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40 Under 40 - Class of 2020
Business Observer Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020 1 month ago

John Williams, 33

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Founder and vice president of operations, SoFresh
by: Brian Hartz Tampa Bay Editor

For someone who lists his hobbies as reading the Bible and praying, John Williams has one of the more, shall we say, “morally interesting” work histories. Prior to launching SoFresh — a Tampa-based chain of restaurants dedicated to serving quick but healthy salads, wraps and bowls — in 2013, he supported himself for six months as a professional poker player. 

“I thought it was going to be glamorous,” Williams says of his brief career in cards. “I was young — 21, maybe 22, just out of school. I got a job but didn’t like it, so I quit to play poker.”

Courtesy. John Williams at his home office.

Soon enough, though, Williams realized professional poker was just as much of a job as anything else. He found himself playing 10 hours or more per day. “I made enough money to pay the bills, but it just didn't seem to be going anywhere,” he says. “It was fun while it lasted.” 

Poker, however, did provide some valuable insights and lessons Williams has been able to apply to his career as an entrepreneur. 

“There are a lot of ups and downs in it,” he says, “because there's luck involved. So not trying to ride ups and downs with your bankroll, emotionally, is something that helped a little bit. When you start your own business, the same thing happens with employees, money and all that stuff, so you just try to stay on an even keel.”

SoFresh now has eight locations, six of which are owned and operated by franchisees. The pandemic has been a setback for the brand, but Williams says he hasn’t had to lay off any full-time employees or close any stores, though the restaurant in downtown Tampa has struggled because of the absence of office workers in the city’s urban core. 

“April was rough,” he says. “Not a fun month. Our sales were in the toilet.”

But as someone well-versed in handling the highest of highs and lowest of lows, Williams didn’t panic. “Things seemed to turn a little in mid-May, when people got more comfortable ordering takeout,” he says. “It was a pain in the butt, but operationally, we got through all the hurdles.” 

Name: John Williams

Age: 33

City of residence: Tampa

Employer: SoFresh

Title: Founder, vice president of operations

Birthplace: Fort Lauderdale

Years on the Gulf Coast: 10

Marital status/children: Single

Alma mater/degree: University of Florida

What community group or organization are you most involved with? Food pantry through Feeding Tampa Bay, Front Line Foods, Metropolitan Ministries

What's the weirdest job you've ever had? I played poker professionally for six months.

What's your top tip for being productive? Wake up early

If you could have a side hustle, what would it be? Real estate

What's your favorite off-hours activity? Praying and reading the Bible

What's your favorite board game, game show or video game? Monopoly

What’s your go-to delivery service (DoorDash, Uber Eats, GrubHub, Bite Squad, etc.)? Uber Eats

What do you use most — Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams or Google Meetings? Zoom

What’s the best binge-worthy show you have enjoyed during the pandemic? "Blacklist"

What’s the longest virtual meeting you’ve been on since mid-March? An hour with the PITT franchise group — I am not a huge meeting guy.

How many times had you used video for a work meeting prior to the pandemic? Zero

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned during the pandemic? Don't take the little things for granted.

What do you miss most about the world pre-pandemic? Travel, though it seems to be coming back.

What have you been spending more time doing during the pandemic? Spending more time reading the Bible, reflecting on personal growth and what I need to do to accomplish my goals.

Do you prefer working from home or working from an office? I prefer a 50/50 split.

How have you kept up camaraderie with colleagues during the pandemic? Honestly, it's been hard. I feel a little conflicted about this. I will do better going forward! Do an office day or something for managers.

What’s the first thing you’ll do after the pandemic? I am going snowboarding ASAP.

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