Restaurant Rockstars Episode 355
This Growing Pizza Chain Has All the “Hooks”!
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I’ve always said, you can’t have too many “hooks” for your restaurant.
Anything interesting, unique, or powerful that catches the guest’s attention and leads to sales, reviews or buzz is free marketing!
In this episode of the Restaurant Rockstars Podcast, I’m speaking with Casey Biehl, VP of Ops for Fat Boys. This growing pizza chain is company owned with locations in Texas, Mississippi, and Louisiana.
Besides their unique hooks, much of Fat Boys success is due to company culture and leadership. They believe in building strong relationships across their pizza chain from team to guests to suppliers.
Watch or listen as Casey talks about:
- Growing from one successful location to two to nine across three states
- The importance of company culture vs. a mission statement
- Quality and guest satisfaction that come from making your products from scratch daily.
- How a food truck increases visibility and awareness for the brand
- Appealing menu items that are a draw alongside the pizza
- Adding a profitable alcohol and beer program
And of course, how this pizza chain is family friendly and “gives the people what they want”!
Don’t miss this episode, come up with some new unique “hooks” for your business then go out there and ROCK your own Restaurant!
Connect with our guest:
IG + TW @eatfatboyspizza
The ethos in our company is always family centric. I mean, you go into one of our restaurants and it’s this really neat dichotomy of families there. We have some arcade games they have video poker in a lot of our venues, you have a bar, we sell daiquiris you have the televisions and just pizza generally is a social experience. And we lean into that. So knowing that we have to have the breath of menu items that caters to the five year old, 14 year old, the mom, the dad and the grandparents and and that’s kind of where we are from a menu standpoint.
Welcome back to the podcast. Thanks for joining me. Today’s guest is Casey Beale. He is the vice president of operations of a growing company owned chain of pizza stores called Fat Boys pizza. They’re based in Texas and Louisiana. And they’re all about marketing and hooks and hospitality and setting themselves apart. In a very competitive segment, we talk about the challenges of growing, we talk about experiments that worked, they have alcohol programs, and you can even take out gallons of pina coladas from the restaurant. It’s all about family focused and offering something for everyone. arcades and games for the kids in the stores, drive throughs in some of the stores and a food truck. So all of these things build brand awareness and they are certainly building a brand and not just running a pizza place or restaurant, so you’re not gonna want to miss this episode. Thanks to our sponsors this week. And again, thanks to you, our audience for tuning in. Now, on with the episode.
You’re tuned in to the restaurant rockstars podcast powerful ideas to rock your restaurant. Here’s your host Roger Beaudoin.
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I’m doing great. Thanks for having me on Roger.
Well, you’re a pretty dynamic, passionate guy about this business. We were chatting a little bit before this recording started and you’ve got a fast growing concept. We’re going to talk all about that. But before we do, my guests are always fascinated because everyone has their own restaurant story. And it all started somewhere for you. And yours is particularly interesting. So take us back as far as you’d like. And just tell us your career trajectory in hospitality and restaurants.
Yeah, I mean, and I’ll try not to be too verbose in this summary but I think my my trek through the hospitality industry for many people happen And by just happenstance, it was a means to an end it was a conduit to be able to do the things that I wanted to do. And at a young age, it was going out and having fun. And so in college, I secured a great bartending gig at a nightclub in New Orleans. And I used to drive in on the weekends, make a ton of money, drive back to college and spend all that money and come back at zero. And finish college got to what I often refer to as a real job as a district sales manager right out of college for a fortune 500 company. And I’m out in Dallas. And about a year and a half into it, I realized I was not happy, I was lonely. I was missing something. I got in a U haul drove back to my parents house. My mom started unpacking my things. I said, Mom, I’m only going to be here for a couple of weeks, please stop unpacking. About a year later. She’s like, Get your ass out of my house, please. And but in my my time looking for that career, I found myself having to go back into the bar business. And lo and behold, that kind of evolved doors kind of open taking on more responsibility. And before you know it, you know, I was I was running the general manager of the largest nightclub in the city of New Orleans. And that’s huge. Yeah, yeah. So it was it was a lot of fun, learned a lot got so much energy in the building every day, it was just infectious. I think that my mentor there, a gentleman named chip Abood. I didn’t realize what I was learning in that setting. But we what we he was notorious for was high level attention to detail that would have been successful in in the industry. And when when he applied that attention to detail and that professionalism. And a platform that was such a party scene where it’s notorious for being run by the owner that’s at the bar having a drink, and we we polished our shoes, we stood a certain way, we made sure that people used to smoke back then had lighters on us. I mean, there were certain things that we had to make sure we did. And I just really thought that set me up for a lot of success. And then that turned into a career.
So I’m hearing professionalism and hospitality combined. In a business, like you said, that’s traditionally a little loose. It’s all about the party. And I know that scene, you know, I had a really busy bar. And a lot of bar owners that I knew were like you described, it’s like everyone wants to buy a drink. It’s like when you’re on site. It’s like, hey, Roger, let me buy you a drink. And it’s like, I avoided that, you know, that was not my scene, I ran a business, I didn’t run a bar. So it sounds like that’s exactly that, that experience. Keep going. This is good.
Now, yeah, I mean, I recall, you know, that times where the plant would be five feet away from where it was supposed to, you know, the normal location of it and walking by and he would point you know, and those things just kind of translated to, to a lot of success from there. That that group actually pursued a concept that was called Arcadia concepts. And that was kind of like the, you’ve probably seen the bar slash bistro slash arcade type setup. And there, they had locations in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and also in the Texas market. So I was a director of operations for them for for some time, and then kind of serendipitously with, I think a lot of people in this industry, it’s a it’s a tightly woven network of people. And one of the managers that worked with me during the nightclub days, he left join Caesars Entertainment kind of climb through their corporate ladder, moving around with them and and then he secured a executive level role with Caesars Entertainment got relocated to the New Orleans market, and then dialed me up and then that’s when when I joined Caesars, and I was with them for gosh, almost eight years as an executive have had the pleasure of doing the the grand opening of Caesars Palace, Dubai, which we that’s huge. It was huge. It was a lot of fun. I was kitchen, multiple concepts. And also like equally as exciting was the transition of the Caesars property in New Orleans, which is a Harris New Orleans to a Caesars, New Orleans and we’re really kind of mapping out what that food and beverage program was going to look like. The synergies that are created there sitting in a room with the president of Caesars debating about like, what were the right concepts. You know, they wanted to lean heavily into the New Orleans food scene and say, let’s recreate these things and and as a local and somebody that I thought they held maybe one day they’ll be fail there and blame me. But I recall the debate of we can’t recreate the grity authentic nature of what’s in the French Quarter. And if we do that people are going to call baloney on us and think we’re too sterile. So it was a lot of fun to be part of that
quite diverse experience. I mean, the gaming industry, right really fast paced, obviously really profitable. You’ll learn a lot of things. Hospitality is very present there as well. It has to be specially for the high rollers and that kind of thing. And Dubai, I mean, what a wealthy area that is to begin with, I mean, it brings high rollers in from around the world, I’m sure. And what an experience how long were you in Dubai?
Two consecutive, like so total about 60 days.
Okay, cool. So nice little mini vacation while you’re working? That’s excellent. So how did you end up at Fat Boys and tell us the brainchild and the history of the brand.
So yeah, so the founder and owner of Fat Boys is a gentleman named Gabe Cortesyanni, our kids went to a high school together. We met when they were probably freshmen or eighth grade or something along those lines. And we kind of hit it off and we started just hitting the gym together five days a week meeting at the gym talking about business, Gabe was a very successful business person. We had some similarities, he was in the gaming industry on the video poker side. So you know, those kinds of topics were front and center. Often, when when we got together in the gym. He went to he grew up in Miami. He used to spend his summers on the bar boardwalk in New Jersey. And one weekend, he goes to Miami for the weekend recently, you know, prior to the opening of the first restaurant, and he saw this concept that was doing a New York style pizza, but in a larger than life form similar to ours had a line wrapped around the building. And that really was the inspiration behind it. And Roger, I’ll be candid with you when he came to the gym that next week because I got an idea. I want to open a restaurant I said don’t do it. No, don’t freakin do it.
Everyone wants to open a restaurant, why wouldn’t you I mean, it’s the most glamorous business on the planet. And it’s so easy to run a restaurant.
Go by I said buy a building. And so you know, so this will be more successful Tuesday morning at 10am. And the manager doesn’t show up. They’re calling you and you’re going to stop what you’re doing and need to open up that restaurant and you’re going to make maybe $100,000 a year if you’re lucky, you know, so at that time, he tried to persuade me to come join him. In the venture of fat boys he offered me almost 49% of the business at that time. And in my infinite wisdom, I said no way. I don’t want to flip pies, buddy. And you know, about a year and a half later, we get through COVID and navigate some significant headwinds in the hospitality space. And, and I was knocking on his door and clearly was not able to negotiate that portion of a percentage. I want
my 49% and I want it now.
it’s been awesome, man. It’s a cool concept. It’s available. It’s so approachable. There’s so many facets of it that I think are, are unique, but also like connectivity to the consumer is is really, really interesting. And it’s I love it.
Tell us about some of the things that really make that brand stand up. Because let’s face it, pizza is one of the most competitive segments in this business, right? And so obviously, we’re going to talk a lot about what I call hooks. Everyone knows what a hook is. And you got plenty of those. But tell us in your, in your mind, what really makes this brand stand out.
Yeah, me and now 93% of Americans have eaten pizza in the last 30 days. And so statistically, our consumers are not just consuming it, but they’re consuming it in a way that makes them feel like they’re subject matter experts. And the varieties that are in that marketplace makes people identify with their favorite type. So a New York style pizza could be a disgrace to somebody in Chicago, right?
Oh yeah Passionate about pizza and our version is better than yours. And it’s deep dish this and it’s heavy crust that and it’s cracker, you know, every there’s so many variations on it. But yeah, people are so well, you know, into it so much that I don’t need to tell you that.
Yeah so everybody has an opinion. By all means, I would be lying if I said this is everybody’s favorite pizza in the whole world. But I will say, we put forth real passion into our product of all our dough is made in house at every one of our restaurants. All of our sauces are made every single morning we literally picked basil leaves off the basil stem and put them in our sauce and blend it. And then our hook. I mean, you know, I think it’s a great product. But the size of our pizza we do a whole pie is 30 inches. So you get a 15 inch slice of pizza. And we sell pizza by the slice. You can buy a whole pie, but I mean, that just blows people away. If you walk to an event or a catering event or a business meeting and you bring in a box everybody’s heads turning it’s It’s just you know that the size of the pizza is really the thing that is the most profound part of our business.
And the same with a slice. Well, first of all, you got a tag line size matters, which is cheeky, of course, right? And then I read on your website, something about if this slice were the flag, you’d be pledging allegiance to it. It’s like, I love that stuff like that is really great catchy marketing, and that those two products alone are a hook, for sure. But then the marketing reinforces that and I’m sure these are super popular in your stores. But let me ask you something, the 30 inch pie? I mean, do you have bigger ovens than usual? Does this slow down service because you know, so many 30 inch pies are being ordered at the same time, and you don’t have capacity for all the other items? Because your menu isn’t just pizza? And we’ll talk about that too.
Certainly, yeah. I think in the early iterations of our first store, there were throughput challenges. And, you know, clearly there has been some adaptation where we have acquired additional real estate at that particular location, as well as future designs, understanding that we can’t run it with a traditional two oven kind of setup. So we’ve augmented accordingly. Um, really, one of the most exciting things for our brand, I believe, is the technological advancements that are occurring in this hospitality space. And one of them is a brick oven conveyor oven, made by a Canadian company called hot rocks to $61,000 oven, but it allows for us to get more throughput with these large pies.
So that’s so interesting. I mean, I, I had pizzerias, and they had wood burning brick ovens, and now there’s coal fired ovens and these gas ovens and there’s wood ovens, and there’s conveyor ovens. This is a conveyor in a brick oven. I’m hearing from you, is that right?
Yeah, so it mirrors the same similarities of the brick ovens that we normally utilize, as stones that are on slats that rotate. So it functions like a conveyor with omni directional. Yeah, but the stones actually rotate. So as for the quality of the pie to maintain the integrity of a traditional oven, but then the speed is quicker. And then most importantly, everybody’s facing the challenges of the labor force and the skilled labor force specifically. And you would go into many of our restaurants and the highest compensated person, the operating partner, or the general manager of every location, and they’re on the oven, you know, they’re not talking to our guests, I’m not driving the culture, they’re not ensuring that things are going well their heads in the oven, because the necessity to make sure the quality is good. And this has mitigated some of those challenges where we can have a less skilled workforce that slides in on one side of the oven that comes out the other side, and then you cut it and it’s ready to go.
Yeah, I mean, that’s just the efficient and smart right there. And that’s, that’s a new one for me. I mean, I’m getting the stone concept, because traditionally, stones are fixed in an oven. But now it’s like rotating as part of the conveyor, which is way cool as the pizza moves through the oven. What’s the timing? Let’s just say you put a 30 inch pie in that conveyor, how long does it take before it’s finished?
Yes, so the whole pie around 30 is about six minutes. And then, but what we do is we have a double stack. So majority, the majority of our orders are going to be pizza by the slice. So we’ll have one set of specific heat and temperature and time. And the other belt is going to be set at two minutes. So from order to fire, we have a two minute turn time on those pieces by the slice. And that’s been great. We I’m not sure if you saw this, but we recently two of our most recent openings are what we’re calling Express venues, and we have drive throughs in them. And we’re literally able to take fresh made house pies that are literally cooked, get the order to two and a half minutes later able to put it out the window.
That’s amazing. So not every concept how to drive through but now all the future ones will have that’s really what you’re targeting or trying to achieve. Because I mean, it’s hard. I mean, two things we’re talking about here finding excellent locations and then to having locations that have the room and the parking and the drive thru ability and all that kind of stuff, right?
Yeah, so we have four more restaurants and Q. Three of those four are going to be our flagship stores without a drive thru in three to 4000 square feet indoor outdoor seating full menu. The fourth out of the four is going to be what we’re calling an express it does force us to have a limited option. In a traditional stores we have 10 different pies available. In the Express models. We only do our top four just a smaller menu smaller footprint. So I’m concerned if we ever tried to do a 4000 square foot venue and do drive through I just think the number of orders coming in simultaneously could could create even the guests satisfaction.
Yeah, I mean, I’m always thinking about logistics and how you make one decision and the, you know, the, the execution has to be flaws. But you got to think ahead of what the impact is going to be. And I’ve seen that happen. And you know, those are challenges that that you try to work through. But it doesn’t always work. So I think you’re smart and thinking, so let’s talk about some of the hooks besides Okay, the pies. I mean, you’ve got lots of variety of pies, and they look amazing. And obviously the world’s biggest slice and all that kind of stuff. And the 30 inch pie is cool. But I guess I was really surprised to see your other offerings, especially like on the shareables. And on the appetizers, I mean, everything from meatballs to sliders to waffle fries, to cheese curds to pretzels to I mean, all this stuff is a draw unto itself, right? And people are obviously passionate about what they eat. And it’s not just about pizza, these things go together. But are they all equally popular? And do you have them in all the stores? Is that a unified menu,
All of our restaurants have the same menu, the Express models and our French Quarter location have a much smaller footprint on the menu. But you know, the second thing behind our pizza that just moves almost an astronomical rate of chicken wings. Right? The wings? Yep, wings do extremely well. You know, I think we are at our peak from a menu perspective, the number of options. If anything, you know, I struggle, I think, you know, in the thing I’m enamored most about with these Express models that I refer to with a limited menu is the concentration on just a few small things, I think allows for that product to be just really, really good every single time and I’m very consistent. And you know, we do 10,000 orders a week right now in our in our company. So even if there’s a product on there that only represents 2%. That’s 200 people a week that are ordering something. And it’s it’s it’s tough in these economic times to go you know what, maybe we’re going to not do meatballs or maybe we’re going to omit the sliders because the second you do that the inertia those people that that’s their favorite, that gets very, very challenging. But you know, the, the ethos in our company is always family centric. I mean, you go into one of our restaurants and it’s just really neat dichotomy of families. We have some arcade games, we have video poker in a lot of our venues, you have a bar, we sell daiquiris you have the televisions and just pizza generally is a social experience. And we lean into that. So knowing that we have to have the breadth of menu items that caters to the five year old, the 14 year old, the mom, the dad and the grandparents. And that’s kind of where we are from a menu standpoint.
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Yeah, this is this is where I’m going to sound schizophrenic because philosophically I work for some large corporations and and they having joysticks on the back of successful dynamic individuals I think is complete contrarian. Add to My my view set I love. Thank you. I love personalization. With every every interview when we hire somebody, at any level of leadership, I say I want one idea year from you one idea. That’s that’s what my requirement is. Because I think great companies, if they unlock the potential to unlock the full potential, you get everybody kind of throwing ideas out there. So we don’t really we do not allow deviations from the core recipes. And what we do, that’s kind of our sacred ground. All of our stores are, it’s we have nine locations, they’re all corporate owned locations. So we put in our feelers out there from a franchising perspective, but at this point is are all corporate owned stores, therefore, the menus are the same. But the thing that we have deviation on is our marketing strategies in each community. We’re going to market not by huge billboards and large brand awareness campaigns and television, we’re going to get woven into the fabric of the communities, we’re going to be part of the high school teams are going to have the the baseball field for the Little League is going to have our name on it that that, to me, is where it is wide open, as far as our philosophical beliefs for the operating partners to go, hey, get into the community, and the answer is going to be yes. When you ask.
Excellent. That’s, that’s a very good answer to what I was looking for. But let’s go back to what you said. Thanks for clarifying that these are company owned stores. And you obviously made a decision to keep it company owned or you would explore franchising in the future. I mean, what’s the growth plan look like?
Yeah, you know, we we’ve recently had two different press releases that went out that are seeking potential franchisees in different marketplaces, the South Alabama Gulf Coast region, as well as some northern Mississippi areas that we are putting our feelers out there. We’re never going to be an organization, as long as I’m running it that is going to be measured by strategic growth plans that say, we’re going to hit X amount of stores and X amount of timeline. I want to be governed by just making smart business decisions. Do does the person meet our culture and our our philosophical beliefs? And do they they look at things through the same prism us I don’t want I truly believe that if we are deliberate, and our partnerships with people, and we take our time, if it’s the end of this year, or if it’s the end of in 10 years, we’re going to achieve the success that we have. Because, you know, one of the things that as I was prepping for this meeting, I listened to the gentleman from the Kannada tacos. And yeah, and I mean, I’m like shaking my head. Yes, yes, yes, yes. Because look at the competitive set, not just for pizza, but just for food. In general, there’s a lot of like, similarities, I think we can you can replicate restaurant food, you can’t replicate their culture. And I would be, I will be, it’s a non negotiable to partner with somebody to get a revenue percent, and lose the culture that we believe in.
I’m really glad that you touched on culture. And I’m sort of really into that concept right now. Because my restaurants were all about a culture, it was not about a mission statement. But there’s and then you you even mentioned the word leadership. And I’m just so hell bent on paradigm shifting this industry because that word manager gets thrown out way too often. And it really should be leader, because just because someone’s promoted to be a manager doesn’t mean they’re experienced or competent. They just got promoted, and they’ve got a title. And that means they’re the boss. And most likely they delegate, they don’t empower their people, they don’t give them responsibility, recognize and award achievement, nurture, and develop the team. That’s leadership, there’s a huge difference between those things. And then a mission statement is in my book, it’s something that hangs on the wall that no one pays any attention to that might have meant something once but it’s like, it’s not how you run your company. It’s about the culture. It’s about the people. It’s about the common goal and the philosophies. And it sounds like this is how you run your company. Can you define what you know, Fat Boys culture is in your mind? Like what what is? What is your company believe its culture to be what do you believe the culture to
be? First, it’s, you know, that our culture will be equal, like we are assigned different job titles, therefore, our responsibilities are different, but we’re on this earth as equals our time on this earth is, you know, Neil, Neil deGrasse Tyson wrote a book Starry Messenger, I believe, and it was, he was an astrophysicist and he writes the book and if you had it’s the moment in a book where he says, you know, the human species represents one blade of grass on a on an entire football field. And for us to To think that we’re so powerful that you were the manager and you’re the you work for me. We talk about like work, we work with people, we don’t work, people don’t work for us. I demand a culture that we’re sharing ideas that, you know, I mentioned earlier, like, Let’s get one idea a year from every single person in leadership like, and what if I got one idea a month? Like, imagine what happens to that organization? So we are strong about the why, you know, I mean, a lot of our people, when I joined a company, I looked at their resumes, and it worked. They worked at like pizza restaurants. And that was like the criteria at one point for this company. We just hired somebody to become an operating partner of a $1.9 million new store in the Texas market. She doesn’t have restaurant experience. But she has the emotional intelligence that I believe is we can teach you the technical components of this job. Like it’s not hard. We’ve simplified it. There’s technology that’s making it easier and easier and easier every single day. I can’t teach you than an innate skill set. Are you familiar with like Danny Meyer, like his being the table? Absolutely. Yep. What are they? They don’t hire technical skills. You need some of those, right? But they hire emotional intelligence. And I mean, boy, talk about like, all in on that, that. And that’s what we look for is like, do we have good human beings on our team? Are we going to each other? Well, and that, to me is like, my job. 100% is making sure that we have good people that are nice to people?
Yeah, I mean, I totally agree. It’s about hiring for personality and approach to the job and a true desire to serve the public. And we can train for experience, you know, if you hire the right people that you know, are reliable, and you want 20 More of those people, you know, and then you shadow and you mentor and all those things. And pretty soon you got what I call the Dream Team. So I totally agree with that philosophy.
Yeah, Roger I mean, I wouldn’t have liked the job, got stress points. It’s hard. There’s financial ramifications. You You were tongue in cheek earlier about like, oh, it’s easy, you know, you just got to do it is, it’s so crazy how many people got into this industry by accident, I think. And it’s probably one of the hardest industries in the world, because your customer is a subject matter expert, they always have an opinion, you can’t suck at anything, you can’t be bad at marketing, you can’t be bad site selection, you can’t be bad at development, teaching training, your food’s got to be great. So there, if you have that warmer, you’re going to fail. And yet, like we, you know, there’s all these people that get involved in this business. So, you know, if we can drive good culture, I think that’ll just really give us a great, great foundation for having success.
I’m really glad you shared that. Because every operator should think of the culture and think about the people and the people you’re looking for. And training. You mentioned the word training, I mean, training should happen every single day, just to uplevel, the guest service experience. And like you said, it’s like it’s so easy. It’s kind of unfortunate, right? Because not everybody who has a great experience at a Fat Boys or any restaurant is going to leave a positive review. But one little thing goes sideways. And then it gets over embellished and you know TripAdvisor and Yelp and people can really slam you and ruin your business just because they were upset about maybe something slight that may have been beyond your control, but the customer is always right in the customers mind. And that’s a challenge in this business and how you address those issues, and put a positive spin on things and make things right for the guests is pretty critical, too.
Absolutely. And I know you can you get your own stories, I guarantee you but the time like we screw up like we’re not going to we screwed up today
human error of course
and but those screw ups. If you’re if you really care, like if you have that DNA trait that like you selfishly enjoy altering the trajectory of somebody’s day, like, I really get happy making somebody happy. And and when you screw up, like you get this really upset guest and you’re like, you apologize, you make it right. Sometimes those become your literally your greatest biggest champions for your brand. And it’s fascinating. You know, I had, I was walking to one of our restaurants the other day, and I saw this lady kind of fiddling with our salad and I’m just it clearly she was something wasn’t right. And I said can I help you? And she’s like, Yeah, some of this lettuce is wilted and it was like, alright, here you go. Here’s another salad. I’m sorry. And I gave her a free gift cad free card to get a slice on our next visit. She grabbed me when she was leaving thank you so much. We screwed up and now she’s like, you know, thanking me and it’s, it’s it’s very fulfilling to to be able to do that to me.
Now you’re talking about the lifetime value of a customer as opposed to letting something go and you may never see that person again and it’s forgotten but think about making a raving fan for your business in the exponential effect that that has from that person, either on social media or just talking up their friends and family and how often that person will come back. Because you just created a loyal friend by that one generous action or reasonable action, you might say, You screwed up. Okay, here’s a salad and a gift card. I really, you know, we’re if we honestly, genuinely apologize, thank you so much for your business. And now that person, you’re gonna see them all the time. And now you just made a best friend. And yeah, you know, very few, not not many service businesses will think about it to that depth of what is the value of this one interaction with this one guest when I just made one thing, right? And what does that mean to this business over the next five years, or even longer if this person really is happy about what you did for them? And you just gave us a great example of that. So thanks.
Yeah, there’s a old video out there. Give them give them the pickle. And that’s Oh, yeah,
I’ve seen that. Oh, yes. My wife uses that term all the time. She’s our producer. And when she hears you say that she’s gonna laugh, but yeah, given the pickle, yep.
Um, you know, it’s so true. It’s like, we’re selling pizza. You know, I had a, we had some movement in our leadership team recently. And I met with one of our store management team. And, and there were some, some newer hire leaders in that in the room. And I just was like, Guys, it’s pizza. Like, we’re not, we’re, like, not let this place alter the trajectory of your day, like, come in here in a good mood, leave in a good mood, and your range of emotions needs to stay small. And when there’s a bad experience, like, look at it from give them the pickle, you know, and sometimes I’ve seen leaders fight with the guests, you know, like, oh, no, they were wrong. You know, exactly. You’re wasting and expelling a lot of negative energy for no reason, and it doesn’t matter.
I think that’s yeah, that goes back to the manager or the boss mentality versus the true leader, you know, that recognizes opportunity. And the fact that, yeah, I mean, you come in, and it’s all about making friends every day and building relationships with our guests, one guest at a time, that then leads to additional opportunity for the business. So that is absolutely true.
I read this thing, Southwest Airlines, it’s a brand that I know, recently, they’ve experienced some
Yeah, yeah, the cancellations and the delays.
historically, like they rebranded that group, their their company, based on great customer experience. And in their training, they share that one person on every flight is going to a, a lifetime altering moment, you know, if it’s a death of a family member, or this is true. And that training resonated with me, because, you know, we’ve all had the customer that comes in, and they’re just like, wow, and but if you if you catalog that and go, You know what, like, what happened to this person beforehand? And don’t let it take don’t take it personal. Don’t let them bring you down? I mean, I looked at your resume or your background, and how many servers had come to you all frustrated about the way I guest is treating them? You know, it ruins your whole night, it completely derails them. And it’s like, don’t don’t let that person take you down, you know,
yeah, we used to say, leave your problems at the door. And then we had this giant wall on the side of our woodburning brick oven, we had a huge sort of message to the team, keep calm and rock on and we use the train all the time. It’s like, leave your problems at the door, come in, get ready to rock and just roll with whatever happens. And hospitality is the foundation of everything we do. And keep that in mind. You know, and it works. It does, it really does. So you guys also bring the party to people with food trucks, which is so cool. Because one, it builds further awareness for the brand. But it’s so awesome that you obviously well, is this mostly private parties? Or do you literally Park these things at ballgames in like events or a variety of those things? How does that work?
Yeah, so about two years ago, we partnered with LSU baseball in their athletic so we would have the food truck at every one of their baseball games. And but really, the majority of those opportunities are going to be sanctioned events, like you know, if it’s a festival if it’s a private event, a team building opportunity will be with Chick fil A next week for a few days like so things like that’s really where we utilize a truck nowadays. I mean, it’s just the truck is it’s fully wrapped and branded, and you know, size matters everywhere. And it’s, it’s a great way. We primed quite a few of our markets as well as we’re new to market, like bring the truck there and try to operate it for a little while and in front of the store location to just introduce ourselves to the community.
Very cool. Yeah, that’s great. Are your colors like orange and white, I noticed the trucks seem to be predominantly orange and white, which really jumps out you can see it a mile away, and then people know what it is over time as well. So that’s all part of branding. You’re not just running a pizza place. So you’re building a strong brand, and you’re growing it every day
Yeah, no, I mean, I think, you know, I’ve kind of alluded to it a few times, the CEO for Domino’s recently said, we’re a technology company that sells pizza. And you know, and then I saw something else that’s like, if Nike built a hotel, we would know exactly what it would look like. But if Hilton built a shoe, we would have no idea what that shoe would be. So interesting point. Yeah. So you take like some of those things like, we will, I think the branding of who we are like everything goes through that prism. And when we make decisions, it’s is it our brand? Does it make sense for what we do? Is this a fat voice? Does this make sense in our space?
Let’s go back. I was really fascinated by the story of the founder, who obviously was into video gaming and poker and suddenly wants to start a restaurant, can you speak to the the growth trajectory that one store led to two lead to nine and how that happened, and how long that process took and what some of the biggest challenges were because I know some of our audience are in the one store successful store. Obviously, franchising can be a really onerous process, but just starting a second store, and then maintaining that consistency and making sure that the guests experience especially in disparate locations, it’s one thing to do it in the same town, it’s another thing to do it the next state over, it’s and then grow that thing and be company own stores, like tell us some of the challenges that maybe Fat Boys faced,
yet oh, you know, the growth wasn’t planned, like it was organic. And it was a major success that game CorCiani experienced at his first location. And I remember I wasn’t with the company, I remember having the conversation where the the former CFO of Smoothie King Tom O’Keefe, who lives near our first location in the New Orleans market, went in there and met Gabe, for the first time. This is scalable, like, you have something here. Reach out to me if you if you’re interested in looking at more, and then gabe came in, and it was excited about that. And that dialogue started. And I remember telling him never discount the influence that you single handedly had on the success of this restaurant. I grew so much respect for somebody that is a very, very successful business person. Uber stable financially, this was not a financial incident open up from a financial perspective this has opened up is like I’m passionate about this, and I want to do it. And so every time I came here he was here, he would be bussing tables, you know, and it was almost like, and his wife, I would see here bussing tables, sometimes, you know, gosh, this is this is fascinating. And I caution him about the success being a direct correlation to the amount of input he put in. And when you go an hour away, you won’t be able to have that influence. And he opened up number one, and then number two, and to some degree, some of that success happened. The third row Kate location kind of overlapped with COVID. And for a lot of pizzerias that led to a significant financial boom, because it was a grab and go type of concept where you didn’t have to be in a dining room. So really, uber successful at these early onset openings, coupled by the hurricane that came through the marketplace that solidified they close for the hurricane and open up super quickly. And being one of the only restaurant groups that was open. Sales went through the roof, it presented a ton of fill of philanthropic opportunities with the first response responders, the hospitals, and grew even greater cultural awareness and community awareness for so those things kind of were good timing and led to that success. And then he and I started having the dialogue about joining the company after number three was open.
Anything that comes to mind that was a real sort of a pain point, or a super challenge or something a big hurdle you had to get over that you thought was kind of insurmountable, or at least really huge and intimidating, but then it happened and then you can laugh at it now like everyone’s got those stories and our audience seems to love those anything come to mind. The early days. Oh
god, I mean, what the problem is like is I think successful people embrace failure, you know, and we I don’t run from it, I try to avoid it. But you know, I I’m very good at failing. And I gotta stop that. But you know, from from from our standpoint, you know, I think that the biggest learnings have come with Just the cadence in which we’re growing, we’re, you can easily take short term success and then not have enough data and then go Go, go go. And then when things settle down, you’re like, Oh, this isn’t performing as well. Therefore, the projections are not as strong, as you know, we anticipated. So our, our growth plan was not mapped out extremely well. It was like, Alright, this is a good site, let’s go and getting highly saturated in a single marketplace. You know, we got to be smart about that as well. And what what we recently did, we went out to the Houston Texas market, and getting open out there, you’re like, Oh, crap, like, why didn’t we go to these bigger markets quicker, there’s just much denser, much a lot more disposable income, instead of doubling down in our little marketplace.
Awesome. You know, economies of scale are important in any business to the extent and as a business grows, obviously, you got to start negotiating better, better prices, because we’re in the midst of inflation and high labor costs. And we’ve already talked about labor challenges. Do you get involved in that at all? And are you exclusive to your suppliers to get these massive deals across those stores? Or how’s that working for you now?
Yeah, I mean, you know, pretty much everything in the company, other than our financing. Process rolls through me. So I’m deeply involved in all of those discussions. And, you know, it’s, it’s critical, you know, I’ll never be an organization that is, we’re gonna be smart, we’re gonna have our checks and balances. But I, you know, from a vendor relationship standpoint, they are partners. And I don’t want to be a company that says, Our, it’s the first of the year, everybody give me your best bid, and you got them beat by $1. And we’re switching. I think there’s a need to be smart, you continue to be aware. But my partnership with these vendors is a personal one. And I think that personal relationship leads to great professional results. And knowing that when I’m in a jam, I have the ability to call up Roger and say, Hey, buddy, I we screwed up, I need your help. And it’s not just because you are the low bidder.
Gotcha. Yeah, you’re absolutely right. I mean, this is a business relationships, not just with your guests, not just with your team, but also with your suppliers. And over the long haul, you want to be with those that give you a great service give you solid pricing, but are always there in the clutch when something goes sideways, you want to be able to rely on these people. And over time, I was with you. I mean, I was with a company for 20 plus years, and they bent over backwards for us. And you certainly appreciate that, especially when the unexpected is always around the next corner. I mean, you know, we had a rep that would drive at 2am, if he had to get us something in a snowstorm just because the relationship was, you know, so long and solid.
Yeah, they had a food vendor, you know, that is trying to get our business. And I’ll never forget what I told him. I said, I don’t know if I’m their best customer. But I feel like I am. And you know, and it’s like, it was so true. Because they’re like, they’re going to hey, we’re going to come in and be pricing. But the the sense of security I have with that partnership is is going to I don’t know what the dollar amount of savings would be that would compel me to make that decision.
You know, you can relate that to the guest as well. I mean, first time visitors probably come into your stores all the time. And those are the people you don’t recognize. And they either heard about it from a friend or they were driving by and it was lunchtime, and it looked good. Or for a variety of reasons. People come into every restaurant anywhere as a first time visitor and you want them to be treated like they’re a regular or like they’re an old friend, even if they are a first time visitor. So I’m sure that’s part of the philosophy. But let’s talk about staff training and onboarding and what makes your team stand out from a service standpoint.
Yeah, so I mean, it’s starts with great leadership, right? I mean, making sure we hire good human beings that believe in our our core competencies and explaining why being patient, I never want to be governed by like the playbook that says RT this happened at page 13. Turn it on. I remember, I joined a company, and we had a new store opening and a sit down and they got 40 new hires sitting in a room law and folding chairs. And they said introduce themselves and we say hello, and then we hit the play on the TV. And then our, our our managers kind of go and huddle and start talking and I look and I’m like, no, no, no, no, no guys come here. Like this is not who we’re going to be. We’re not going to let that be how we teach people who we are. We’re going to have a very intimate, unique personal connection with his people from a training perspective, will you we have over 88 videos in our scouttes training database that we can use as a governing body to keep us our parameters in place. But it 100% starts with just having good people that like, like I said earlier, like they selfishly enjoy, like altering the trajectory of development of that employee, and seeing them where they’re confident and happy. And it doesn’t have to be by day two, you have to be proficient at these skill sets. Some people might be quicker, some people might be longer, it’s our responsibility to adapt to the individual, especially like if you think about the multicultural world that we’re in. Now, with Gen Z’s baby boomers, they all are learning differently. You know, the Houston markets, very, very diverse with our staff. And it can’t be a single way to teach people who we are and how we do it, we have to lay the foundation of this is what we believe in, we’re going to go out of our way and treat people well. And we’re going to embody the DNA of those traits. And then hopefully, that matriculates into them. And then the latter part is the technical things, which they have to be good at, they have to know they have to know the products that are confident, but to me, it’s it’s about being good people,
how often you travel around the circuit and visit all the store?.
Yeah, so I go to every location once a week in the Louisiana Mississippi market, and then I go to the Texas location once a month, okay. In the Texas market, we hired a director of operations, that is going to oversee that growth. So we we our management team participates in a profit share at each store, we call them operating partners, and all levels of management in that store, participate in their profit share. And then in the Texas market, the Director of Operations kind of will oversee that growth.
Do you ever have secret shoppers go into the stores and report back to you? Or do you ever randomly show up unannounced or unexpected and sort of see what’s great see what might be a miss that sort of thing.
Alright, so I know our founder and our owner as an advocate of the Secret Shop, like Spat check without somebody knowing I’m not a big believer in the I gotcha kind of mentality, right. So I never intentionally go to a location un announced, I usually even texts, when I’m in route to give them an ETA. Ultimately, my goal is for them to be successful. And if they’re no i am coming, forces them to have better behavior. I think that there’s a win there. And what we did recently, I think big, big thing that we’re doing with this company is we’re implementing significant capital into the technological software tech stack, to help us be a better organization. And one of the first things we did, that we just launched is a platform called Tattle. Ta TT le. And it is a guest sentiment aggregator that allows for us to get that feedback that our guests now can give us feedback, real time in the store, scan a QR code, and allow for us to on the spot, like identify opportunities, literally somebody could be sitting at a table and say, you know, this, this just happened and the manager can get a ping or I can get a ping and reach out to him and go find that guest and correct it. And that to me, I love the secret shopper to get the feedback. But this to me is provided a really good conduit and I’m super proud of aggregated scores like a 4.8. And that platform industry standards like a 4.24. So we’re performing extremely well, there.
Wow, that’s, that’s tremendous. I was gonna ask you about tech, but you gave us a really good overview of some of the things that you’re doing. And technology is obviously moving forward every single day, but it really enhances hospitality. And it’s kind of crazy that things are going toward the robotic thing just based on the labor challenges people are having. But I’m not a huge fan, just because it kind of takes away from that real interaction with you know, human interaction and real hospitality might be lost. And I think technology should only enhance that not take away from hospitality
mean, there’s a balance. In our Express models, we implemented the self checkout kiosk, we still human being there as well. And it allows for us, in my opinion, to cater to what the cast the guests prefers. Some guests want to talk to somebody, some guests don’t. And oftentimes, I see there’s generational aspects of it. And, you know, some of the generations are more comfortable in that kiosk, and the kiosk Believe it or not, so provide us an opportunity frequently get higher average check because they’re there they don’t feel like they’re getting sold to along the way. They They’re able to modify and augment their order, because they decided to versus an employee encouraging them to.
Gotcha. That’s cool. Let’s talk about the alcohol thing. Did you always plan on having, you know, alcohol and rums and daiquiris and all that kind of stuff pina coladas with beer in the original store? Or did that come later?
No thats always been part of the growth plan in all of our locations is to, to have the bar kind of going back to the family experience and creating a social dynamic environment where families can come in and the parents can enjoy a beverage the kids can run around and play and
arcade stuff you mentioned. Sure, yeah.
Yep. Yeah. So no, it’s absolutely always been part of the plan.
That’s great. And you know, that’s another thing that helps you set yourself apart in the segment too, because, you know, everyone thinks to their pizza shop, but not everyone has the alcohol program. And it’s such an increase in profitability and a draw for new customers. And like you said, it gives everybody something to come in for an addition to the food. So that’s, that’s awesome.
I’ll bet you guys are late to we’re locations. Well, a lot of our locations you can leave with your alcohol. Yeah, it and then in one of our locations, we can actually sell daiquiris through the drive thru window legally, like so guests can order a slice of pizza and a daiquiri pull up. And we can hand them both through their drive thru window and they go and they drive off which
so was that? Okay, so was that a part of the pandemic, because so many states allowed that whole takeout alcohol thing, just because it would be something that would augment business during those challenging time. And then a lot of states kept that as a permanent policy. And now you can take out alcohol. But originally, it was like it had to be a sealed container and all that kind of stuff. And those rules have kind of changed, haven’t they? Or are they still the same in your states?
Yeah, well, in the New Orleans market, it’s always been very loose. So there’s been no real deviations that have opened it up in that in the New Orleans market. It appears as though like some wine through drive throughs and Texas markets now being allowed. We have tighter restrictions on the packaging and what we can sell in the Texas market. And this market is governed a different way as well.
Awesome. Now there’s another hook because you’re also selling these drinks by the gallon. I see your else about that. That must be hugely popular. It’s almost like a growler of beer. But now I can get a gallon daiquiri or a pina colada or something out the door, right?
Yeah, we’ll see a huge lift in that in that segment, especially like on sugar, Super Bowl or special needs. You know, people are, you know, ordering whole pies. Third, three, four, or five whole pies that are 30 inches long, and they’re having a party at the house, and they’ll come in and grab that gallon daiquiri and, you know, is, you know, you literally pull the handle and you fill it up. And it’s, you know, a high margin item for us, or sharp, you upsell them.
And it’s a ton of fun. That totally complements the food. Yeah, a ton of fun. Yeah. Fantastic. Well, Casey, you’ve been a great guest. I can’t thank you enough for being here. We talked shop, and we learned a lot about Fat Boys and about the things that make you successful. Have we missed anything? Anything you want to leave our audience with?
No, I mean, we touched on quite a bit. I’m glad we ever talk about touching on our culture and the technology and the implementation of a lot of that and the history. So I thank you for the time and you know, the opportunity to introduce Fat Boys to your guests.
Great. We’ll be sharing all your social media handles and your website of course in our show notes for this episode. Thanks so much for our guests for tuning in. That was the restaurant rockstars podcast I can’t wait to see in the next episode. Stay well, everyone. Wow casey that was so much fun. I love talking shop with other passionate operators and people that are just fully immersed in this industry. It was all about hooks, and service and hospitality. You’re speaking my language, and you’re doing so many things, right. So thanks for sharing your knowledge, your insights and your operating best practices with our audience. Thanks to the audience for tuning in. Thanks to our sponsors. We’ll see you all next time. Stay tuned. I’ve always believed in systems to run a really effective restaurant. They say you have a system if you can walk away and leave your place for a day, a week or a month. And it’s just as successful, just as profitable when you return if not more. So. Now the staff are really the foundation of this and it all comes down to the word empowerment. You know, if you’ve got really great people and if you can develop those people that have your back and to run it as if they owned it, treat everything as if they had to pay for it. That’s a super powerful system. Once you have the staff in place, it really comes down to three things. It comes down to one, staff training, development, recognition and rewards to create what I call your dream team, how to empower your team to think and act like owners and to treat everything as if they owned it, and had to pay for it, and to deliver amazing guest service experiences to your customers to serve and sell because sales are the lifeblood of your business, not allowing order takers on the floor, but teaching everyone to recognize opportunities and make suggestions that we know that customers will enjoy and appreciate. It all comes down to training, training, training, number two cost controls and maximizing profit. You need to know your critical financial numbers on a weekly basis. And it only takes 10 minutes, but you need to understand these things. How about your daily breakeven how much it costs you to open the doors to your restaurant each day. Inventory is not just walking around and figuring out what your order is that week. It’s knowing the true value of your goods on hand at any given point in time and you need this information to be able to calculate your true food and beverage costs. Your labor costs are also important and running a weekly labor analysis against sales. If you know these things, I can teach you how to maximize your profit and control your costs. And then number three is what I call marketing firepower and affinity. You know affinity is defined as a really powerful sense of loyalty and belonging are your customers become raving fans, and they’re like an army of brand ambassadors spreading the word for your restaurant. Well, all of this is included in the restaurant rockstars Academy. If you really want to take your restaurant to the next level, post pandemic, things are heating up, customers are coming back. Now’s the time to really maximize your opportunities, maximize your sales and profits and create that dream team staff. Check it out at restaurant rockstars.com It’s the restaurant rockstars Academy.
Thanks for listening to the restaurant rockstars podcast for lots of great resources, head over to restaurant rockstars.com See you next time.
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