Rob Goldberg, president and CEO of the PlumpJack Group, does not like structure and he almost never chooses to play it safe. The former corporate director of operations for Hard Rock Café International was drawn to join PlumpJack because of what he calls the company’s “irreverence.”
“We insist on doing business differently and finding things that nobody else is doing and throwing tradition on its head,” says Goldberg. “We take the stiffness and the pomp and circumstance out of things and make them more approachable.”
Goldberg has many opportunities to do this throughout his day. As the head honcho at PlumpJack, Goldberg is responsible for the company’s high-profile restaurants such as PlumpJack Café, Balboa Café, MatrixFillmore and Jack Falstaff, as well as the company’s wineries and hotels. In total, he runs 14 businesses with more 900 employees. It gets hectic.
“I lead a really crazy life,” says Goldberg. “We have very little corporate structure by design so I’ve got my hands in everything. A lot of my time is spent on new ventures and developmentphases of new hotels and restaurants and wineries.”
Goldberg, a Bay Area native, always knew he wanted to work in the restaurant industry. As a child, he was fascinated with the workings of the restaurants that he would frequent with his family. His first job was a dishwasher at a small Tiburon café.
After graduating from UCLA in 1985, Goldberg started his career as an assistant general manager for Hard Rock Café in Los Angeles. He went on to manage swanky Southern California restaurants such as Vertigo and Bravo Cucina before returning to Hard Rock in 1992 as general manager overseeing properties in Los Angeles, Maui, Honolulu and San Francisco. At his final post with the company, he was in charge of all restaurants and retail stores in the Western U.S. and Hawaii.
Goldberg likens the PlumpJack brand to the popular Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Las Vegas: high profile and gutsy. He recalls analysts telling him the hotel would never succeed but he pushed forward anyway.
“At PlumpJack they said screw caps are a terrible idea on wine, retail pricing on a wine list is crazy, opening a bar across from the other bar is a death wish, you can’t make a seasonal hotel work,” he says. “But we approach it differently anyway.”
Goldberg says that every time he eats in a restaurant he drives his wife crazy because he is incessantly scheming on how to improve the silverware, the menu or the place setting. He says he eats in a PlumpJack restaurant at least three times a week but won’t fess up as to which is his favorite.
“That’s like saying which is your favorite child,” he says.”