It began as a college dream. A vision of a restaurant that served the highest quality, freshest chicken finger meals – and nothing else. From this vision, Todd Graves created a business plan, which, ironically, earned the lowest grade in the class. The professor said a restaurant serving only chicken fingers would never work.
Undaunted, the young entrepreneur put on a cheap suit, carried a briefcase adorned with brass combination locks and presented his business plan to any banker that would see him. Each time, Graves received the same negative response about his concept. Some bankers even told him he should give up the idea and “get a real job.” At that point, Graves knew he would need to raise his own capital to achieve his dream.
This journey led Graves to work as a boilermaker in oil refineries. Graves eventually moved on to Alaska, where he raised his own seed money in the risky trade of commercial salmon fishing. Upon returning to Baton Rouge, Graves reconstructed an old building with his own hands into the first Raising Cane’s restaurant. In a moment of inspiration, he even named the restaurant after his yellow lab …Raising Cane.
The fun surroundings, friendly crew and rather offbeat managerial style are all part of the Cane’s culture and experience. Combined with an uncompromising dedication to quality, Graves and his company have earned countless industry awards and accolades.
Graves’s entrepreneurial spirit has been recognized in Nations Restaurant News, Chain Leader,QSR, Entrepreneur, Rolling Stone and USA Today. He appeared live on FOX News Network’s “Your World” with Neil Cavuto and “FOX and Friends” and was highlighted on CNN Headline News’s “Pulse on America” series. Graves was also featured in Entrepreneur’s Young Millionaires cover story. In 2008, Graves was named an Ernst & Young “Entrepreneur of the Year” and in 2010 he was awarded the SCORE Award for Outstanding Socially Progressive Business.
As a result of the passion and commitment of Graves and his team, Raising Cane’s has been recognized numerous times by industry leaders and pace setters. Raising Cane’s was honored as an “Emerging Concept” at the Elliot Conference in New York in 2002 and was chosen as a “Hot Concepts!” award winner by Nation’s Restaurant News in 2003. In 2006, Raising Cane’s received the National Restaurant Association’s Good Neighbor Award. In 2007, Graves was recognized as one of the “Top 100 Movers and Shakers” by Fast Casual magazine. Cane’s was also named to Inc. Magazine’s top 5000 list of fastest growing privately-owned companies, earning the 1,048th spot in 2007 and the 1,610th spot in 2008. Cane’s also earned a spot on the list of fastest-growing companies in the food and beverage industry, earning the 15th spot in 2007 and the 35th spot in 2008. Cane’s ranked second overall in the state of Louisiana. Also in 2008, Raising Cane’s ranked number 233 in Restaurants and Institutions’ “Top 400 Restaurant Chains” list. Graves and Raising Cane’s are most proud of the “Best Places to Work” recognition in Chain Leader magazine in 2007. Most recently, Raising Cane’s has ranked in the top five in customer satisfaction in Sandelman and Associates’ Quick-Track Customer Satisfaction study two years in a row.
In addition to Cane’s quality, Graves refuses to compromise his dedication to the community and his commitment to give back to the people who have given so much to him. Graves carries his tremendous success in business over to a wide array of philanthropic endeavors. As an active community partner, Graves and Raising Cane’s have given more than 25 percent of their profits back to the communities where Raising Cane’s restaurants operate. Raising Cane’s gives back to each community with an emphasis on schools, food banks, active lifestyles, canine assistance and business and entrepreneur organizations.
Raising Cane’s annual giving includes:
- Schools: supporting more than 2000 educational institutions, including colleges and universities, community colleges, high schools, middle schools and elementary schools through athletics programs, teacher appreciation, student organizations and academics.
- Feeding the Hungry: organizing massive food drives, including “Raising Cans with Raising Cane’s,” and making significant donations to more than 30 food banks.
- Active Lifestyles: supporting hundreds of events that promote an active lifestyle, including community races, walks, sports leagues and tournaments.
- Business & Entrepreneurial Organizations: being actively involved in more than 75 professional organizations, including chambers of commerce, young professional organizations, Junior Achievement, SCORE, visitors’ bureaus and city development organizations.
- Pet Welfare: working with more than 50 humane societies through support and sponsorship of their events and programs. Raising Cane’s has made significant investments to six dog parks in Louisiana. Additionally, Raising Cane II makes weekly visits to hospitals and nursing homes as a certified pet therapy dog.
In December of 2008, Graves and his wife Gwen participated in Secret Millionaire, a philanthropic reality show on FOX. They spent one week posed as ordinary people in South Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, a community destroyed by Hurricane Katrina–the largest natural disaster in U.S. history. The couple was challenged to find people trying to make an impact in the community. The people, whom they described as “angels walking the earth,” inspired the couple. These people put the needs of others in their community before themselves, and the Graveses donated approximately $400,000 to three area groups to help them realize their dream of helping others.
Graves is an involved member of many national and local organizations, including the National Restaurant Association, Young Presidents Organization and United Way, where he currently serves as a member of the Alexis de Tocqueville Society. Graves serves on the board of the BREC Foundation, the fundraising of Baton Rouge’s Parks and Recreation Commission. Raising Cane’s is responsible for working with BREC to bring four Raising Cane’s Dog Parks to the Greater Baton Rouge area. Graves regularly guest lectures at universities and high school classes on entrepreneurship, leadership and active community involvement and delivered the 2010 commencement address at Louisiana State University.
Once a McDonald’s franchisee, Graves’s wife Gwen sold her business to spend more time focused on their children and the community. In addition to helping with the many Raising Cane’s community endeavors, Gwen visits hospitals weekly with Raising Cane II as part of the dog’s pet therapy certification.
The Graves reside in Baton Rouge, La. with their two children. In addition to spending time with his family and his faithful dog Raising Cane II, Graves enjoys fitness and other outdoor activities.