Shannon Markwell’s Journey from Retail to Restaurants

The Qdoba facilities head has jumped careers, industries, and proven herself worthy every time

Large numbers don’t scare Shannon Markwell. The facilities head for Qdoba restaurants may oversee 350 corporate restaurant locations, but she says the work required is just about equal to the over 600 retail locations she oversaw previously for retailer Charlotte Russe. “This work is all about the team that you build,” Markwell says. “I’ve managed to build a team of people that have great skills and knowledge in different areas, which makes us a rock star team.”

But it’s not just the team. Underneath the polite and generous spirit of the facilities leader is a former construction manager with 15 years of experience from tenant improvement to fire alarm monitoring to telecommunications who had to effectively build her facilities careers from scratch after leaving the construction industry to try something else.

A Qdoba storefront in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. Courtesy of Qdoba

“I started at the bottom of facilities at Charlotte Russe and knew I was going to have to work my way up if I wanted to get where I wanted to be in a new field,” Markwell says. In the first year-and-a-half, Markwell was promoted five times. “That’s where my career took a great turn, and I wasn’t going to stop,” Markwell says.

Retail to Restaurant

When Charlotte Russe filed for bankruptcy in 2019, Markwell was rattled. Her journey at the company where she had effectively built out an entire second chapter of her career was coming to an end. Fortunately, Markwell had learned one of the most important lessons of her new career. “I think such a big part of this particular industry is networking,” Markwell explains. And she had done just that. She would wind up with a chunk of job offers, electing to bypass retail completely in favor of Qdoba’s extensive portfolio.

Qdoba’s mission revolves around hospitality and kindness, as the teams believe a little extra kindness and respect can inspire someone to make a difference and add flavor to their community. Courtesy of Qdoba

In coming to the fast-casual chain, Markwell was able to define, for the first time, the facilities director role. “There was no one to really spend the quality time with the employees to help build out this department,” Markwell remembers. “I knew upon coming in, that was what I wanted to do first. I needed to bring collaboration and that flavor of hospitality to the team.” That meant working hard to earn the trust and respect of her facilities managers and coordinators.

Along with cultivating relationships under the Qdoba roof, Markwell says she’s also endeavored to create more lasting relationships with third party vendors, or as Markwell simply calls them, “partners.”

“I’ve really encouraged our coordinators and facilities managers to create those relationships and bring our partners to the table,” Markwell says. “I think those interactions had been much more transactional in the past, but I think building one-on-one relationships with your vendors is the number one most important skill you can have as a facilities director.”

Upward and Ongoing

At the time of speaking, Markwell and the facilities team are in the middle of a carpet-to-tile rollout of 65 Qdoba locations. “Who puts carpet in a restaurant anymore?” Markwell jokes. The process started in November and Markwell says it’s meant a huge improvement for the company brand in numerous ways.

The restaurant also recently completed a second make line rollout to make third-party vendor orders like Uber Eats or Door Dash have less of an impact on dine-in guest orders. “We want the customer that’s walking in to build their burrito to have the 100 percent attention of our staff, and so we’ve installed a second make-line where we are able to put those third-party vendor tickets together.” It’s a strategic move that recognizes the popularity of meal delivery apps but still keeps the dine-in customer front and center.

The new designs of Qdoba restaurants, pictured here, are reflected in Qdoba’s headquarters, which include a Q café that matches the restaurants themselves. Courtesy of Qdoba

The wider challenges faced by the entire fast-casual movement aren’t lost on Markwell, she just thinks Qdoba has a different approach. “We build our daily tasks on three pillars that I think are incredibly important,” Markwell says. “Hospitality, Performance, and Positivity: you will not meet one person who works for this company who doesn’t hold true to those pillars. Because of that and the drive this company has, we’re still growing and plan on opening eight new stores in 2020.”

Not only new stores, but a litany of remodels and rollouts are also in the pipeline. It’s just proof, Markwell says, that Qdoba is set on continually reinventing itself without losing what’s gotten it this far.

Markwell says she’s excited about the possibility of utilizing more technology to enhance Qdoba’s efficiencies. “Whether it’s an EMS in stores or asset tagging, I’m really excited to boost us up to that industry standard level,” the facilities director says. “Bringing in some of that new technology will be a huge win for us.”

More broadly, Markwell says she is always ready to serve. “That means always being open for communication. I take accountability to get the job done and my door is always open,” she says. Markwell may have come to facilities later in her career, but there is no doubt she has succeeded in making up for lost time.