Debbie “Debo” Richman began her professional career as a 15-year-old waitress at a Steak ‘n Shake in Indianapolis. Debbie’s family was poor, her home life was difficult, and she dropped out of high school and struck out on her own when she was only 16. In the years following, she earned her GED, married, had children, and continued her work in the restaurant industry.
In 1995, Debbie and her husband moved to Chattanooga to open the Steak ‘n Shake on Gunbarrel Road, which immediately became one of the country’s top-five busiest Steak ‘n Shakes. Buoyed by the success of their first business venture, the two opened four more Steak ‘n Shakes in the Chattanooga area.
When the couple divorced in 2000, Debbie was faced with a life-altering decision: sell her share of the restaurants to her ex-husband, or buy his share. She courageously chose the latter, becoming the sole owner and president of one of the country’s busiest Steak ‘n Shake franchises.
From day one, Debbie conducted business differently. She valued people before profit and always worked to make people’s lives better. When the Great Recession hit she had a difficult, but seemingly necessary, choice to make: keep her employee’s benefits or keep her business? Instead of giving up on her 350 employees and their families, she found a way to keep her business and benefits by taking out loans and getting a second mortgage on her home.
Debbie’s unique approach to business is working. Her company, Debo’s Diners, was recognized as Chattanooga’s “Small Business of the Year” in 2000, and Steak ‘n Shake’s “Franchise of the Year” in 2012. She owns two of the top five busiest Steak ‘n Shakes in the world, and in October of 2014 acquired two more Steak ‘n Shakes in Knoxville, with the rights to build three more. Debbie attributes her success to loyal team members and guests, and a corporate culture that values people before profit.