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In 1992, before there was a drive-thru in Lexington to quickly grab an order of waffle fries, Jeff Stryker became the CFA operator at the Fayette Mall Chick-fil-A. “There were no free-standing restaurants at the time, and hours were only from 10-9,” Stryker recalled.

Today, Stryker is the owner* of both the Nicholasville Road and Turfland locations — both of which have wrap-around drive-thru lines at any given hour of the day. However, it goes without saying that the transition from running one store with limited hours to two free-standing stores did not happen overnight. “When you see a Chick-fil-A, it is not physically larger than any other free-standing store, yet we do more than double the next competitor in 6 days instead of 7,” Stryker said. “The pressure is immense.”

Stryker realized that he needed to find a way to encourage his team to run at the level of operation that would meet demand. While looking for an operational system to run his stores, he found himself “chasing the flavor of the month.”  This is where the Toyota Production System (TPS) and the University of Kentucky True Lean Program came into play.

TPS practices the philosophy of engaging and respecting employees who work to maximize customer satisfaction (highest quality, shortest lead time, best value) and work endlessly to eliminate all types of waste affecting safety, quality, lead time, efficiency, and cost.  

For Toyota, the system has the objective of building and delivering vehicles to satisfy customers’ expectations of value, quality, and availability per their preference. The engaged employees are provided a safe, trustful workplace and encouraged to systematically improve. TPS can be attributed to why Toyota is the successful company that it is today.

UK has partnered with Toyota to transfer Toyota experience and knowledge to interested companies through the UK True Lean Program. The mission of the UK True Lean program is “to systematically explore, study and teach the workings of the Toyota Production System (TPS).” Currently, the University of Kentucky’s program is the only official Toyota-sponsored program in the world that teaches the true essence of the TPS.

Stryker learned about Toyota’s lean practices while reading a book in the airport. When he returned from his travels and was back in his store, he met customers by chance who were retired from the UK True Lean program. Stryker did some research and enrolled in the class. This was a was a significant milestone for Stryker and his stores in their Lean journeys.

While Toyota and Chick-Fil-A have different business models, Stryker has applied Lean principles to strengthen his stores’ operating systems. This has led to consistently high-performing stores in customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction, volume, and profitability.

A few examples include:

  1. The capability to maintain industry-leading quality in both food and order accuracy while meeting high volume demand with unpredictable fluctuations at times. Key contributors are:  standardized work, effective role definition among the staff, effective business processes, problem-solving to drive improvement, and empowering management behavior. 
  2. A culture of truly respecting employees attracts a high-quality workforce based largely upon reputation as a great place to work. Key practices include a root cause/countermeasure approach to problems vs. root blame with no countermeasure. Even in the labor shortage times of 2021 through the present, they have generally not had a problem filling positions. Turnover is 50% per year, and most of this turnover is driven by it being time for an employee to move to the next chapter of their life, not simply quitting. This is 37% better than the Chick Fila national average of 87%.
  3. The ability to rapidly and effectively train new employees to maintain seamless high performance with a 50% turnover rate, which, while excellent for the industry, is still high. Standardized work plus an effective systematic training method are keys.


Additionally, they adopted Toyota's five-minute pre-shift meetings. These meetings facilitate communication between the supervisor and crew members. Chick-Fil-A's customer-facing nature means that pre-shift meetings cannot be held before every shift. Stryker decided to hold a longer meeting once a month when the store is closed so that the communication component of Lean could still be present.

Though Styker has completed the Lean Program, he remains connected. Many instructors are engaged with Stryker and utilize him on a consulting basis. On-campus, True Lean trainees consistently visit his stores to learn from his leadership. When asked what motivates him to remain connected, Styker said, “Lean is very much a pay it forward culture — Toyota is almost like the Chick-Fil-A of Japan — [both are interested in helping] society become better. I am seeing the fruit of that.”


*Both are Chick-fil-A Free Standing Restaurants, operated by Stryker LLC.