The Imperfect Road to Excellence
Melanie Veeh – President of Franchise Organization, Denali Foods, Inc.
Yum! Brands in partnership with Taco Bell, KFC, Pizza Hut, and The Habit Burger Grill, created EmpowHER, a leadership development program connecting women leaders in franchisee organizations across all Yum! Brands through development opportunities. The goal of this program is to invest in women leaders and franchisees across our organizations by providing growth opportunities, recognizing their achievements, and fostering a community that collaborates and grows together.
To celebrate this program, we’re highlighting one of our very own women franchisees, Melanie Veeh! Melanie is the President and part owner at Denali Foods, Inc., that oversees 15 Taco Bell restaurants and 500+ team members in the state of Alaska. She attributes her success to a lot of hard work, brave decisions, good colleagues, teamwork, and an article she read in high school that inspired her to major in Accounting and become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA).
In 2002, a fellow CPA shared a job opportunity to become the Controller at Denali Foods, Inc., the Taco Bell franchisee in Alaska. From there, Melanie has worked hard to now have part ownership at Denali Foods.
Melanie emphasized the significance of actively networking and being involved in the community—had she not been connected to other CPAs in the area, she would have never heard about the job opening at Denali Foods, Inc.
We had a chance to spend time with Melanie and learn more about her evolution:
How did you get started in franchising? Did you face obstacles along the way?
My hometown in Idaho did not have a Taco Bell, so the first time I visited one I was attending Idaho State University and it quickly became a Friday night go-to place. I enjoyed the food so much that in 1993, I tried to open a franchise restaurant in my hometown. Sadly, since there was already another franchisee entering the area, that plan didn’t pan out.
Shortly after, my family and I relocated to Anchorage, Alaska, where a fellow CPA shared a job opportunity to become the Controller at the Taco Bell franchise Denali Foods, Inc.
One of the biggest challenges I faced coming into my new role was learning how to manage people. I had never done that before, and it was hard! But through hands-on experiences, I learned that if I hired someone with a strong work ethic, I could teach them what they needed to know and provide them with the tools they needed to do the job.
How did you grow your business and teams?
At Denali Foods, Inc., we make sure our restaurants are the “best on block.” We strive to have all the latest equipment, gadgets, and tools to help improve the lives of our team members so that they can focus on making the best food and serving our customers. We have a strong culture of recognition and often celebrate accomplishments, birthdays, and service anniversaries. Along with this, we do weekend resort retreats, fishing trips, limo rides, and Denali Champions Club trips and provide our restaurant teams meals during each shift.
We want to ensure that our teams know they are valued and instrumental in the business.
What do you think are the attributes of a good leader?
I think you need to focus on self-awareness and understand what motivates you, what your strengths are, and what your core values are. You also need to have integrity, honesty, humility, and learn to take risks. Most importantly, keep in mind that everyone can be a great leader. It is something that can be learned, and you can lead and succeed from all levels of a business, not just management.
How did your upbringing prepare you for the role you are in today?
My dad had a saying: “You need to use more elbow grease,” which meant I had to work vigorously and apply more effort; just getting the job done wasn’t enough. Growing up we didn’t have a lot of money and being the oldest of 7, I was very independent, and I wanted to be successful. I started working different jobs to earn money while in high school—I was a nanny, I delivered the paper route, I was a legislative aide. I became a “do-er.” I had to work hard to get what I wanted because I knew no one else was going to do it for me.
If you had the opportunity to give yourself career advice ten years ago, what would it be?
Don’t take life so seriously and have more fun. I am a hard worker, and I was very hard on myself during my career. Now I have learned that sometimes things can be ‘good enough’. Excellence does not mean everything has to be perfect all the time.
I really enjoy reading books by the author Brené Brown— she gives great advice and one of her quotes that I relate to often is, “I'm a Recovering Perfectionist and an aspiring Good-Enoughist.”
Can you share a memorable experience you’ve had at Denali Foods Inc.?
Operation Alaska. A Doritos Locos Taco Truck was airdropped in the remote town of Bethel, Alaska to deliver 10,000 tacos to feed the entire town. I helped plan and execute this task with Taco Bell Corp. I, along with 15 of Denali Foods’ team members, all flew to Bethel and made the tacos. It was a blast!
What advice would you give other women that are looking to become franchisees?
There are many ways to become a franchisee! It’s not always about having a lot of money; there are other paths to ownership. I earned my ownership through hard work and proved my value to the owners of Denali Foods, Inc., and because they believed in me, I was given the opportunity to become a minority owner in 2015.
I also believe you should never stop learning—and get your CPA!
Who is a woman that inspires you?
My mom! She is incredibly brave and has been an excellent role model. She taught me that it is important to recognize when you can make life better and when it is time to make a change; you must be brave.
In May 2022, Melanie celebrated 20 years of service at Denali Foods, Inc. Her team surprised her with a big party and, of course, a Taco Bell themed cake.
We’re thankful for the strong women of our Taco Bell Franchisees, like Melanie, who help guide young leaders, develop great work culture and elevate the brand.