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A Mentorship Moment To Cherish: Bert Thornton visits Native Cafe

  • Aug 23, 2021
  • Steve Nissim
Waffle House Vice Chairmen Emeritus Bert Thornton gives advice to Native Cafe co-owner Jesse Brown Waffle House Vice Chairmen Emeritus Bert Thornton gives advice to Native Cafe co-owner Jesse Brown
Everybody loves Bert! That seems to be the consensus when talking about Bert Thornton. The legendary Vice Chairman Emeritus and former Chief Operations Officer of Waffle House is affable, chock full of great stories, and all about sharing his knowledge and expertise with others. He’s part of an amazing stable of mentors at the Studer Community Institute.
Anyone could benefit from Bert’s wisdom, but if you’re a growing restaurant that specializes in breakfast food, it would be tough to find a better guide. That’s exactly the magical scenario for Native Café on Pensacola Beach.

The popular locally owned restaurant is enrolled in The Spring’s Venture Mentoring Service (VMS), a program of SCI. The free program is based on the renowned model created by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Selected local entrepreneurs are paired with 3-5 experts in residence to gain invaluable expertise and advice.

Starting in April, monthly meetings with their mentor group are delivering actionable insight for Native Café. They told me advice from the very first session on starting bi-weekly leadership meetings is making a huge difference. It should not be surprising that Bert is providing extra benefits. It’s pretty special to get an on-site visit from the Waffle House guru himself. I was lucky enough to witness a recent trip (he’s been there twice). Co-owner Arin Brown said it was like having a celebrity in the restaurant. Bert shared practices that Waffle House uses and observed some production issues Native Café is having. He recommended a time control study and plans to help them analyze the results. The visit seemed like a perfect fit for one of my "What's Happening at SCI" stories. 

Watch a video story on Bert's visit to Native Cafe!

Bert also made it clear how impressed he is with Native Café. They’re driving a huge truck with a Volkswagen engine is how he put it. They’ve reached a level of success that is outperforming the space they have. It’s a business you want to root for. Owned and operated by fifth generation Pensacolians, the Brown family, they first opened in 2008. They have overcome a myriad of challenges (including a fire, and significant hurricane damage) to build a thriving restaurant. I can personally attest to the food being delicious. Siblings Jesse and Arin Brown, along with Jesse’s wife Ashlee were extremely gracious and welcoming in giving me access to document Bert’s visit.

My interest doesn’t stop here. I plan to continue following their story as Native Café looks to expand while taking full advantage of their VMS membership. A documentary type story, including other VMS companies, is in the works.

VMS is really a phenomenal program. 15 local businesses are currently enrolled, and the Spring is accepting applications now for a new batch of entrepreneurs. You can learn more and apply at

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