Chip Bair has been at it for 37 years. When he bought a tiny little pizza place on a side street in Idaho Springs, CO, thirty dollars back was a big day. Now there are ten BeauJo’s locations, and many more to come in the next few years.
Chip is a cool as the other side of the pillow, and the kind of guy who would give you the shirt off of his back. He makes awesome pizzas, he has happy employees and customers, and he’s learned more than a few lessons over the years. Here are a few…
Do What You Have To Do – At first I slept on the floor of the restaurant, for a couple of months or so. And then I finally got a little cabin that I got on a trade out with the dog catcher. He lived next door to me, and it was a trade out for $25 of pizza per month, which worked out real good for me. When I was first getting started I drove a Lotus Europa. In the driver’s manual it said the Lotus Europa was good for a driver and one selected companion. Lotus Europas are very small sports cars. And I would use that for picking up my supplies. Because at that point in time, the suppliers wouldn’t deliver to us up here in the mountains. So I had to pick up everything at the purveyors. And I would pull up with my Lotus, and I would have things stuck every which way in that vehicle. And finally after a month or two of that, I finally bought myself an old Ford pickup. A ’56 Ford pickup. And there was a company right behind us – a small printing shop – that printed newspapers…small community newspapers. And they would have these overruns and stuff. So I would load up my truck with this waste newspaper, and take it down and recycle it, and make $6 or $10 that would pay for my gas. And I’d go pick up my supplies and drive back up. Again, I was saving every little penny that I could and doing everything I could to make it profitable.
Always Run Lean – You have to. Probably most businesses are like this, but in the restaurant business, definitely. It’s a penny business. You’ve gotta watch those pennies, because those pennies add up to dollars. And they add up to dollars pretty quickly.
Follow Your Instincts – That was somewhat of a tough decision for me. Get a raise and become a manager for a company, or go out on my own. And I decided to go out on my own. I had always wanted to be in business for myself. I always kind of had that…you know, when I was in high school I had a small peanut vending machine business. I had about fifty peanut vending machines in bowling alleys, and stuff like that around town. So I was inclined towards a business kind of thing. One of our family’s real good friends was president of Gino’s. They were a large frozen food manufacturer. And our families would get together on occasion. They had two daughters, and I had two sisters. So when we’d get together, the girls would go off and play and I would sit with my father and Mr. Workman, and listen to them talk about business. And I found that very entertaining actually.
Feed Your Customers Like You’d Feed Your Friends – When I first started I would still go down to Denver to parties and to visit friends, so I’d always bring pizzas with me. I’d always load up the pizzas for them, and I just had the thought that at BeauJo’s we’d always make the pizzas like we were making them for our friends. And we’re not going to skimp on our ingredients for our friends. We’re not going to skimp on anything. We’re gonna get the best, and we’re gonna do the most, and so forth and so on. So that was kind of how we developed the pizza.
Expand. But Take Your Time Doing It – The first time we expanded out of Idaho Springs was 1975. I’m a double Gemini, and I have this tendency to do things in twos for some reason. I’m trying to get out of the habit. So we opened up a licensed unit in Denver in October of ’75, and two weeks later I opened up another store in Crested Butte, CO. Went from one to three. Not a good idea. Don’t recommend it. I highly recommend doing that type of thing, but not so quickly.
Be Careful When You Pick Your Partners – And he’d walk in, and we’d be sitting there thinking “What can we do here and there?” And we’d always try to think of new ideas. And we had this big horseshoe bar, and I thought, “Well maybe if we move these glasses around a bit…” And he gets up and leaves, and comes back a half an hour later. And the glasses weren’t moving. And he just had a fit. And I go, “Look it, Bruce. We were just thinking about it. It was just a thought.” Anyways, he kinda flew off the wall, and he wound up having a meeting with the sheriff and the mayor to try to figure out how to close us down. And because the liquor license was in his name, he finally came in and just took the liquor license off of the wall. So we didn’t have a liquor license, so we couldn’t sell liquor, so that was pretty much the end of that business. So choose your partners well, if you’re going to have partners. Partners are really tough.
Keep Looking Ahead – Things don’t stay the same. You either go forwards or you go backwards.
Find Others To Fill Your Gaps – You also need to be aware of what your talents are. What you do good, and what you don’t do good. So I’m not a real detailed person. I’m more conceptual. So I’ve tried to bring people in that were more detailed to kinda run the company. The day-to-day operations.
Watch The Bottom Line. But Not With Tunnel Vision – Looking at that bottom line a little too closely, and forgetting about who you are, can really hurt ‘ya.
Work To Live. Don’t Live To Work – The restaurant industry tends to beat management staff up a lot. Typically in chain restaurants and so forth, managers will work sixty to eight hours per week. Our managers work typically forty to forty-five hours per week. And we might not pay them what they could make at restaurants where they’d work eight hours per week, but we’ve always felt that there needs to be a balance between working and your life. So we’ve always had our managers working a forty-five hour week. And that’s one reason why we retain them. We deal with them as humans and equals, and look for input. I’ve seen people go in and berate their employees, and that’s just not the way we are. That’s part of our corporate culture. We believe in the family and the strength of it. And we try to follow through with that with the things that we do for our employees.
It’s interesting. Each point I highlighted above is great advice for any aspiring restaurant owner. Or any existing restaurant owner. Or any aspiring owner or existing owner of any business. In any industry.
It’s just incredible business advice. Period.