The new chief financial officer at Lehigh Valley Restaurant Group didn’t start out looking to be in charge of a company’s finances. Nikki Bloom entered the business world with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology.
She started out as a credit counselor, but when an administrative position opened at the restaurant group 17 years ago, she saw a company she had a chance to grow with.
Eventually, she landed in the accounting department for the company, which runs 21 Red Robin franchises throughout the Lehigh Valley, Harrisburg, Northeast Pennsylvania and Southeast Pennsylvania regions.
Accounting wasn’t her specialty, so she went back to school and earned associate degrees in accounting and business management, and used those skills to build her career.
Her coworkers are glad she did.
Mike Axiotis, CEO of the restaurant group, gives Bloom a lot of credit for keeping the company going during the pandemic and the ongoing worker shortage, supply chain issues and increasing food prices.
The challenges of most of the last two years wasn’t something Bloom, or anyone, was really expecting. She said it has been a delicate dance keeping the company going through such trying times.
“Our goal was not just to survive, but to thrive through the pandemic,” she said.
She used Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) resources to keep as many people employed as she could and implemented cash preservation efforts to control costs as income declined.
“It was about looking at what do we need and what we don’t need and what can we start adding back when things started to come back,” she said.
Working with the other team members, Bloom helped the company improve efficiencies by limiting their menu, a technique many restaurants used to make things easier with a limited staff and a smaller customer base.
The company also brought in tents so they could offer outdoor seating when indoor seating was limited and put an emphasis on improving their takeout business, which they were able to offer through most of the shutdown.
“Any supplies that we could change to make it more cost effective, we changed,” she said. “We had to keep an eye on costs, but we also had to compete.”
The key was to find things they could trim without impacting the customer experience, so people would want to continue to come back.
But keeping customers coming back wasn’t the only challenge. The restaurant industry as a whole has faced massive staffing shortages, which impacted LVRG as well.
The company was trying to hire from the same smaller pool of interested workers as their competitors, and while offering more money was something everyone was doing, she tried wo work to offer other intangible benefits to workers so they would feel more engaged with the company and enjoy their work.
Even with the pandemic restrictions limited, challenges have continued throughout 2021 as the worker shortage lingered, and more recently food prices began to skyrocket.
While LVRG has had to raise prices like most restaurants, prices can only be raised so much before it’s too much for the consumer even if their costs continue to rise, she said. That’s where the company had to get creative.
“We have a great food and beverage guy who worked with our vendors to manage our supply chain to deal with those rising costs and not price ourselves out,” she said.
Depending on how long the supply chain issues last, she expects her job isn’t going to get easier any time soon, but she said she is up to the challenge of keeping those Red Robin franchises in the black.
And Axiotis said the company is lucky to have her.
“Nikki values integrity, ethical behavior, lifelong learning for her and her team, building relationships with team members and our vendor partners, and time with her family and friends,” he said. “She is a true brand ambassador of LVRG, and her many accomplishments are a great example of how passion, empathy, commitment, and continued education are a pathway to leadership and success. I am truly proud and honored to have her on our team.”