Up Close: A Q&A with J. Todd Ondell

Monday, March 22, 2021
J. Todd Ondell

Viterbo faculty member J. Todd Ondell worked in his family’s business (17 Hardee’s restaurants) for almost 20 years. Ondell and his wife, Deb, later owned Grounded Specialty Coffee in downtown La Crosse. Now Todd shares his years of practical experience with Viterbo business students.

What are some of the things you’ve learned from two and a half decades in business?

ONDELL: Business is very simple, people are very complicated; measure people’s performance, do not judge them; and the little differences make the big differences.

What was the key to your success and some of the challenges you faced?

ONDELL: The biggest and most profound key was the people around me. Hiring was the biggest challenge. We could teach anyone to perform to standard operating performance levels if we hired smiling eyes and not just a body.

What are some of the things you try to instill in your students?

ONDELL: Today is the most perfect day of their life, and that is their choice. Trust. Be superb. Make everyone’s day a little better.

Do you like teaching at Viterbo?

ONDELL: I enjoy the students and the opportunity to share our business experiences. Our Dahl School of Business students are being prepared to enter the real world as well as any students, and they have an excellent opportunity to succeed.

What made you decide to get into the coffee business?

ONDELL: When I retired the first time, Deb got very tired of me hanging around the house. She wanted me out!

You sold Grounded Specialty Coffee to former student Maria Norberg. Did it feel good to keep the business in the Viterbo family?

ONDELL: Yes. Maria loves La Crosse and Viterbo. She has been in a number of my classes since she graduated to share what she learned in her business, in the classroom at Viterbo, from her world travels and life experiences. Deb and I still have an occasional dinner or boat ride with her. I have been fortunate to have met so many outstanding young folks while at Viterbo. Many of my students have stayed in touch over the years.

What do you do for fun?

ONDELL: I like to spend as much time as I can with Deb and our four grandkids, aged 6, 6, 3, and 2. I dream of the technology that will be in their lives as they progress through life. Deb has been doing a Cousin’s Camp for three years which brings the grandkids together for a week without moms and dads. This is a fantastic opportunity for grandparents to teach grandkids what life is really like (no crying if you are not bleeding!). I also enjoy drifting down the Mississippi with Deb, a book, an iced tea, and the wonderful sunsets we experience.

Unique fact about you?

ONDELL: We were the Oktoberfest’s 49th Festmaster and Frau, which is quite an honor because we love La Crosse and there have been only 59 Festmasters and Fraus ever.