Chester Kroeger has owned Fudpucker’s for over thirty years. He started it out of a snack bar in a night club, and grew it to a famous brand, with over 500 staff during their peek season, and two locations (Destin, FL and Ft. Walton Beach, FL). Chester has found the right blend of passion and good business sense, and he’s the kind of guy you’ll learn something from every time you speak to him.
Follow Your Passion – I sorta left the political realm, so to speak, behind, and followed my passion. Which I think is the key in life. I really do. That one word is probably the most important word that you could put by my name. If you’re not passionate about something, there’s really no point in it. It’s everything if you think about. Your business. Your job. Your relationships. It’s just…it’s the key. In my humble opinion.
Onions Will Make ‘Em Hungry – One of the things I used to do to generate business was to turn off the hood system, and just throw a bunch of onions on the grill. And honestly there’s nothing in the world that sparks a person’s appetite than the smell of a sautéed onion or a fried onion.
Seize The Moment – Well, one night, after I had done the onion thing, there was a small crowd of people by my booth – which was about seven feet wide by eight feet long. There were about four people, and one of the guys was just absolutely hammered, and he didn’t want to drive home without something on his stomach. Back then it wasn’t as big a deal as it is today. And he was talking about getting this, and getting that. And he placed his order, and as he was kind of leaning there on the bar, and he says, “Why don’t you do a t-shirt? With a name like Fudpucker’s, you’d make a million dollars.” And it gelled. It was almost instantaneous. It was another one of those moments that you have to seize.
Have A Hook – We opened Fudpucker’s in 1983 in that location, and it was an immediate success. The t-shirts are the thing that carried it. And that is the absolute truth. And I think that points to…in this day in age, you almost have to have a hook. And the hook can be anything…it really can. But it has to be something that increases your sales. There has to be a reason for people to come to see you. If you don’t have that, then why would they choose you over another place?
Offer Bargains. But Not Without A Profit – We do have some bargain things, especially during dayparts when we need to produce more traffic. And economic times like these demand that you have some value-priced items. But you know, you engineer those so that those actually make you money. I fail to understand – although I have fallen victim to it from time to time – why restaurants will sell something for cost. It just doesn’t make sense. All you are doing is devaluing everything else. You can engineer a piece of fish a thousand ways to make it profitable. What do you pair it with? How big of a portion is it? What kind of a sauce d o you put on it? Do you put a sauce on it? What do you serve it on? There’s a million things you can do to make that attractive and cost effective, and still something that people would recognize as a bargain. While you’re still making money. We have a lot of things on our menu right now that are $7.99 to $9.99. You’d think that it’s hard to make any money like that, especially when you’re serving them a full meal. But that’s not the case at all. Yes, we’re making less when someone orders that, but that person, whose on a budget, may not have come here unless we had something in that price range.
Make Your Customers Feel Special – Together with wanting to be entertained, your customer today goes out because they want to be treated special. They don’t want it to be like it’s at their house. They want to be served. They want to be taken care of. They want to feel like they matter. If you fail at any point in the course of the service experience, you will likely have lost a customer. And potentially many more.
Never Accept Mediocrity – Our motto is: “Never accept mediocrity.” And the standing order, to all of our managers…regardless of how good your staff is, there’s always one, or two, or three that could use improvement. And you are to constantly hire, and replace those people who you feel are less deserving, or who don’t cut it. Well, that sounds kind of harsh. But let me tell you what it does. Not settling for mediocrity means that everyone on your staff knows that they have to perform.
Write Down Those Orders – I don’t believe in these restaurants where the customer gets impressed with someone who, you know, has a table of six and he takes everybody’s order, and he does it mentally. I mean, that is impressive. But there’s always that question in the back of my mind: “Is this guy going to screw up my order?” So we make our staff write down the orders. People feel more assured. They feel more comfortable.
Check Your Ego And Listen To Your Staff – And you listen to them. That’s another thing that I think is an absolute necessity. A lot of owners of restaurants feel like they know everything. And I’ve been victim of that too. You know, you have a certain amount of success in life, and all of the sudden, you’re invincible. Well, trust me, that’s not the case. You can always learn. And who better to learn from, than the person who is having contact with your customers…every…single…day?
Reward Successful Ideas – We have a standing policy that if someone comes up with an idea that we use – for a drink, or for a different way of serving something, or a new item, or whatever – then we pay them. We give them a bonus. So we get a lot of interaction with our staff. And that also goes to the appreciation factor. There’s very little that you can do that’s more important than lend an ear to what someone else is saying to you. It makes you feel good. It’s like, “Wow! He really wants to know.” And we do. I mean, not all of the ideas are out there. They may not get picked up. Maybe we thought about them and discarded them some time back. But sometimes something comes along that’ll just rock your world. That happens quite a bit, actually.
Pay Close Attention To Pricing – If you don’t adequately or accurately price things, you’re not going to be in business long. Whether it’s overpriced, or under priced. Either way, you could lose.
Timely Reporting Is Critical – Timely reporting – financial reporting – is critical. It doesn’t really do you a whole lot of good when the information you’re getting is a week late. Or a month late. God help you if it’s more than a month late. Because how can you make decisions about tomorrow, when you don’t have the facts about today?
Lock In Prices In Advance – We look at seasonal purchases, and locking in prices on large quantities of product. Whether it be fish, or shrimp, or ground beef. All of things that are the core elements of our business. The things that we know that we absolutely have to have. We try to find the best time of the year to buy them. You know, you don’t want to try to buy Alaskan snow crab in August, because the season is over. It’s been over for months, and you’re going to pay through the nose for that product. You buy it when they’re catching the crab. The same thing with shrimp. Same thing with Mahi-Mahi, and other types of fish. You try to lock in your pricing, and take advantage of bulk buying.
Have The Final Say – Well, I have a philosophy, and that is that somebody has to be in control. I think 50/50 partnerships never work. They just don’t. Unless it is such a unique relationship. And those things…they’re subject to change. Something happens in your life – you’re going down a different path. All of the sudden, your viewpoint changes. Why would you have someone in your business that can basically block anything you want to do or say? The reality is that somebody has to be able to say, “This is the way it’s gonna be.””
Do Things Right And You’ll Be Just Fine – I think that as long as we continue to provide the great service, and the good food, and wow our customers, then we should do fine. It’s just a blip on the radar right now. The times are what they are, and the strong will survive.
If I were planning to start a restaurant, I’d love to learn as much as I could from a man who has been successful for several decades, and is still as excited about his business as ever.