In early March of 1996, Steve was driving in his car when he heard a news report about the scheduled opening of a new restaurant based on the movie Forrest Gump. It would open in Monterey, CA – only 75 miles down the road from where Steve was living in San Jose – he knew what he had to do.
Steve had the gumption to pick up the phone and say, “You’re not going to believe who I look like!”
He arranged a time to meet the fledgling restauranteurs, arrived with a plan in hand on how he could help them, presented three possible options, and the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company hired Steve on the spot.
His picture appeared on the front page of the local newspaper the next day and the rest was history.
Over the next 15 years, Steve helped open 22 USA restaurants and 8 international locations. He appeared on hundreds of radio and television newscasts. He estimates his photo taken over 3 million times.
Steve had the ability to sit on his buttocks for long periods of a time and act stupid.
Fortunately, Steve was smart enough to know a good thing. He was humbled by the public’s outpouring of love towards the character. Steve said, “The character was – and is – beloved.” He was wise enough to know that it wasn’t Steve they loved – it was what Steve represented that brought joy to thousands each day that he went to work.
Steve knew it was a job and approached each day in a professional manner.
“The hardest part about the job was showing up in a good mood each and every day.”
That forced Steve to learn how to take care of himself – mentally and physically. He had to eat properly to have enough energy for his 5-hours shifts. He had to be properly rested to handle the non-stop, high-energy interactions that meeting with the public demanded. Steve learned humility and graciousness.
Maintaining control of the environment while making it look spontaneous was a skill.
Over the years Steve learned how to interact with people on an individual level. He developed hundreds of setup stories and punch lines. He tweaked each story to fit the person sitting with him depending on if they were an innocent child, a Harley-biker, a giggling teenage girl, a slightly-demented senior, or a reserved tourist from another country. They all wanted to meet ‘Forrest’. They all wanted to feel special. Steve loved doing it!
Walk right up to the edge but don’t cross the line.
Sure Steve crossed the line a few times in the early years, but he became a master of taking his guests right to the edge of the cliff … and then innocently – ala Gump – wondering why they were so excited? The result was pandemonium and hysterics. Every once in a while, Steve himself would break out laughing – it was pure joy. It was one of the few times he’d break character.
The best lines initially happened spontaneously.
Once Steve stumbled into a good line, he would perfect it by practicing it over and over until he mastered the setup, the phrasing, the timing, and the payoff punch-line. He mastered these lines by analyzing what worked and what didn’t work during his off hours. He then would try it over-and-over again on unsuspecting tourists until it was perfected.
Over the years, Steve developed hundreds of stories, jokes, and his own brand of being Gump.
After about year six or seven of working three or four days a week – 50 weeks a year – Steve had the Gump schtick down pat. He could do it his sleep. He didn’t have to think about it anymore. He just did it. It came natural. It was pure being-in-the-moment fun!
At about this same time, he began to think, “What next?” It was during this time period that the idea of taking the life lessons from the movie and turning them into a motivational message started to germinate. By year 10, becoming a professional speaker was a real goal. The last five years of Steve’s life chapter as Forrest Gump for the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company was split between part-time Forrest and aspiring gump-trepreneur.
Bubba Gump Shrimp Company was sold to Landry’s in December 2010 and the Gump-magic-carpet-ride for Bubba Gump graciously came to an end in February of 2011 … one month shy of fifteen years.
Steve says, “I’m grateful to and full of admiration for everyone at the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company Restaurant and Market … Thank you!”