Back to the Future

Dunkin’ Brands’ Rick Colón leads the way for next-gen stores while maintaining a nostalgic connection to the past

Photo by Peter Garritano
Rick Colón, SVP of US Operations and Development, Dunkin’ Brands Photo by Peter Garritano

No matter how many years pass, Rick Colón will always remember the weekends he spent with his father.

“It was a bit of a Saturday ritual to go with my dad to Dunkin’ Donuts,” Colón recalls. “I can still smell the fresh baked doughnuts. I loved getting to have my pick of which ones we would bring back home. But yeah, I wouldn’t leave that store without getting a glazed one.”

Today, Colón finds himself working as Dunkin’ Brands’ senior vice president of US operations and development. And sometimes, he still can’t believe it. “It’s very surreal when you think about it,” he says. “But I truly believe that everything works out the way it’s meant to be.”

His journey to Dunkin’ Brands, however, wasn’t as clear cut as one might think. Originally from Puerto Rico, Colón moved to Connecticut when he was just four years old. As a soft-spoken teenager who dreamed of becoming a baseball player when he grew up, Colón got his first job at McDonald’s, where he did everything from washing the floors to flipping the burgers.

Little did he know then that he would remain at McDonald’s for a total of thirty-nine years, eventually moving into the corporate world to oversee over 5,500 restaurants around the country. Colón, however, was at what looked to be the pinnacle of his career, when he decided it was time to retire.

“Here I was, fifty-four and retired,” he recalls. “I just thought it was time to spend more time with my family. But after being home for eighteen months, my wife started telling me that I had to find something to do. I couldn’t clean the garage once a week.”

And then the phone rang.

“A business associate friend of mine was just calling to check up on me, but they ended up telling me about an opportunity with Dunkin’,” Colón says. “I spent a couple of days at their headquarters, and I fell in love with the culture there. I was hooked.”

Hooked he was, especially to the challenges that laid out in front of him: to help shape Dunkin’s next-generation stores. The launch of these dynamic new stores marks an important moment in Dunkin’ Donuts’ growth. The stores will include features such more modern design, premium pours, an expanded, custom Grab & Go unit with bottled beverages and snacks from leading brands that complement Dunkin’s menu, and more.

“Basically, we want to offer the consumer every beverage option that they could possibly want,” says Colón, who oversees the changes in six different regions across the country. “We want our consumer to decide how, when, where, and, of course, what they want to order.”

But in doing so, Colón says he is committed to maintaining a healthy balance between the needs of the brand’s longtime patrons and the wants of their younger customers who are accustomed to a more on-demand sort of purchasing structure.

“We are still going to be there for the guy who just wants to run in for his coffee and his doughnut, just like my dad used to,” Colón says. “But we also want to evolve as a brand for those young people who will eventually hold the biggest purchasing power for us moving forward.”

Therefore, Colón often relies on the suggestions from his own family about the best ways to do this, especially when it comes to catering to millennials.

“I have two millennial boys and a millennial daughter-in-law who help keep me honest,” Colón says. “I truly believe that we have hit a point where we need younger mentors. Everything is so fast these days. What used to take a day to communicate now takes a second. So, I’ve really become committed to listening more and talking less. I’m intrigued by how brilliant millennials are.”

Indeed, the pure idea of mentorship is something that Colón believes had a direct effect on his own professional journey.

“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for my high school teacher Ralph Severino, who helped me get that first job at McDonalds,” he says. “I mean, when I didn’t know how to dress for an interview, he bought me a jacket. I learned early on about the importance of mentors, along with the importance of picking mentors who are different than you.”