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Yum! In The News

How a Taco Bell senior legal director leans into heavy metal

As the co-owner of Next Level Metal, Sarah Crow has learned to “live in the now” as she embraces her full-time job, a side hustle and life with three kids.

Sarah Crow and her family

Image provided by Sarah Crow.

Published on March 02, 2023

Each evening between the hours of 6-8 p.m., Sarah Crow’s Illinois house is full of life. As the mother of three boys — ages 9, 6 and 4 — and as Taco Bell’s senior legal director of Franchising & Real Estate, Crow does her best to “embrace each moment.” That means being OK with crayons and craft paper on the floor behind her home office desk and maybe a pair of small scissors (or two) lying around as her workspace transitions to an art studio. It all comes with the territory as she navigates life with her family, a full-time job and a thriving side hustle as the co-owner of Next Level Metal (NLM).

Next Level Metal, which makes staircases, balcony railings, retaining walls and other carbon steel products that support multi-family and hotel/business developments, was struggling when its owners first sought out her husband Shawn's wealth management firm for financial and business help. Although neither Sarah nor Shawn was well-versed in metal fabrication – she excelled in corporate contract negotiations and he, in financial management – they felt that combined, their skills could take NLM to the next level.

Patio dividers created by Next Level Metal at Billy G's restaurant in Kirkwood, Missouri.

“At first, we were only going to use our money and skills to help the business as an investment solution, but after two years, we fell in love with the company and its creations, eventually buying it outright in 2019,” Crow said.

Eventually, her husband sold his wealth management firm to focus on NLM full-time, Crow accepted a position Pizza Hut U.S. and then within Yum!’s Global Franchise Office after working nine years for a Dallas law firm, and their family moved from Texas to Illinois, where NLM is headquartered.

Finding next level (Yum!) support

With a background in crisis management, business restructuring and contract negotiation, Crow fit in at Yum!, where she navigated and negotiated complex franchise agreements and policies. In 2022, Crow moved to Taco Bell, earning a promotion, while continuing to co-own NLM.

“Yum!’s culture, focus on people and its support of women in business overall are what make owning Next Level Metal possible. This company values people in the holistic sense and not just because of who they are as an employee,” Crow said. “Yum! encourages people to pursue their passions and my coworkers support me as a mom, an entrepreneur and as a friend, and that’s been extremely encouraging.”

Crow also found support among her supervisors and colleagues, who were more than prepared to provide reassurance and feedback along the way.

“I was working closely with Sarah early on when she was figuring out her family’s new business structure and watching her grow into all of her roles has been a remarkable experience,” said Scott Catlett, Yum! chief legal & franchise officer & corporate secretary. “Sarah’s work at Yum! has helped to position her as a phenomenal business owner because she understands the nuances of franchising and what it means to own a business.”

Metalwork in private residence in St. Louis, Missouri.

Learning the ropes of NLM as a business owner has given Crow a deeper appreciation for Yum!’s franchisee network, and it’s helped her step outside of her comfort zone to think about the barriers she’s faced as a female entrepreneur. Her focus now has turned to how she can help break barriers for other women business.

“Growing up, my brother was taught how to use tools and how that’s the beginning of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) training. When we purchased Next Level Metal, I had to teach myself how to use the tools of the trade and that helped me build additional confidence as a woman. In learning new things, and a new industry, it’s not always about having a formal education; sometimes, you just want to figure out how to put something together.”

Making it all work

Today, NLM has an annual revenue of $3.5 million (up from $500,000 when they first started), and up to 14 employees and crews who work based on the number of projects needing to be installed.

Staircase leading from a patio to the rooftop deck in a private residence in St. Louis, Missouri.

To manage it all, Crow now excels at “hyper-prioritizing” her work life and family time. That means keeping her primary focus on her job at Taco Bell and shifting in the evenings to NLM. Together, Crow and her husband work in partnership to keep their family in full swing, balancing roles, jobs and family obligations as necessary.

“I had a huge Yum! litigation last year that took up a lot of my time, so my husband leaned into NLM when I couldn’t. And, when my husband has his own projects, I step in and do things more proactively, so we are consistently working together as a team,” said Crow. “We’re building a legacy for our family, and that’s going to be rewarding in different ways, so I’m grateful for Yum!’s flexibility and our willingness to make that happen.”

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