what inspired it?
We opened our first HuHot here in Colorado Springs in 2010. Ordinarily, during our grand openings we pick a charity and donate a certain amount of our sales to it. I had met with several charities here in Colorado Springs and The Home Front Cares stood out—they were so great it compelled us to take the next step to be involved with them and help contribute to their mission. That’s how we got to our seventh iteration this year.
Talk a little more about The Home Front Cares.
What they do is so important and we get to see it a lot here in Colorado Springs where we have a pretty large military community and lots of young military families. The Home Front Cares provides emergency financial help to keep them going. To me, when either a husband or wife signs up for the military, even though their family is technically not in the military, they really are because they have to make similar sacrifices that the soldier does. A lot of times returning veterans from conflicts have a difficult time and need a leg up. That’s what The Home Front Cares does: It gives them that leg up, as far as returning back to regular society. It’s just such a critical cause that we were compelled to stay involved.
You’ve had a really interesting life … Tell me about your past career with competitive Taekwondo.
I did martial arts all of my life since I was a little boy and, fortunately, I stayed interested long enough to compete internationally which culminated with competing in the 1988 Olympic games in Seoul Korea when I won a bronze medal. It was a terrific, terrific experience and served as kind of a segway to the rest of my professional career. My most recent stop before opening HuHots in 2010 was working for the United States Olympic Committee. I was a director in sports partnership and worked with 12 national sports federations and helped them prepare their teams for world and Olympic competition. I think all Olympic athletes learn how to set courageous goals. I think that was helpful. I wasn’t afraid to go out into the private sector business world, and especially into the volatile restaurant industry which is crazy as can be.
How did this inspire how you do business?
All athletes learn how to set goals, how to prioritize steps and then how to manage your time. As far as running a restaurant, I think I approach everything kind of like an athlete. I wake up every day and try to get myself and my team to be super disciplined and to set good goals and work hard to achieve them
What do you hope customers will take away from HuHot Cares Day?
We’re a small company, we have six restaurants here in Colorado. But at the same time, we want to be good corporate citizens and good neighbors. I hope our guests appreciate that we are trying to pay it back and pay it forward. The retirement community of military people both in Denver and in Colorado Springs is quite huge. Many veterans of various conflicts always show up to support the military and it’s actually really heartwarming and fun to get to chat with those folks and hear their stories and how important the military contributions remain to them and their lives.
How much money are you hoping to raise?
When we started we only had one restaurant. Now we’re up to six. We’re trying to sound the horn and get as many people in as possible. I think the unique thing we do is it’s not 10- or 20- or 50 percent that we donate; it’s 100 percent. Every penny we make we’re going to donate to The Home Front Cares from six restaurants. It should be at least $30,000 but it could be as high as $50,000.