Washington Mardi Gras - January 27, 2018
It began as a college dream -- a vision of a restaurant that served high quality chicken finger meals and nothing else. From this vision, Todd Graves created a business plan that, ironically, earned the lowest grade in the class. The professor said a restaurant serving only chicken fingers would never work.
Undaunted, the young entrepreneur put on a cheap suit, carried a briefcase adorned with brass combination locks and presented his business plan to any banker that would see him. Each time, Graves received the same negative response. Some even told him he should give up the idea and “get a real job.” At that point, Graves knew he would need to raise his own capital to achieve his dream.
This journey led Graves to work as a boilermaker in California oil refineries. He moved on to Alaska, where he raised his own seed money in the risky trade of commercial salmon fishing. Upon returning to Baton Rouge, Graves reconstructed an old building with his own hands into the first Raising Cane’s restaurant. In a moment of inspiration, he even named the restaurant after his yellow lab…Raising Cane.
In 20 years, Raising Cane's Chicken Fingers® has grown from a single restaurant outside the North Gates of Louisiana State University to nearly 320 restaurants (and counting!) in 23 US states, Kuwait, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. Raising Cane’s now ranks as of one of the fastest growing restaurant companies in the U.S. with annual revenues exceeding $1 Billion.
The fun environment, friendly crew and unique culture are all part of the Raising Cane's experience. Combined with an uncompromising dedication to quality, Graves and his company have earned countless industry awards and accolades.
Graves’s entrepreneurial spirit has been recognized in Nation’s Restaurant News, Chain Leader, QSR, Entrepreneur, Rolling Stone and USA Today. He’s appeared on FOX’s Your World with Neil Cavuto, FOX & Friends and on CNN Headline News’s Pulse on America series. He’s also been featured on episodes of FOX’s Secret Millionaire, Food Network’s Food Court Wars, Animal Planet’s Treehouse Masters and Discovery’s Fast N’ Loud.
Graves has been named an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year and was awarded the SCORE Award for Outstanding Socially Progressive Business. He recently was honored as Restaurateur of the Year by the Louisiana Restaurant Association and Louisianan of the Year by Louisiana Life.
As a result of the passion and commitment of Graves and his team, Raising Cane’s continually ranks as one of the leading quick-service restaurants in the country. Raising Cane’s has ranked in the Top 5 in Overall Customer
Satisfaction in Sandelman and Associates’ Quick-Track Customer Satisfaction study for 9 consecutive years as well as being rated #1 Favorite Chicken Chain by Marketforce. Business Insider named Raising Cane’s One of the Best Fast Food Chains in the U.S.
Graves is passionate about supporting the community and showing appreciation to the people who have made his dream a reality. He carries his tremendous success in business over to a wide array of philanthropic endeavors. In the past five years, Graves and Raising Cane’s provided more than $25 million in support to the communities where Raising Cane’s restaurants operate. Raising Cane’s gives back to each community, focusing its efforts on:
• Schools: supporting thousands of educational institutions, including colleges and universities, community colleges, high schools, middle schools and elementary schools through athletics programs, teacher appreciation, student organizations and academics.
• Feeding the Hungry: organizing massive food drives, including “Raising Cans with Raising Cane’s,” and making significant donations to food banks, soup kitchens and other organizations that feed the hungry across the country.
• Active Lifestyles: supporting thousands of events that promote an active lifestyle, including community races, walks, sports leagues and tournaments.
• Business & Entrepreneurial Organizations: being actively involved in hundreds of professional organizations, including chambers of commerce, young professional organizations, Junior Achievement, SCORE, visitors’ bureaus and city development organizations. Graves and Raising Cane’s were instrumental in bringing Lemonade Day to South Louisiana.
• Pet Welfare: working with hundreds of pet welfare organizations across the country through support and sponsorship of their events and programs. Raising Cane’s has made significant investments to nine dog parks in Louisiana.
Graves is an involved member of many national and local organizations, including the National Restaurant Association, Young Presidents Organization and United Way, where he is a member of the Alexis de Tocqueville Society. Graves serves as the board president of the BREC Foundation and a board member of the LSU Tiger Athletic Foundation. Graves regularly guest lectures at universities and high school classes on entrepreneurship, leadership and active community involvement and delivered the 2010 commencement address at Louisiana State University.
Once a McDonald’s franchisee, Graves’s wife Gwen sold her business to spend more time focusing on their children and the community. In addition to helping with Raising Cane’s community endeavors, Gwen visited s hospitals for more than seven years with Raising Cane II as part of the dog’s pet therapy services.
The Graves reside in Baton Rouge, La. with their two children. In addition to spending time with his family and pets, Graves enjoys traveling and outdoor activities.
Anna Maeve Reilly is the daughter of Jennifer and Sean Reilly of Baton Rouge, LA. Anna is a student at the Trinity College of Arts and Sciences at Duke University in Durham, NC. She is a Public Policy major and serves as a staff writer of the features section of The Standard Magazine, a member of the Duke Association for Business Oriented Women, the Duke Partnership for Service and Alpha Phi Sorority.
Anna is a 2016 graduate of Groton School, Groton, MA where she was co-captain of the Varsity Swim Team, a member of the Varsity Crew Team, student leader of the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, Global Education Prefect and Visual Arts Prefect. Anna was co-features editor, copy editor and staff writer of Groton School newspaper, The Circle Voice. She also served as an admissions tour guide and student host for prospective students.
During summers in high school, Anna served as an intern at University Prep Charter in Baton Rouge; participated in the Sewanee Young Writers' Conference at the University of the South; and attended St. Alban's School of Public Service in Washington, D.C. She attended Episcopal in Baton Rouge through middle school.
Anna is the granddaughter of Mrs. Mary Jane Coughlin Eplett of Osterville, MA, the late Dr. James Douglas Eplett and Ann Switzer Reilly of Baton Rouge, LA and the late Kevin P. Reilly Sr, who was the King of the1963 Washington Mardi Gras.