2020 CEOs of the Year: BBQ king John Rivers turns to Walt Disney, Steve Jobs and more for biz inspiration

This year hasn’t been an easy one for local restaurateur John Rivers.

The founder, chairman and CEO of Winter Park-based 4R Restaurant Group LLC — whose 4 Rivers Smokehouse restaurants have achieved a cult-like following — was dealt with a huge blow in the spring by the coronavirus pandemic.

His decade-old company started the year with double-digit increases in same-restaurant sales, expanded outside of Central Florida and even became one of the region’s largest employers with more than 500 local workers. But the fast-spreading deadly Covid-19 threatened his success, as concepts had to close and employees were furloughed.

However, Rivers and his team persevered, finding creative ways to adjust operations each time the pandemic caused yet another obstacle to the business or its employees’ health.

Next, Rivers turned to providing free meals to families in need — through the company’s nonprofit alliance 4R Foundation — to give back to the community as well as to provide more employment opportunities for his workers. In fact, his proudest accomplishment in the past year was the way his team pivoted during Covid-19, Rivers said.

“When we lost half of our business overnight, everyone dug in, adapted the model, lifted each other up and, more importantly, lifted the community up by creating Feed the Need and serving more than 1.5 million meals to families in need.”

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