BiggerPockets Business Podcast

BiggerPockets Business Podcast 48: Shuttered, But Still Writing Checks to 100+ Employees: The View From the #1 College Bar with Bret Oliverio

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On today’s episode—a “bad business decision” that simply had to be made… and a microcosm of what’s happening to small businesses across the country right now.

Bret Oliverio—owner of Sup Dogs, voted the No. 1 college bar in the country in a Barstool Sports poll—had a bittersweet start in the restaurant business, committed to carrying on his brother’s legacy.

With absolutely no experience in the space, he and his wife worked tirelessly to build a thriving business employing 120 people, encompassing two locations, and generating millions in annual revenue.

Leading into the busiest season of the year, Sup Dogs was thriving. And it continued to thrive leading right up into St. Patrick’s Day weekend.

Then the coronavirus health crisis hit, although it was a tough decision from a business standpoint, Bret was proactive in closing his two locations, using his influence in the community to encourage college students to stay put—all while providing paychecks for his large team.

It hasn’t been easy, but he’s doing everything he can to maintain relationships, continue building his brand, and encourage others that with each passing day, we’re one day closer to this crisis ending.

Make sure you listen to the end, when Bret shares hope and optimism around the opportunities that these difficult times will inevitably bring.

In this very raw, real episode, he shares what we as family members, as business owners, as community leaders, need to be doing right now as we make our way day to day and look toward the future.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcast.

Listen to the Podcast Here

Read the Transcript Here

J:
Welcome to the BiggerPockets Business Podcast, show No. 48.

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Bret:
Look, the right thing to do is to fully shut down both restaurants and we’re going to shut down for two weeks, we’re going to pay our staff 100% in its entirety, and includes servers, bus guys cooks, managers, everyone 100% and then we’ll reevaluate after two weeks.

J:
Welcome to a real world MBA from the school of hard knocks where entrepreneurs reveal what it really takes to make it. Whether you’re already in business or you’re on your way there. This show is for you. This is BiggerPockets Business.

J:
How’s it going, everybody? I am J Scott. I am your cohost for the BiggerPockets Business podcast and I am here again this week with my lovely cohost, Carol Scott. How you doing today, Carol?

Carol:
Oh, wow. Usually, the answer to that question is I’m great. I’m awesome. Everything is fantastic, but I’m being completely raw and honest right now, everything’s not great and awesome and fantastic. We’re all in this together. We’re going through some horrendously scary times right now. Worried about our family, worried about our neighbors about our community, and a business perspective, I’ve had to shut down one of my businesses, that’s heart wrenching. In the meantime, just being grateful for what we do have, trying to stay connected with people as much as possible, find ways to get out there and help other people.

Carol:
But it’s not easy. I think we all have so many swirling emotions right now. And we don’t want to be all doom and gloom. We don’t want to be negative, we’ll try to all see the bright sides of things. But it’s trying. It’s trying. I had a pity party for myself last week about shutting down my business. And then I decided it’s time to stop pitying myself.

Carol:
Whatever, it’s not the end of the world and see how I can instead channel that energy into talking with other people and listening and helping as much as possible. So I’m really grateful that we have this show and it just gives us another opportunity to listen and hear other people’s stories. So, thank you all for continuing to listen and being supportive and I’m hoping I’m not being too preachy, but I truly believe we’re all going to get through this together.

J:
Absolutely. And we have a really good show today I’m not going to lie It’s not the happiest of shows. But we have an amazing guest, his name is Bret Oliverio and he is owner of the number one bar in the country according to Barstool Sports, which if you’re into bars, that is probably the metric by which you’re going to measure this. So he is owner of the number one bar in the country. It’s called Sup Dogs and or Sup Dog, and he has two locations in North Carolina. And he’s here today to talk to us about a couple things. One, he tells us about his story and how he got started in the business, which, unfortunately is a bittersweet story in and of itself.

J:
And then we talk we transition a little bit to how he and his business are handling the COVID-19 crisis and basically the lockdown that we’ve had over the last couple of weeks. He has 120 employees, he has a multi million dollar business. And basically his end result out of all of this has not been great.

J:
But he talks us through what we should be thinking during these times as business owners what we can be doing as business owners, and at the end, definitely listen to the end because at the end of the interview, he talks a little bit about what we as business owners should be doing to ensure that when push comes to shove, at the end of the day, our businesses will survive when other businesses may not.

J:
So again, not the happiest of interviews here but a very good interview in a very real and raw interview, and an amazing, amazing guy Bret Oliverio. So before we jump in, if you want to get more information about Bret about Sup Dog his number one rated bar or anything else we talked about in this episode, check out our show notes at biggerpockets.com/bizshow48. Again, that’s biggerpockets.com/bizshow 48.

J:
Now, before we jump into our interview with Bret, let’s hear a quick word from our awesome sponsor.

J:
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J:
Thank you so much to our sponsor. Okay. Now without any further ado, let’s jump into our discussion with Bret Oliverio.

Carol:
And everybody. Let’s welcome Bret to the show. Bret, thank you so much for being with us today.

Brret:
Of course, thanks for thinking of me and having me on. I appreciate it.

J:
Absolutely. We really appreciate having you here. So you own the number one college bar/restaurant in the country according to Barstool Sports, who I think a lot of us would take that as a huge endorsement and so I’m really interested in talking about how you got into that business. I know these days with the coronavirus, with the shutdown that we’ve seen, it’s been a difficult time for a lot of us business owners. So I’d love to hear about your backstory and then kind of transition to what’s going on today.

J:
Can you tell us a little bit about how you got into the college bar restaurant business and what your background is?

Brret:
Sure, sure. Well, I went to James Madison University, graduated with a degree in marketing from there and then worked in … I just didn’t want to take like a normal job like a lot of my friends were that graduated from the business school. So I fell in love with radio and television, but mainly radio. And for about a decade, I produced a morning radio show in Washington DC called the Sports Junkies on 106.7, and that’s what I did from when I graduated in 2003 until 2012.

Brret:
During that time, my little brother started a restaurant called Sup Dogs. And his vision was specially hot dogs, specially burgers, beer liquor and a high energy college environment. And my sister went to ECU, East Carolina University. So my family found a little hole in the wall there. And that's where Derek started his dream of Sup Dogs. So Meanwhile, I'm working in radio, he's just launched Sup dogs. And I don't know if anyone's ever … people always asked like, "Hey, how do you just start a restaurant?" Well, my family didn't have a lot of money, but my dad took out a home equity loan, which we thought was dumb. So he gave my brother like 60 grand My granddad gave him a little bit of money, just really to sort of feed his pipe dream. And that opened in August of 2008, And then in September 2011, he was coming home from work on a Thursday night, it was like 2:30 in the morning and he got home his house was on fire, and he ran in after his dogs and never made it out. So he passed away September 2011.

Brret:
And then I got married. My wife and I got married in October three weeks later, which is pretty rough and crazy. And then four months later, my wife and I decided to quit our jobs just literally … she sold online homeschool curriculum. I quit my full time radio job, she quit her sales job and we just moved to this random town in Greenville, North Carolina to sort of take over Sup Dogs restaurant and see if we could carry on my brother’s legacy.

Brret:
Kind of a but, people always ask me, “How did you get involved in Sup Dogs” or “how did Sup Dog start?” And just kind of a buzzkill story but I don’t mind talking about it. But I had no restaurant experience. My wife had worked in restaurants most for life as a server. So she kind of knew how a restaurant work but I’d never worked a day in a restaurant. So I just jumped into everything blindly. So that’s the quick version of the story.

Carol:
Thank you for sharing that. That’s I mean … talk about heart wrenching I can’t imagine what you must have been feeling and going through at that time with it being your brother obviously. And then add on to that all the emotions of your new marriage, your new wife, your new life together just all of these things. I can’t even imagine almost a decade ago, what that must have been like. And then having that be the driving decision to change everything that you and your new wife were doing in your life to do something to carry that on for your family. I think that’s really noble and also just incredibly brave to say, “We have no experience doing this, but we’re gonna keep this dream alive and so we’re just gonna go ahead and just make this happen.”

Carol:
So, so how was that transition when you moved up to East Carolina University or like, “Okay, here we are.” Did you just jump in, it was back to business as usual or what happened?

Brret:
Well, I remember getting to the area and the plan was … we found an apartment to rent. So the plan was, look, I have my wife pay ourselves minimally, so just pay ourselves enough to just survive. My wife spends a month getting the apartment ready and sort of establishing a life as … making sure you have stuff on the wall. I don’t know just trying to feel like you have a home. And then I’m going to go on the restaurant and just figure everything out. I’m sort of glad I didn’t know anything about the restaurant business because looking back on it, it’s just so freaking hard that I don’t know. If I knew how hard it would be, I don’t know if I would have done it. I’m 100% glad I did it. Like that’s no question, no brainer, but I’m just glad I was just had no clue what I was jumping into that almost helped things.

Brret:
My brother when he started Sup Dogs he was 23, so he made the business cool, where people were coming through the door, but there were no business practices in place. So anything and everything you see on these Bar Rescue shows was sort of going on at Sup Dogs. It was kind of the Wild West. But he did the hard part, which was created a brand made the place cool in a college town where everything sort of vibes off of what’s trendy and what’s cool with the students.

Brret:
So people were coming through the door, but when I got here, there was not much money in the bank account, almost no business practices in place. I knew nothing about the restaurant business. So I was shell-shocked and a story that always pops in my mind when I get asked that question is … I remember about a week into it, I came home, my wife is setting up the house and we’re just kind of still just can’t believe we’re living in this random town. And I remember going around being like, “I don’t know if I can do this. I don’t know anything. I don’t know any of the staff. I don’t know anything about the business. I don’t know like just a little things like how you order food or what goes into the recipe for the chili, or how you order beer, or how you”… I just didn’t know anything about food service, restaurant business or anything. And I was [inaudible 00:14:20]I don’t know if I could do this.

Brret:
And she just looked at me and she said, “Look, you’re being a bitch.” Well, she might have said pussy I’m not sure. Stop being a [inaudible 00:14:28], and go in there, walk around the restaurant. See if people need a refill. Ask them how they’re doing. You’ll sort of get a vibe on whether they want to talk to you or not. You’re the owner, that people in a restaurant want to talk to the owner. So just talk to people, get to know people and just walk around.”

Brret:
I was like, “Okay, I can do that.” And that motivated me to show up the next day. And that’s what I started doing.

J:
So that’ll get you to a restaurant that people talk about. That’ll get you to a restaurant that people enjoy going to probably get you to profitability, just doing the common sense sort of things. But you took this restaurant to … or this bar restaurant to number one in the country and I get the feeling that doesn’t happen accidentally. That doesn’t happen just by going and showing up and refilling people’s drinks and you’re saying hi to people. I have to imagine there’s a whole lot more that you did to get you from that day to literally number one, according to Barstool Sports, which is huge in the country. So what was your plan? What did you do? What did you do differently than let’s say I would do or Carol would do or anybody else would do, if they just kind of inherited a restaurant like that?

Brret:
I just think I dedicated 24 hours a day every day of my life to figuring out the restaurant business. There were no friends there were no, “Let’s go bowling” or “Let’s go meet the neighbor and have a drink at the neighbor’s house.” None of that. It was 100% my wife and I are all in on the business. Learn everything from top to bottom, ask every stupid question. I remember googling, how to make a restaurant profitable, how to operate a restaurant, I bought a book. The first book I bought was, sort of short stories from successful restaurant owners. And then version two, I actually had a chapter in that. So that I was pretty excited to ask me to be in that but … And I just would ask everyone every dumb question. Like, I remember asking our food distributor, I didn’t know anything. So I would just ask the dumbest questions and they would look at me like this idiot.

Brret:
And I remember that would motivate me because I remember thinking, “Okay, I’m going to ask you this question. And I know it’s lame. I know, it’s dumb, and I know it’s elementary. But 10 years from now, this business is going to explode. And I’m going to make a ton of money and F you.” That was kind of my mentality where, I might be the worst right now, but at some point, I’m going to be the best at running a local restaurant.

Brret:
And so literally just, I think anyone if you dedicate your entire life to something and you go all in on anything, I think you sort of have the ability to have a chance of being successful. On top of that, there’s just not a ton of good operators in the restaurant business. Think about the businesses you guys own and the people you interview, and how many smart people say, “Well, I want to open a restaurant” or “I want to operate a bar.” There’s very few. So a lot of the successful restaurant people are former attorneys, just really sharp business guys, and I’m not that smart, but I think just the bar and the restaurant and bar business is low. So that was an advantage. Just the restaurant bar business sort of attracts people that have a lot of stuff going on in their lives.

Brret:
Another thing is you can’t have any vices in the restaurant bar business. You can’t be a drinker. You can’t be in a drug. You can’t be a womanizer, you can’t be a degenerate gambler, because the restaurant bargains will swallow you up. So I think just dedicated my life to it. And that was the secret behind it.

J:
This is something that I think is going to resonate with a lot of our listeners. So a lot of our listeners are in the real estate business and the way you describe the restaurant business, it’s very similar to Carol and I have been in real estate for a dozen years, it’s very similar to what we’ve seen in the real estate business. There’s a low barrier to entry, it’s not that hard to get started, you can wake up one day and say, I want to be a real estate investor. There are a lot of people that kind of come in with no other alternatives, no other options, not a lot of experience. And so there’s thousands, 10s of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people that are kind of all starting from the same place.

J:
And you often wonder what differentiates the people that are successful from the people that are not successful? And I think you just summarized it really, really well. One, you dedicated your life to it 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Number two, you weren’t scared to ask really dumb questions. I know I’m the type … I often am scared to ask dumb questions. I don’t want to look dumb. But if you want to be successful at something, there’s nothing wrong with admitting, I don’t know, and then asking those dumb questions.

J:
And then finally, surrounding yourself with really smart people. That’s something that you can’t do this on your own, you have to put together a good team, you have to get people that know what they’re doing. The formula is simple. You just have to work hard. You have to surround yourself with great people. And you have to not be scared to put yourself out there to learn and ask the dumb questions.

J:
So for everybody out there that in the real estate business, in the restaurant business, or another low barrier to entry business, really, the formula you just gave is so simple, but it’s so effective.

Brret:
And I think I’m impressed by … like, I remember when I was just starting out really successful restaurant tours, where we’re happy to have conversations with me, answer emails, answer direct messages. So there’s people out there no matter how successful they are, they’re willing to help you and I take on that roll now. Not that I’m like anything right now, but people that are just getting into the business, I have no problem helping them out or answering questions. So just asking for the knowledge, I think what helps as well.

Carol:
And I’d like to point out thank you for that, Bret. I’d like to point out in addition to the three parts of the formula that J just pointed out, that you are sitting here exhibiting a fourth piece of that formula, which is extreme humility. Here you are, the number one sports bar in America and you’re saying, “Oh, I’m nothing, I don’t know anything,” et cetera. And so clearly, that’s not the case. But the fact that you are a servant leader, that you are out there helping other people in realizing and admitting that no matter how much of an expert you might be at something, no matter how much success that you have had, that there always are more things to learn, is such a powerful thought for other people in business. So thanks for keeping it real. Thanks for keeping it humble. And I’m sure that’s a big factor of what’s driving you forward.

J:
So walk us through … so now you’re getting some traction, and then the bar is doing well. And I assume you’re probably getting some attention outside your small town. What did that look like? Were there any specific things that you put in place that kind of really differentiated yourself that people said, “Wow, this place isn’t like every other bar and restaurant in the country?” What was that factor that led to you guys getting so big so quickly?

Brret:
I think opening in a … we’re right next door to East Carolina University. And opening our second location going on six years ago in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, right next to the university, North Carolina, and being able to replicate sort of recreating a little bit of the magic that my brother started here at ECU. I think that helped put us on the map because that location, sort of take took on the same energy as our location ECU. So having that visibility, I think, helped. It sort of established us as a sort of a major player in the college, restaurant bar scene. And then I think just really being hyperlocal and being a member of your community and … I don’t know any other way when it relates to the restaurant business than just being in the restaurant and talking to customers and having a relationship with all 120 people we have on staff. So just really treating people the right way, putting on great events, the product has to be good.

Brret:
But when it comes to restaurants, if you think about it, every restaurant you go to right now has good food and good service. I mean when’s the last time you went somewhere in the food just sucked or the service just sucked? It’s almost good everywhere, or at least good enough. So what separates us from other restaurants? I think it’s the energy of the restaurant, inside the restaurant. I think the heart we put into it, meaning how our staff cares about each other and our customers. And I think people know we’re just trying to do the right thing, trying to put out a good product and treat people the right way.

Brret:
And then obviously there’s some marketing things in there. Staying relevant and cool and hip and you know hiring the right staff members. Because to me, something I tell our staff all the time is anybody can serve a hotdog, anybody can serve a beer. Literally anyone. So the restaurant business is a people game. So do you have the right people? Culture is a huge part of what we do. So, those are kind of the what takes you from just a regular restaurant to being one of the best I guess, would just be probably the people and then the energy in the heart behind the business.

Carol:
Excellent. Thank you. So those are all such important factors kind of the secret sauce of what has made you successful. So throughout all these years, almost a decade at the first location you said six years with the second location. Give us a sense of your operation overall, kind of what it looked like prior let’s say … up to let’s say three weeks up to just before three weeks ago right before this whole coronavirus health crisis hit. How many people did you have on staff? What kind of events were you doing any revenue numbers, you’re comfortable sharing just your overall big picture of what your operation look like in those locations.

Brret:
Sure. I mean, this is a time where the weather gets warmer here in North Carolina, weather sort of everything for us. Especially hotdogs, burgers, drinks, college energy, so the nice weather sort of feeds into the beachy fun vibe. So the weather is everything. So as it’s warming up here, and also basketball season in Chapel Hill. This is a time where we hit our stride and things are rocking and rolling. We do one event a year called Doggy Jams, which is basically just a big concert that we throw for the community and ECU students and DJ Diesel who’s Shaquille O’Neal was coming to DJ that event that was scheduled for April 4th. So this was a time where we’re just supposed to be hitting our stride. We’re a little seasonal, I would say because you know when the students are gone and things are colder out like December, January, February are slowish. And then March, April, May, things are crazy at both locations. So I was just sort of getting ready to make sure we were 100% staffed up, and just get ready to crush the last few months of the semester.

Brret:
Revenue wise, both locations are doing anywhere from over a million to a few million dollars in revenue. So both are high volume restaurants. And if you think about what we’re serving five $6 hotdogs, fries, $3, $4 beers, five $6 specialty drinks, like that’s a lot of volume. So both restaurants are incredibly high volume, which sort of adds another sort of an incredible headache.

Brret:
But revenue wise, we’re lucky people come through the doors, things are rocking and rolling. But up until a couple weeks ago, everything stopped, or well, about a week ago, everything stopped. So that’s kind of where we’re at right after corona.

J:
Yeah. So let’s talk about the impact of that that’s had on your business. And I think a lot of us in our businesses, we can certainly relate. But what exactly … like what was the evolution or the devolution, I don’t know the word, of over the last few weeks, like did things drop off. Like one day you just said, “Okay, we’re shutting down the Eden,” or did it slow down? Was it an iterative thing? How did the whole transformation take place over the last few weeks for the business?

Brret:
And I sort of saw this coming. I’ve been following the news. And I sort of saw it coming, and then business really didn’t slow down. I remember turning on … I knew there was a problem when I didn’t want to be in our restaurants, because they’re packed. Both restaurants are relatively smallish. So there’s a lot of people in a small area, and I didn’t want to be in there, just for health reasons. I’m watching the news, the writing was on the wall. And then I remember last Saturday, or Sunday before St. Patrick’s Day, maybe the 14th or 15th, I turned on our cameras and like we’re just slam jammed.

Brret:
And I see these two little like 75, 80-year-old inside eating the thousand people around them and I’m like, “What are we doing?” So, I just think from a public health standpoint, it wasn’t good for us to be open and just crazy busy even though revenue was great for business, the weather was beautiful, packed, money’s pouring in, servers are making a ton of money, everyone’s happy, but I just don’t think was the right thing to do.

Brret:
And then that’s number one. And then number two, I’m like, “Well, what if there’s an outbreak that stems from our restaurant?” So I started envisioning that and … because we’re one of the most popular restaurants in this whole city. So, if an outbreak starts with us, and that gets into the news, Corona outbreak started in Sup Dogs infected a few hundred people, to me that would be a total business killer.

Brret:
So combining both those things together. And I was talking to my older brother about it, and we were like, “What are we doing? Let’s just shut it down.” So that Sunday, I made a little video for Instagram and just said, “Look, the right thing to do is to fully shut down both businesses, both restaurants and we’re going to shut down for two weeks, we’re going to pay our staff 100% in its entirety, and includes servers, bus guys, cooks, managers, everyone 100% and then we’ll reevaluate after two weeks.”

Brret:
So that’s what kind of what we’re in the middle of doing right now. And I’m just taking everything day by day and trying to stay on top of everything that’s going on in the news, but it’s brutal.

Brret:
Then most restaurants are doing … I don’t know how you guys feel about everyone’s like, you got to support local, eat local, go do take out. Take out is pennies, like no restaurants going to survive on takeout. I don’t care who you are. So it might be a feel good thing right now, “We’re supporting the local,” no one’s going to survive on takeout. That’s number one.

Brret:
Number two, like is that the right message. So for me, nobody to ECU, none of these college kids were taking staying home seriously. So there is some value in us being the cool spot at the university to shutting down and telling everyone to stay home. I think a lot of college students woke up like, “Wow, Sup Dogs is shutting down. Maybe this thing is serious.” As cheesy as it sounds, that’s kind of the role we’ve taken on. So we’re not even doing the takeout thing because it’s hard for me, like, “Come do take out, come visit us.” But at the same time, “Stay at home.” It doesn’t really make sense. And then I’m thinking about older people like my dad, and it’s just an all around disaster, but that’s kind of where our business stands right now.

Carol:
Wow. It sounds like you were really proactive in realizing, in harnessing the influence you had throughout the community in shutting down the restaurant and having this influence over these college students because as you know, the news is flooded right now. Especially down here, we’re seeing that so much in Florida. All these spring breakers, they’re not staying home.

Brret:
It’s crazy.

Carol:
They’re out partying, they’re just invincible, and-

J:
And then the businesses aren’t doing anything to curb because they’re just being greedy and saying, “Hey … It really took an order from the governor to say beaches are closed, restaurants are closed, because the hotels, the beaches, the restaurants, all of them would have just kept going. And so super kudos to you for doing the right thing and for making a really hard decision, in addition to saying you’re going to do the right thing for your employees. That’s got to be difficult for you, but it also it sends the message to them, that you care about them.

J:
And long term whether this is your goal or not. Long term from a business perspective, everything you’re doing is reinforcing that brand, that you’re part of the community. You’re not just a business that’s looking to make as much money as possible. You’re looking to do the right thing and support the community and support your employees. And that’s a difficult thing to do. And it sounds like you did it without even thinking about it. So kudos for that.

Brret:
It was sort of a no brainer. People think oh, they just have college students working for them. But that’s just not true. We got a ton of full time staff members, whether they’re in the kitchen or managers or even servers that have children. So for me to be able to sleep at night like I can’t … I wish I cared more about money. I care more about just doing the right thing and it sounds cheesy, but if I cared more about money, we’d probably be way more successful than we are. But to me taking care of your staff … And that’s another message, I wanted to send two messages, one to the college students, like, look, this is serious. You need to really consider staying home and figuring this out. That’s number one.

Brret:
Number two, I wanted to send a message to other businesses like take care of your staff, and almost zero restaurants have done it. Huge restaurant companies, everyone’s just laying off 95% to 100% of employees, then crossing their finger that they’re able to collect unemployment. It’s going to suck to write those checks to each staff member. But to me just being able to sleep at night and taking care of people that have worked incredibly hard for me and my family’s business is far greater than keeping the money in the bank account.

Brret:
But I also I think a lot of restaurants aren’t in a position because restaurants don’t have any money. They don’t have any money in the bank. I’m driving a 2012 Nissan Pathfinder, I try to live below my means, so we can have a little bit of money in the bank. So if something crazy happens, we’re able to function and pay staff and be able to deal with any issues like this. So the restaurant game, nobody has any money in the bank. So I think restaurant owners going forward need to find a way to save some money at all costs, and be able to deal with issues like this because it sucks being able to just have to snap your fingers and not pay any of your staff members. That’s just rough.

J:
So you mentioned that you’re not encouraging other business owners to do take out in the restaurant business. And like you said it probably it’s a relatively small amount of income anyway. Other things-

Brret:
Let me say this, I’m not discouraging it. Because if I needed the money, right this minute, I would be in there probably selling takeout and trying to make a buck. So if a restaurant owner needs to do that, to feed his family, do it. I’m all for it. But I just think-

J:
Fair enough.

Brret:
… as a whole, it’s probably not a good idea.

J:
Fair enough. So what can we as people that care about our community, because Carol, I talk about this all the time, we want to support our local restaurants. Our favorite restaurant we found out was doing carry out yesterday and we’re like, we’re going to go and we’re going to actually get them to cater for 20 or 30 people and we’re just going to take food to our neighbors-

Brret:
Cool.

J:
… and then last night we found out that they closed down, and they’re just sitting it out. So what, in addition to supporting takeout … What are the other things that we as people that care about our community, what can we be doing to support our local businesses? And I’ve heard buy gift certificates. So basically, even if you’re not using them now you can encourage people to start frequenting those businesses later. Are other things that we can be doing now?

Brret:
Look, as long as you’re considering the donation. I’m fine with it. But I just read something the other day that from the National Restaurant Association that they’re expecting 75% of restaurants to close and never reopen. So if you go and buy a gift card, just be ready that gift card will be worth zero. So that’s why a lot of restaurants are doing big discounts on gift cards. Hopefully it’s not a money grab. They might just need money to feed their family. But as long as you’re fine with making a donation, then just do it. That’s nice. I think the only way restaurants are going to survive right now is if everyone from landlords to banks to the food companies you owed money to, to the beer companies you have money to have, everyone’s able to work together.

Brret:
If the landlord gives you one or two months free, if the bank is willing to refinance your loans or push back any payments 90 days or six months, or whatever it is, that's the only way restaurants are going to survive. I think the public spending a few bucks on takeout helps short term the owner to be able to pay his electricity bill at home, but as far as keeping the restaurant operating, if they haven't saved a nice chunk of money in the bank over the last few years, they just have no shot. The restaurant, it's going to be a bloodbath.

J:
I’m not going to lie. That’s so sobering. I came into this conversation. I don’t know what I was expecting. I guess I was hoping for, “Hey, here are all the things you can do and everything’s gonna be great.” And that the reality is exactly what you said. And I think a lot of us, it’s easy to kind of bury our heads in the sand and think that, “Oh, all of this is going to work out.” Even if we’re thinking our own businesses, we’re thinking, “Well, we’ll figure it all out.”

J:
The reality is, there’s a lot of people that aren’t going to be figuring it out. And there are a lot of people are going to be in dire straits, and there may not be any good answers. Yeah, it’s-

Brret:
Yeah, that’s a tough part. I know, so many good people right now that have been laid off. And what are they going to do? You know what I mean? And that part just sucks just thinking about it, because you can’t help them all. And I think it’s sort of started with the restaurant business. Literally, every restaurant, every big chain has laid off every single employee. So what are those people going to do? I think it started with the restaurant business, but I think just going to trickle down to a lot of other businesses.

J:
Have you talked to as a leader in your community, has anybody in government reached out to you? Has the Chamber of Commerce reached out to you? I mean, is there any talk of how you might get support either from the Federal or the state or the local government moving forward as a small business owner? Or is that something that just hasn’t happened yet?

Brret:
I’ve gotten messages from the city manager thanking us for closing, because I think that gave them some cover to locally make some big decisions. And it’s almost looks like it was supported by local business. So, as far as business wise, I don’t think anybody knows until the government bills are passed, until they figure out unemployment. I’ve been in daily communication with our accountant. So I’m trying to figure out, keeping our staff paid and the best way for our business to be able to keep people paid but take advantage of anything the government offers.

Brret:
So I think it’s just such a very fluid situation. That’s a tough perk. We have 120 employees are all looking at me for direction, but there’s no direction from anyone. So we’re just taking it day by day and I think the reality is there’s going to be a lot of your favorite restaurants that you like to eat at every day, most of them are going to be gone. I think eventually others will reopen and sort of fill that void. But I think as a whole in the restaurant business, I think there’s too many restaurants as a whole. There’s just too many restaurants and not enough people. The margins are incredibly low in the restaurant business, rents high. I think the restaurant business was already on the verge of falling in tough times, and this just was the knockout punch.

J:
Yeah, and it’s interesting, because I talked earlier about how the restaurant business in a lot of ways is similar to the real estate business, in that there’s low barrier to entry. And there’s a lot of competition amongst people that probably don’t have much experience or don’t have much competitive advantage. And I think it’s the same thing, just like you said, a lot of restaurants are going to go away, it’s going to happen same thing in the real estate world. There are going to be a lot of investors and a lot of people in the real estate world who because it’s a low barrier to entry business. If you don’t have a competitive advantage, if you haven’t worked your butt off like you have 24/7, you’re just going to be one of that low hanging fruit that’s going to find that you’re going to have to figure something else out.

J:
And it’s just another reminder that even though something like this obviously was unexpected, it’s just another reminder of why it’s so important to figure out how to differentiate yourself to work really hard, to do things differently, to do things smarter, and to really try and make an impact around your community. Because when something like this happens, and recessions happen cyclically, that’s not a surprise, obviously, something like this is a surprise. You need to be prepared. And you do that by being better, being different, working harder than your competitors.

Brret:
I think everything you’re saying is relating to brand as well. So when all restaurants go away for three months because of the coronavirus, when we all reopen or a nice chunk of us reopen what’s going to get people to come through your doors? It’s going to be the brand, can the brand survive, disappearing for three to six months. And if you spent the last decade creating that brand and creating that culture and being a member of your community, you have a shot of getting people to come back through the door.

Brret:
So to me, back to what I was saying, if everyone can serve a hotdog or a beer or in your instance, anyone can buy a piece of land, but I think brand always wins out. And I think that’s really going to differentiate a lot of businesses when things finally get back to normal.

Carol:
In addition, Bret to this brand building over a long period of time that you’ve done. I think if I remember correctly, the video that you posted Instagram, Facebook, was talking about some initiatives you were doing out in the community to help the community, can you maybe talk more about that? Just to like spark some ideas of what we as business owners, things that we might be able to do to serve others during this time, that will also keep us front and center when the economy does eventually start coming back?

Brret:
Yeah, I think just finding out what needs are out there in the community. In the video, I posted that we were going to feed students that needed a lunch that were out of school now, since public schools are all closed down. There’s enough food so everyone’s being fed, thank goodness. But the Pitt County schools they ran out of to-go boxes to put the food in. And they called me and luckily, we had a huge warehouse full of to-go box, so I was able to give them like two grand worth of to-go boxes and ladies crying to me. So that was something that I hadn’t really mentioned anywhere, because I think it’s the right thing to do. Just sort of filling any needs if you can, if you can’t do it, you don’t have the means to do it, then you can only do what you can do.

Brret:
But for me, as a business owner, my thoughts are first me and my family, of course, and then our 120 employees, making sure they’re taken care of as best we can. And then three, what can we do for the community. And I thought that was a cool opportunity for us to be able to do something simple which is open up our storage unit and give them 10,000 or 8000 to-go boxes, whatever we did.

Carol:
That is great.

Brret:
That’s kind of how we helped. And I’ve put messages out to city officials that we’re here to help in any way we can. But it’s going to be one of those things it’s sort of day to day. Nobody can kind of … we don’t know what needs to be helped just check because things are … I have a feeling things are just going to continue to get rougher for a while. I don’t mean to be so doom and gloom on here. But like it’s-

Carol:
It’s reality. It’s just the reality.

J:
Yeah. And it’s not something that’s going to come it’s like you said, it’s something that’s kind of already hit and people are being affected today.

Brret:
But I think the bright side is, I think if you've put yourself in a good position, there's going to be a ton of opportunity. So we have two locations. We came close opening in Raleigh a bunch of times, but to me the commercial … before all this, the commercial real estate market was crazy. Raleigh, right now thinks they're Beverly Hills. It's impossible to make money when you're paying $45, $50 a square foot.

Brret:
So we’ve haven’t opened any locations in a while. A lot of that’s because I think commercial real estate was just incredibly impossible to find a prime location and be able to make any money. And two we had our daughter, so that sort of changed everything in our lives. But I think there’s going to be a ton of opportunities. So if you’re in a good position, if somehow you can weather the storm, I think there’s going to be a ton of opportunity going forward once the dust settles.

Brret:
So I’m excited for that. But what I’m not excited for is the heartache and the stories of people that have lost everything, because there’s so many good people that have spent their whole lives dedicated to the restaurant business and just snap your fingers and you just have no income and no job and no hope. But there is going to be a lot of opportunity. You guys have to be excited for that. I’m sure.

J:
Well, yes, it’s one of those things that it’s a double edged sword. You hate the fact that your opportunity comes at the expense of others. But there is opportunity and for those that work hard, and for those that can innovate, there’s a chance to rebuild. And so, hopefully, like you said, hopefully we won’t get to the point where 75% of restaurants go out of business. But on the bright side, the best will be the ones that survive.

J:
And I think it’s going to be that way in a lot of industries, where there’s going to be less choice but there’s going to be some of the better business owners and some of the better brands and some of the better products in every niche are going to thrive and really have an opportunity to shine.

Brret:
And then I also think people need to … like I’m not afraid to go back to like … if we need to like where I’m cooking and my wife serving, I have no problem doing that. We first got in this … my wife was 34 in a college town and I was like, “Look, we need you working Saturday night, because we need $150 in tips.” So if we need to go back to that I have no problem grinding it out, and going right back to where I was eight years ago, no problem doing that. So I think if people can just at this time if things are getting tough put your ego, put all that aside and just go back to grinding, I think people have a shot.

Carol:
I think that’s great advice. I think, if they’re … and I kind of relate that to what I am seeing is a very, very small glimmer of hope. I feel like this whole situation is bringing us all back to kind of a much simpler time. A time when there wasn’t as much choice, there wasn’t so much crazy, when there’s a time when it’s just like nobody’s above doing anything to make money and support your family to do what’s right and stop chasing the glory. Stop chasing the bigger, more glamorous type of roles and just do what’s necessary. Come together as a community so that it all works out to the best for everybody. So it’s refreshing to hear that.

Brret:
Totally, and think about it, like, if you have to go back to that, if I have to go back to, my wife needs to work behind the bar to make 100 bucks, like, who cares? And I think people sometimes have the ego where with Facebook and Instagram, you know, they want to pretend they’re … but nobody cares. Especially at this time, everyone’s going through so much, whether it’s with having a family member that could be affected by coronavirus or their business is affected. People have so much going on that nobody cares if you have to make ends meet or you have to take a job that’s not glamorous, or if I have to go back to cleaning toilets at the restaurant. Nobody cares now.

Carol:
Whatever.

Brret:
You got to do what you got to do to make it.

Carol:
It’s totally like I read earlier, someone just said this is very much the great equalizer. And it really is. There’s like zero judgment right now. So it’s just like, whatever you got to do just go with that.

Brret:
Everybody’s taken on the chain right now.

J:
Yep. Yep. Brett, thank you so much for being here and sharing your story.

Carol:
Thank you.

J:
This was not necessarily a fun conversation for any of us, but the reality is the reality, and you certainly if nothing else, again, I was waiting to hear a bright side. But sometimes there’s not a bright side. And sometimes we need to face that reality. And maybe that pushes us forward a little bit harder to try and overcome the struggles that we’re all going to be facing.

J:
Do me a favor, tell us where we can find out a little bit more about you, about your business. Hopefully we’ll be reopened and moving again forward soon. Where can people get in touch with you and find out more?

Brret:
Sure. Just hit us up on Instagram, Sup Dogs restaurant, S-U-P D-O-G-S restaurant. And if you’re passing through East or North Carolina or the triangle pop in and see us. As far as a positive side of things, we’re one day closer to this thing being over than we were yesterday. So my wife and I talk about that all the time. We’re like, we wake up and it’s like, “Man, this sucks the markets down.” There’s no end to this on the horizon. But the reality is, we’re one day closer to being over. So there will come a time where businesses reopen, people are back to making money. It’s pretty doom and gloom right now. But we’re one day closer to everything being awesome. So that’s sort of the mentality I’m taking.

J:
You talked about the opportunity. I look forward to having you back again next year and talking about hopefully, brighter things and more positive things and maybe talking about some of that great opportunity that’s come along.

Brret:
No problem. I really appreciate you guys having me on and thinking of me, and hopefully this conversation hasn’t been boring. Hopefully-

J:
No, this is great.

Brret:
Cool. Okay.

Carol:
No, it’s been great. It’s been very real and authentic. And it’s just what people need right now. People need to know that they’re not in this alone, that we’re all struggling in our own individual ways. And it’s just reality and we just have to band together and somehow figure out how to make ourselves just work through it. So, thank you for being so authentic and real.

Brret:
No problem. And thank you guys for what you guys do. So I really appreciate it.

J:
Thanks, Bret.

Brret:
Take care.

J:
Well, I am not going to lie, I went into that interview hoping that we would have a happier and more positive outlook than we ended up having. But here’s the thing. This is real. And Bret was raw and what he is experiencing again, if he’s owner of the number one bar in the country, and he’s experiencing this, just imagine what the other 10s of thousands of bars and restaurants around the country are dealing with. And this is something it’s not just him, all of us are in this together. And yeah, it was a tough show, but it’s a message that I think resonates with a lot of us right now.

Carol:
I completely agree. But that said I am going to reiterate his bright side, which is … Do you remember what it was? He said-

J:
I do remember.

Carol:
He said we are one day closer to being past this thing. So that’s huge. We have to keep that somehow. We have to be in the mindset of this whole at a macro level, we are going to get through this, we are going to get past it. We are all just banding together to do the best we can do. And this is not a permanent situation. So everybody hold your heads high and just keep moving forward.

J:
Yep. And let me just reiterate one more thing. I loved his point about how important brand is. We talk about that a lot on the show. And especially during times like this, where your business may be going away for a few weeks or a few months, but eventually, hopefully it will come back and the stronger your brand is going into something like this, the more likely you are to recover because people are going to remember and they’re going to want to be associated with that brand. So always be focusing on brand.

J:
Okay, everybody, thank you so much for tuning in this week. Hang in there. Have a wonderful week. We’ll see you next week. She’s Carol. I’m J.

Carol:
Go take care of yourself, your family, your employees and your community today. Hang in there everyone till next time.

J:
Talk to you soon.

Carol:
Bye, bye

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In This Episode We Cover:

  • How Bret started to operate a restaurant business with zero knowledge
  • How asking dumb questions made him better in his business
  • How to separate your brand from other businesses
  • How the COVID-19 pandemic has affected their business
  • How they’re managing closing for two weeks
  • How putting aside ego can help you make ends meet
  • And SO much more!

Links from the Show

Tweetable Topics:

  • “Don’t be scared to ask really dumb questions.” (Tweet This!)
  • “There are people out there who are willing to help you no matter how successful they are.” (Tweet This!)
  • “I care more about doing the right thing than the money.” (Tweet This!)
  • “We’re one day closer to this being over.” (Tweet This!)

Connect with Bret

What does it take to start, scale, and sell your own business? Every Tuesday, J and Carol Scott ask this question to entrepreneurs of all stripes and delve into stories that go beyond the launch. F...
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