Entrepreneur extraordinaire

After retiring in 2005 at age 35, Notre Dame alum now is looking to expand a major restaurant business beyond Michigan and Texas.

When Hurricane Harvey hit the Houston, Texas, area a few weeks back, a number of businesses, including those in the restaurant industry not affected as much by the storm, stepped up and offered assistance to those most affected.

Among those was The Big Salad LLC, a “fresh restaurant” concept for those seeking a healthier diet and lifestyle at fast food prices, founded by Notre Dame alum John Bornoty, Class of 1988. One of his franchisees, located in Richmond, Texas, a few miles southwest of downtown Houston, began to serve free meals after Harvey hit the Texas Gulf coast in late August.

“Mauro and Celma [Forastieiri] are exactly the kind of owners we want in our franchise family and this is exactly the type of event we want our owners orchestrating,” said Bornoty, who also flew to Texas to help out. “Richmond was our first restaurant outside the state of Michigan. We love being here. We love the people and we are grateful for the chance to show that love.”

A winding road

For Bornoty, loving your customers and loving what you do for a living seems to be a fairly consistent theme for him even before he started The Big Salad. You can also add diversity in entrepreneurship to his M.O.

“Some people have a career path of the straight-and-narrow kind, where my path has been more like a winding road,” Bornoty said during a recent interview with the Notre Dame Alumni Association. “Always having been driven by the entrepreneurial spirit, my career has taken me from concert promoting, to automotive marketing to technology to the restaurant industry. 

From 1989 to 1991, Bornoty ran a concert-promoting business called TNT Entertainment that promoted such acts as Run DMC, Rob Base, Queen Latifa and Kid Rock. He sold the business in 1991 and began working as vice president of sales and marketing at A&M Companies, which helped automotive dealerships with training. 

In 1998, he left A&M to form his own technology company, Netgroup, Inc., which specialized in developing online marketing strategies to businesses. Bornoty said the business quickly grew from marketing strategies to technology consulting, software development, network support and technology implementation, and by 2005, the company grew to have multiple offices in the United States, Italy and Greece. Then, in 2005, he sold the business and, yes, retired at 35 years old.

Passion + compassion

“But having quickly becoming bored with retirement, and still only in my 30s, I decided to venture into the restaurant business,” he said. “Not knowing anything about the business or how difficult it would be, I dug in and quickly realized what a passion I had for it. I love the customers, I love the staff, and I love making people happy by serving them a great product.”

Since his first location opened in 2008, The Big Salad, which is headquartered in Grosse Pointe Farms, Mich., has served many thousands of customers. He began to franchise the restaurants in 2012 and now has a total of 12 locations in Michigan and Texas and expects to reach at least 20 locations by 2018, and hoping to double each year for the next several years after. The Big Salad is equipped to prepare more than 17 million possible iceberg, romaine or spinach salad combinations for customers, according to Bornoty.

With such success so far in his still-young life, we wondered how he did it — what drives him. He was unequivocal.

“No matter what you do in life, do it with passion, do it with compassion, and play to win,” he said. “Anything can be accomplished if you have the passion to win. Also, it’s important to not confuse failure with losing. Failure is a vital part of winning. Many times, in order to win, one must fail. Those who have the drive and passion learn from their failures and try again. If you have passion and persistency, you will always succeed.”

Bornoty also reserves high praise for the influence his high school had on him.

“Being married to a high school math teacher, one thing I have learned over the years is that there is no such thing as a ‘cookie-cutter’ approach to teaching young adults, especially when I think of a school filled with young men like we had at Harper Woods Notre Dame,” he said. “We all had different styles of learning and retain information at different levels. As a graduate of Notre Dame, the small class sizes along with a  palpable compassion the teachers showed for their students to do well, are keys to any student’s success and they certainly were large contributors to my success.” 

He said that Notre Dame also gave him the late Fr. John Bryson who, everyday at lunch would sell his watered down Coca-Cola, ‘one for a quarter two for 25 cents;’ and Mr. Ken Parent, who Bornoty said to him was more of a mentor than a gym teacher. 

“Also, Mr. Duane Holmes, who taught me more about accounting in one year than I learned during my time at Wayne State University and, of course, the late Mr. Conrad Vachon, whose love for life seemed to rub off on any person near him. It wasn’t until many years later that I realized that the teachers I had at NDHS — the ones who I thought were so foolish, the ones who I always thought knew less than me — were actually very intelligent and definitely much wiser than me. Those teachers had prepared me for what life has presented so far and will continue to assist me in the future.”

Bornoty especially recalls his NDHS graduation ceremony. 

“The words that were spoken have stuck with me since then and I remind myself of those words everyday,” he said. “Those words were, ‘Gentlemen, as you move forward with your life, don’t ever look back and say, ‘if I only would have. . .’ or, ‘. . .I should have.’ Since that day, I have lived by those words and will continue to live by those words. Every day, life will deliver obstacles. Some are easy to overcome but most are difficult. As you get older, those obstacles become even more difficult. I have found that by living by those last words that Notre Dame taught me, and not looking back and saying ‘what if,’ or, ‘I should have,’ those obstacles have become merely challenges — challenges that can always be overcome.”

Comments or questions? mkelly@ndpma.org.

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About Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy
Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. The school's upper division enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named one of the nation's best 50 Catholic high schools (Acton Institute) four times since 2005. Notre Dame's middle and lower divisions enroll students in jr. kindergarten through grade eight. All three divisions are International Baccalaureate "World Schools." NDPMA is conducted by the Marist Fathers and Brothers and is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement. For more on Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy, visit the school's home page at www.ndpma.org.