Businessman places values first


Photo: David Livingston/Iowa State Daily

Matthew Goodman got his start 1991 by working at the Smiles & Gyros stand and bought it in 1993, changing his life and his way of doing business. “Some people just love what we’re doing,” Goodman said. “They just love it. It feels right for them it fits them it helps them grow into people they want to be.”

Stefanie Buhrman

Charismatic, philosophic, energetic and passionate are words that have been used to describe Matthew Goodman, owner of businesses such as the Smiles & Gyros and Fighting Burrito, and it all started in 1991 when he came to Iowa State to pursue a degree in chemistry.

After much consideration, Goodman almost did not attend college. He was considering managing a Hardee’s, a place he had worked at during high school to save up money.

After a little more than a month of college, Goodman had almost gone through his entire savings. He needed a job.

He saw a friend from his hometown of Ottumwa working at the gyro stand and asked if they were looking for extra help. Two nights later, Goodman met with the owner of the cart and got the job.

He learned the job quickly and immediately loved it.

“That job was really a big deal,” Goodman said. “I loved it. It was outside. It was fast paced. It was a party, also. You’re in Campustown, but you’re not in a bar. You aren’t serving drinks. You’re in it all without dealing with the messiest parts of it.”

When Goodman came to college, he described himself as cocky and arrogant. At the cart, he found himself judging those he served.

“I had a hard time integrating respect for them,” Goodman said.

Goodman then stopped drinking. He judged those who did. He wanted to differentiate himself from those around him. All during the grunge age of Pearl Jam and Nirvana, he had long hair and wore flannel and long underwear.

This went on for a while. Then one night Goodman experienced what he considers the most pivotal and monumental moment of his life.

“I was trying to make people understand that even guys with dreadlocks work hard and they can impress you,” Goodman said.

While Goodman was working, he saw a group of people hanging around on Welch Avenue. Goodman was just a “dude in rags” trying to make his own way, and he saw the group of nicely dressed people as spoiled.

He made eye contact with a man in the group and was overwhelmed.

“Then, all of a sudden, instead of judging them harshly and thinking I was better than them, I just realized he was some kid doing the best he can. He is just out having fun just the way I am with the tools he was given,” Goodman said.

From that point on, everything changed for Goodman.

“I must have been looking for a way to include everyone in my world, in my head,” Goodman said.

The way Goodman thought about things was different from that point on.

“Instead of thinking I was better than all these people on the street, I just wanted to make sure I spent all my time earning their respect so when it came time I could show them the power they had in their own hands,” Goodman said.

In 1993 after working with the stand for two years, Goodman bought it. While working, he developed his philosophies more.

“The way I feel about my work is weird,” he said. “There aren’t a lot of people who think this way, but to me, the work we are doing out there is expressing ourselves passionately through our work to have an impact on our community, and that’s what I was doing.”

Goodman talked about how work develops a person and how along with school and everything else, it helps make you. After graduating with a degree in chemistry, Goodman had felt that he had changed over his academic lifetime.

“If you are about to graduate, you are not the same person you were four years ago. There’s no way,” he said.

Goodman’s change in thinking and growth gave him a chance to impact others.

“We have a unique opportunity to be out there and try to earn respect through our work and capitalize on the respect to remind them of the incredible people they can be if they choose to,” Goodman said.

Overall, Goodman described his experience as emotional, philosophical and spiritual.

“A business person who truly cares about their community needs to take risks to strengthen their community and not just sit on an operation that takes care of you,” Goodman said. “I think that’s important, and I think what we should all be doing in all kinds of different ways is making a difference in our communities.”

Goodman first met Joshua Herbolsheimer when Herbolsheimer was a student at Iowa State in early 2002. He was interviewing for a job with Goodman at the stand in response to an ad in a newspaper that said, “Hard help wanted, must bust ass.” Herbolsheimer was introduced to Goodman’s philosophies immediately.

“I remember when I was at his house for that interview,” Herbolsheimer said. “He had a sticker above the kitchen that said, ‘Be not half assed.'”

Herbolsheimer was initially very shy and barely said a word at the interview, but Goodman thought Herbolsheimer could use the stand to become more outgoing and wanted to give him that chance. From that point on, Goodman and Herbolsheimer were not only co-workers, but over time they became friends.

“He is a person who is living his values,” Herbolsheimer said. “He was this sort of employer who was always a friend, always had time for you, always respected you. He had a really strong impact on me. He is honest. He has integrity, and you can count on that. We’ve been friends a long time, and we don’t always agree on things, but he is true to the person he is.”

One night while Herbolsheimer and Goodman were working together, a man tried to cut to the front of the line at the stand and offered to pay extra for a sandwich. Goodman wouldn’t allow it and asked him to return to the back of the line.

The man kept upping the amount he would pay for the next sandwich off the grill, and Goodman persisted that he get back to the end of the line. 

This was not a one-time occurrence, but Goodman was consistent with his response.

“The cool thing about him, he believes in [his philosophies],” Herbolsheimer said. “He strongly lives in them, and he’s fun to be around.”

One tradition that Goodman has established with his employees is going out to the Ledges State Park after Veishea weekend. After working two 15-hour days of pure mayhem, the staff has a chance to relax.

“We are quiet together,” Goodman said. “I think a lot of time what people, what the world, needs is people who are less afraid of cynicism, less afraid to be authentic. I think it’s always easier to act joke-y and act like nothing is important. We take it in, and we just sense the world around us for a little bit and without any of the normal distractions, and I think it just feels good to be involved in a place where you are not scared to believe in things, and that’s sort of the physical representation of that.”

Coming together each year like this gives the employees a chance to get to know each other.

“The first time we went out there, it was the first time I heard him talk about what he was actually about,” said Chad Watkins, another co-worker of Goodman’s. “He let his emotions out and explained who he is. It was the first time I really got it.”

Watkins first met Goodman in February 2006 at the gyro stand for his interview.

“It was probably the easiest interview I’ve ever done,” Watkins said. “He seemed so comfortable and real easygoing. He was real sociable.”

Watkins said he loved Goodman’s charisma and energy. He said Goodman’s energy was always “at the top, he’s confident, and he does his job so well.”

“I liked how tough he was, but it was fair,” Watkins said. “He had a set of rules; if you didn’t follow them, then you didn’t work there. With his philosophies, not everyone can make it at his work, but he doesn’t hold it against you if you aren’t cut out for it.

“He is still friends with people that no longer work there.”

Watkins felt that if Goodman stepped into a new venture, he would make it work because of his confidence and his work ethics.

“Food is such a small portion of what he does,” Watkins said. “But he’s changing people’s lives. He’s a great guy on top of being a great boss.”

Goodman’s philosophies and business practices have affected people in and out of the workplace.

“There are so many great stories, so many random things and trips,” Herbolsheimer said. “Working with him and knowing him has been defining and monumental for me, and I think I’m a better person for knowing him.”