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Ringing endorsement: Grand Junction franchise owner wins top Taco Bell honor

Stacy and Ken Basinger and their family operate 24 Taco Bell restaurants, including this location on Horizon Drive in Grand Junction. Ken Basinger recently received the Glen Bell Award, the highest award Taco Bell bestows, in recognition of a career that’s spanned more than 36 years. Basinger started out as an assistant manager trainee.

Stacy and Ken Basinger and their family operate 24 Taco Bell restaurants, including this location on Horizon Drive in Grand Junction. Ken Basinger recently received the Glen Bell Award, the highest award Taco Bell bestows, in recognition of a career that’s spanned more than 36 years. Basinger started out as an assistant manager trainee.

It’s impossible to separate Ken Basinger the businessman from Ken Basinger the family man. That’s because he’s built his business by treating his employees like family.

It’s an approach under which Basinger has linked together ownership of a chain of 24 Taco Bell restaurants, including all five locations in the Grand Valley. It’s also a large part of a hallmark that’s earned Basinger the top award bestowed by the Taco Bell corporation.

Although a variety of pieces go into assembling the jigsaw puzzle that is a successful operation, Basinger places a priority on hiring the right people, training them well and treating them with respect. “The people piece to me is the most important part.”

And if he’s committed to affording employees opportunities, it’s because of the opportunities Basinger says he’s enjoyed since he started working at a Taco Bell as an assistant manager trainee more than 36 years ago.

Basinger now owns and serves as chief executive officer of ColCal, a Grand Junction-based company that operates five Taco Bell locations in Colorado and 19 in California.

Numbers aside, Basinger also ranks among the top franchise owners nationwide as the latest winner of the

Glen Bell Award, a recognition presented to an owner deemed to best exemplify the qualities and entrepreneurial spirit of Taco Bell founder Glen Bell.

Basinger says he was as surprised by the announcement of his selection at a convention in Florida as he was moved by a video tribute. “I was an emotional mess.”

The tribute featured not only his wife, Stacy, and their children, but also employees who pledged to work for Basinger their entire careers. The common denominator: the importance of a family that extends to his employees.

Basinger grew up in the Grand Valley, graduated from Fruita Monument High School and married his high school sweetheart. He attended what’s now Colorado Mesa University. But with a baby on the way, he says he needed a job that would support his family.

He started out as an assistant manager trainee at the Taco Bell restaurant on North Avenue in Grand Junction, working for John Moss, a franchise owner who’d later become a mentor and partner.

Basinger says he never imagined when he started working at Taco Bell at age 20 he’d still be involved in the organization at 56. In fact, Basinger recalls he initially disliked his new job — not to mention the stripped shirt and paper hat he had to wear at work. He says he had a change of heart after realizing that if he had to work anyway, why not strive to run the best shift?

When Moss opened a Taco Bell in Clifton, Basinger became manager there, a role he relished. And when Moss later purchased two Taco Bells in California, he sent Basinger there to run the restaurants.

Basinger says the nine years he spent in California “catapulted” his career as the business grew to eight locations and he worked his way up to director of operations, president and then a partner with Moss.

Basinger returned to the Grand Valley in 1993. When Moss retired in 2011, Basinger bought out his interest in the business. A year later, ColCal bought another seven Taco Bell locations in California. Two more locations are scheduled to soon open in California, bringing to 24 the total number of restaurants ColCal operates.

Basinger says the quick service food industry has changed dramatically over the past 36 years, particularly in terms of the growing volume of business restaurants handle as well as the increasingly complex menus they offer. After successful tests in select locations, including Basinger’s restaurants in California, Taco Bell soon will roll out breakfast service nationwide, he says.

At the same time, the fundamentals remain unchanged, he adds, in not only serving good food quickly, but also offering friendly customer service in a clean setting. “You’ve got to get all the balls in the air at the same time.”

ColCal ranks among the top Taco Bell franchise owners nationwide in evaluations based on customer surveys and inspections.

Basinger attributes that success to four factors he cites in order of priority: people, customers, sales and profits. It’s important, he says, to take care of the employees who serve customers, which in turn leads to increased sales and profits.

The process starts with hiring the right people, offering them the right training and coaching and then recognizing their efforts, he says.

Basinger expects what he terms “high-visibility leadership” from managers, working alongside and coaching employees in their restaurants.

Basinger promotes almost entirely from within the organization and enjoys lower management turnover. His director of operations, Mike Gonzalez, has worked for the organization 27 years.

ColCal honors employees at quarterly celebrations both in Colorado and California, presenting what Basinger has named his “Look to the Stars” awards.

Sometimes the benefits of working for the company go beyond promotions and awards. When Gonzalez’s sister lost her husband and brother in an automobile crash, Basinger set up college funds for her children.

In addition to the extended family of 800 employees who work at his restaurants, Basinger’s own family also works in the enterprise. His daughter, Kendi, is involved in operations and human resources management. His son, Kyle, serves as a general manager. His daughter-in-law, Katy, works in accounting.

That’s another reason why it’s impossible to separate Ken Basinger the businessman from Ken Basinger the family man. 

Phil Castle is editor of the Grand Valley Business Times, a twice-monthly business journal published in Grand Junction. Castle brings to his duties nearly 30 years of experience in editorial management positions with Western Colorado newspapers. In addition, his free-lance work has appeared in a variety of publications, including the Washington Post. He holds a bachelor's degree in technical journalism from Colorado State University.
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