You’re a good kid.
Anyone who has spent an hour in Rocky Mountain Pizza GM Mike Holley’s presence has heard the phrase. He says it so frequently, to so many employees and patrons, that the neutral observer might think of it as a joke.
But there’s a truth in the phrase, and it comes from something Holley has learned through decades of working in the restaurant industry. Whether it be at Rocky, the biggest nightclub in Atlanta or New York City, every job has taught him the same.
“I get the gratification of seeing people grow, and I have seen it everywhere,” Holley said. “The goal you set for yourself, to get you where you need to go. I want to do what I can to get them there.”
Holley, like countless others in Atlanta, is a transplant. His life in the restaurant industry started where he grew up, working at the Concord Resort in the Catskill Mountains. There he saw performers like Frank Sinatra shuffle into the resort, a good preparation for one of his future jobs.
The biggest preparation he received came through work ethic, as he went from dishwasher to busboy to server, bartender 20 years and culinary school at the Art Institute of Atlanta . His skills in the industry took him to New York City, Las Vegas, Mexico and eventually Atlanta.
The constant moves and small steps up the ladder never phased Holley, who knew this was the thing he wanted.
“I think I’ve always had the goal of getting as high up in the restaurant business as I can,” Holley said. “The biggest thing with this industry is quality of life, and I wanted to keep working because I knew the role with the right quality of life was coming to me.”
After getting restaurants like Taco Mac and Hard Rock Cafe off the ground, Holley took over at the Atlanta nightclub Vegas Nights. Every weekend, he found himself surrounded by the city’s biggest names in music and sports.
Running a club filled with Gucci Mane ,TI , Ludacris, Jermaine Dupri, Roddy White and Joe Johnson, Lawrence Taylor, required 25 security members and just as many servers and bartenders. Every night provided an adventure, whether it be kicking someone out or keeping weapons outside the club.
“I had to make it a rule, you could not bring guns into the club and we would check you at the door. Then one day, I have Jermaine Dupri telling me he’s going to come through the back and then walking in with a pistol. It was stuff like that all the time.”
Holley ran the club from 2001-2006, until he left to take over Dunwoody Restaurant Group in the Norcross area.
It was there Holley, a drummer, began the Bluesberry Music Festival in downtown Norcross. Held every Father’s Day Weekend, it’s a chance to expose the community to the countless talented music acts around the city.
Nine years later, the festival is still running and despite working full time at Rocky, he still makes every decision for the festival.
The constant workflow hasn’t ever been a problem, it’s just part of the process that is ever present in this industry.
“Back then, I was just taking my craft and making money out of it. There wasn’t a thought that it was going on too long, it was just what I needed to do at the time,” Holley said. “I had to keep grinding until good opportunities come up.”
Those years of grinding came to fruition in 2012, when he got a call about working at Rocky. The job required working mostly with kids from Georgia Tech, a prerequisite he had no problem with.
“I get gratification from working with young kids. I could work at a corporate restaurant and get a mix of people who will come and go every few weeks or months. But our turnover usually only comes between semesters.”
Holley has worked with hundreds of kids after seven years, and the chance to train them is still a pride he holds dearly.
He knows most kids who come in aren’t going to be restaurant lifers like himself, and he wants them to reach any and all of their professional goals. If they can learn better social skills and work ethic while at the restaurant, even better.
Most importantly, Holley wants to maintain a culture at Rocky built around the will and passion of those who work there. It’s his mission to bring out that passion from every kid who comes in with an application.
And don’t tell him that he can’t bring out that passion. After every place he’s worked, and every place he has been, he knows a good kid when he sees one.
“I know when I’ve hired you that you are a good kid. I’ve already talked and worked with that person enough to know the passion is there and I can bring it out. Nobody is perfect, but deep down I know you’re a good kid. And that is good enough for me.”