Episode 24: Seth Hargett from Jubilee Restaurant Group

Transcript:

Welcome to Podcast episode #24 of the Mobile, Alabama Business Podcast with Seth Hargett. My name is Marcus Neto and I own Blue Fish Design Studio. We are a digital marketing and web design firm located downtown on Dauphin Street. I'm the host of Mobile, Alabama Business Podcast where we talked a local entrepreneurs and business owners about their businesses and how they got started. I'd like to thank you for spending time with us today. 

If you are listening to this and you own a business, please make sure to go to our website and register your business on the business directory. It's completely free. If you have any interest in being a sponsor on the site or of this podcast then e-mail me directly

So in today's episode I sit down with Seth Hargett. I have our audio guy Jared Budlong to thank for setting up this episode. He used to work with Seth. Seth is the president of Jubilee Restaurant Group which owns all of the Five Guys Restaurants in a five state area. They are also expanding their business with the Uncle Maddio's Franchise. Seth is a business minded chef and a really nice guy. So let's dive right in with Seth Hargett.

Today I'm sitting down with Seth Hargett. Seth is the president of Jubilee Restaurant Group. Welcome to the podcast Seth.
 
Seth: Hey, thanks for having me.
 
Marcus: So most people won't be familiar with the name Jubilee Restaurant Group but they will be very familiar with your product. So tell us a little bit about your business.
 
Seth: I am the franchise partner of Five Guys Burgers and Fries and of recently Uncle Maddio's Pizza Joint which is a brand out of Atlanta. But we have Five Guys in five states and we will be operating Uncle Maddio's in five states.
 
Marcus: That is so cool. I'm a big fan of Five Guys. I'm originally frorm Washington, DC. They've just spread like wildfire recently, it seems like last five or six years, is that accurate?
 
Seth: They are over 1500 stores worldwide. They've just completed stores in Dubai and also in United Arab Emirates.
 
Marcus: Wow.
 
Seth: They have partnered in London for the whole U.K., and they've also are starting to expand into Germany and so forth. So pretty rapid.
 
Marcus: So now those  of, for those people that may not be familiar with the product tell us a little bit about Five guys. I could spout it off but it's much more interesting when you tell us.
 
Seth: Five Guys was started by the Murrell family in D.C.. It's a father and his five sons. Janie is the matriarch that holds all of them together. They changed the burger market by doing fresh, made to order burgers and fresh cut french fries. The potatoes that are stocked up around the restaurant are your french fries. We cook them to order. We also hand patty the beef every morning. There's not a freezer.
 
Marcus: It's all hand pattied?
 
Seth: We have to hand patty every morning what we're going to sell for that day.
 
Marcus: Wow, I did not know that. I mean I knew it wasn't frozen but I didn't realize you guys actually just got the ground beef and then actually had a hand patty the burgers.
 
Seth: Yup. 
 
Marcus: Wow.
 
Seth: And then all the ingredients are prepped that morning. Bread is a propriety item of the Five Guys brand and we just started serving milkshakes.
 
Marcus: Really?
 
Seth: Yes.
 
Marcus: There goes my diet. Now, that's really fantastic. I think many of us are waiting on the burger war. This clash that's going to happen in the mid west when In-N-Out makes their progress across the states from the west coast, and then Five Guys from the east coast.
 
Marcus: Well, they've actually kind of met in California. Five Guys is all through the west coast and it's interesting because when California was developed probably three years ago. It was kind of the strong push for with the brand but as anything it's more awareness and so therefore it does drive sales and keeps people interested in the product. So that's a good thing.
 
Marcus: Yeah, I have never had an In-N-Out burger but I love me some Five Guys.
 
Seth: Well, I haven't had an In-N-Out either so we're in the same world there.
 
Marcus: Well, going back to Jubilee Restaurant Group, how you're approaching the restaurant industry is a bit unique. So how did you come up with the idea for building these larger groups of restaurants. Typically when you think of franchisees it's someone that is in a local area that has a couple of restaurants. It's not "we're going to have a five state territory and build up this large group of restaurant". So was that something that you'd seen some place else or were you?
 
Seth: No, actually, I'm a chef by trade and I always want to teach people. When I had the opportunity... my brother-in-law was with Five Guys Corporate. So he was able to help me out with some franchise rights, but I had to go out and find the capital. Growing up on the Eastern shore, during the summer time we have Jubilees. A Jubilee is basically, there's an oxygen stratification in the water. Basically all the sea life tries to come on shore to stay alive and you're able to go and gather seafood. So I came up with the name Jubilee Restaurant Group. Five Guys is all systematic. I didn't have to create recipes. I could just go for it. Jubilee Restaurant Group is a performance-based company. So we take in people from all backgrounds and it's up to them to learn how to progress. We give them the tools. We teach them. We coach them, and as my director of operations calls it, it is "Restaurant 101."
 
Marcus: Right.
 
Seth: I mean we're basically teaching people how to run restaurants.
 
Marcus: Well, you've got to define process. They have to come up with the performance.
 
Seth: That's right.
 
Seth: I mean we've got people as young as 21 that are general managers. They've got a career. They're making good money and they don't have college educations. Actually I think that of my corporate team in both JUMP Management and Jubilee Restaurant Group, they're only two of us and there's eight of us involved. Only two of us have college degrees.
 
Marcus: Yeah, that's cool. Now, you were mentioning that you're getting in to the Uncle Maddio's brand.
 
Seth: Right.
 
Marcus: And so what is that? I know we've got one here on the Eastern Shore. Is there one in Mobile as well?
 
Seth: No, I'm building one in West Mobile out at Schillinger and Airport. That one should open at the end of next month. Uncle Maddio's was created by Matt Andrew out of Atlanta. Matt was also the CEO of Moe's Southwest Grill before it was sold off to Venture capital. Once they sold it off to Venture Capital, Matt basically took the idea of Moe's and turned it into pizza.
 
Marcus: Yeah.
 
Seth: But there again the dough's made fresh every single day. The focus with Uncle Maddio's Pizza is giving the consumer control of their own pizza. You come in and we have a traditional white dough. We have wheat dough. We also have a gluten free dough. All the ingredients are made fresh every single day and it's basically from the time that you order to the time your pizza arrives is under the eighth minute mark.
 
Marcus: Yeah, now I have been in Uncle Maddio's over in the Eastern Shore. 
 
Seth: It's in the Jubilee Shopping Center.
 
Marcus: Jubilee Shopping Center. And instead of potatoes laying around, you have bags of flower.
 
Seth: Yes.
 
Marcus: So it's the same kind of feel as 5 Guys. Let's go back just a little bit and get some background information about you. Are you from Mobile? How did you end up here? You mentioned higher education, where did you go to school? You're trained as a chef so I'm assuming that you went to...
 
Seth: I grew up in Mobile, went to St. Paul's, graduated, went on to Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina for two years on a track scholarship and just kind of decided at that time to go West. So I moved to Vail, Colorado. I was a ski bum for a year. I've always enjoyed cooking, so I decided to get in to the finer side of cooking. I decided to go back to school, and graduated from University of Colorado Boulder. While in Boulder, I was working at a 5 star Zagat rated restaurant, basically working and going to school. Left there, went to New Orleans. Worked for Emeril and the Brandon family. David Myers was the chef that really kind of got me into the farm to table movement. Then I had the opportunity to come back to the Grand Hotel, I had previously worked there for about four years. I met my wife and kind of got stuck here.
 
Marcus: That's a good thing though, right? Yeah.
 
Seth: I love it here. I live on some land in Baldwin County. I'm traveling pretty much two weeks out of the month but it's a great place to come home to.
 
Marcus: Yeah, I was looking at Jared because your story is very similar to Chris Rainosek's story. He was in Colorado. Started out as a front-end host and saw some of the things that were going on and just decided that was it. That was what he wanted. He wanted to learn how to do the things that he was seeing in the kitchen. So I just think that's really interesting in how sometimes there's something about it that just kind of grabs you and pulls you in especially if it's something artistic or creative like cooking. 
 
Seth: Well, that was it. I'm the son of an architect here in Mobile and my father was very talented with architecture and I never wanted to be in architect. I just didn't quite understand it.

But at the same time I enjoy looking back at a lot of his work, what he did in the area, and appreciate that. I've always taken the approach that food is an art form. And I still cook like that today at home.
 
Marcus: So I'm going to ask you a question I ask most the chefs later on the show. If you can't have a Five Guys Burger and Fries and you can't have an Uncle Maddio's Pizza, what is your meal of choice? What does that look like?
 
Seth: It really just depends on what I have on hand. 

Marcus: Imagine you have anything that you want on hand. What's your...

Seth: I actually love fresh vegetables out of the garden with some form of seafood.

Marcus: Yeah.

Seth: And not too much sauce or no heavy sauces.

Marcus: Just the natural taste.

Seth: Just let it be natural.

Marcus: Now, you are obviously in a kind of growth mode with both of those businesses.

Seth: Very much.

Marcus: How many of each restaurant do you currently have?

Seth: We started in July of 2010, our first Five Guys was in Pensacola, Florida. We currently have 10 Five Guys. We are building three more Five Guys and I'm building two more Uncle Maddio's. So I've got five stores that I'm building over the next six months.

Marcus: Wow. So besides that, is there an area of the business that you're putting a lot of focus?

Seth: My main responsibility is site selection, overseeing the construction of all the stores, coordinating operations and making sure that that's following up. But also recruiting, trying to recruit talent into the company. Also, I have directors of operations for both brands. They are run as two separate companies but the main is making sure that the numbers are where we need them to be. We have a partnership that basically holds me accountable to the numbers. We were seeing on declining sales last year. We had some declining sales, but we were able to increase profits. So I mean it's all the financial aspect of it.

Marcus: Very cool. So if you were... this is kind of a hypothetical question. So if you were talking to someone that wanted to be an entrepreneur, what's the one bit of wisdom that you would impart to them?

Seth: Go for it.

Marcus: That's it? Just go for it?

Seth: Go for it. You're going to stumble, you're going to fall, what you learn from it, it's how you pick yourself up. How you get going.

Marcus: I saw a meme the internet the other day that said "Nobody cares how many times you fall down. They only care how many times you pick yourself back up" and I thought that was very appropriate for entrepreneurs.

Seth: If you can't learn from your previous mistakes...

Marcus: Yeah.

Seth: ...then you might not want to be an entrepreneur.

Marcus: Yeah. We often say in the tech industry "Fail often, fail quickly, get to the next point, learn from your mistakes". I mean that's really the gist of somebody that's a business owner.

Seth: You also have to understand the industry that you're in. You have to understand and be able to look forward to where you want to be. Right now I'm in the fast casual market with Jubilee Restaurants and JUMP Management. I want to  manage five brands. The five brands that I want to manage are burgers, pizza, chicken, something with chicken and then something with either sandwiches or Hispanic, Chipotle has got that market right now and they're not really giving up to much to franchisees. But to me it's a portfolio management of brands. My company is an employment agency. So it's...

Marcus: That's an interesting way of looking at it.

Seth: It's up to me to choose what the public is going to enjoy but it's also important for me to make sure that I have the right people representing the brands that I choose.

Marcus: Yeah. People are definitely a recurring theme on this podcast. I mean it's almost every single person we've had on says that people are the most important aspect of their business and focusing on the people never takes them down a wrong path because without the right people you can never acheive your goals.

Seth: It's a challenge.

Seth: The crew is who keeps us in business because there's no way that I could be in ten stores at one time. But it's making sure that the team has the right attitude and understands the goals at hand. 

Marcus: What are some other resources that you've found helpful? Are there any books that you've read recently that have given you something that you want to take away or?

Seth: I still reading different business periodicals. I enjoy "Harvard Business Review". I enjoy reading either "Wall Street Journal", "New York Times", "New York Post". What I'm looking for is how the article can relate to my business at hand. What can I glean from the information. I look at what local leaders are doing within the cities that I operate. Where's the focus. What are some of the challenges. How can I as a food service provider, how can I align my business up with the goals of the neighborhood. I think that you have to have a pulse on what's going on. 

Marcus: Sure, I mean if you only take news from your industry then you're going to be missing some aspects.

Seth: That's right.

Marcus: There's not any...Well, I can't say that. There's something about being able to take and innovate off of what other industries are doing that sets real leaders apart from people that are just operating normally in their industry.

Seth: I think that a lot of the chefs these days have to realize the celebrity chef model of going out and having  five restaurants all over the country, that it's not always possible. I think the fast casual segment is blowing up. But, motivating the crew to get your vision across and make them feel wanted as employees. We treat our business as a family, if somebody is going through a hard time, we all chip in and make sure that everybody within the family knows. We're seeing a lot of our former people that have gone out for a greener pastures come back because they enjoy the work life of what we started. 

Marcus: There's something very powerful in knowing that other people that you're working with care. Oftentimes we're spending more time with the people that we work with than we do with our actual families.

Seth: Oh it's true in the restaurant business. I mean the restaurant business is pretty much 24/7.

Marcus: Yeah.

Seth: I mean it's a doctor's hours without doctor's pay.

Marcus: What do you like to do in your free time? Do you have any hobbies?

Seth: I enjoy golf. I enjoy being outside on our property. We have a 4-year-old son that is making life interesting for us. We like going out on the bay. And I am trying to teach my son that joy because that's really where my heart is. My wife and I met at the Grand Hotel and we would come down after work and to the family home and sit on the wharf and just kind of pass time away. We fish. We do jubilees. We go crabbing. 

Marcus: There's something very romantic about this area. Going to the water and spending time with my family and teaching them about the sea life and going for bike ride down at the beach and doing those kinds of things is not... those aren't things that everybody gets to do. I mean we're very fortunate with the area that we're living.

Seth: We are.

Marcus: What's your favorite golf course?

Seth: LakeWood. I've never really had a golf lesson. I just sneak on at LakeWood Golf Course with friends and have picked it up from there. Beth works at the Grand Hotel so I am fortunate that I can play there. But favorite golf course, wow. Through my partnership I've actually been able to play a few up in the Westchester area in New York...

Marcus: Really nice up there.

Seth: ...and there's nice ones out there that I've enjoyed but...

Marcus: It's a different type of topography as well. 

Seth: Yes it is. But there was... one of my partners had a membership to a Trent Jones Senior Course and that was nice.

Marcus: Wow. So give us a look at an average day for you. What does that look like?

Seth: My average day starts probably around 5:00, 5:30 in the morning and that's recapping all the restaurants and their financials for the previous day. Sending e-mails out to basically anybody I needed to follow up with and then have a walk with my wife and we come back, have breakfast, get our son up, get him dressed for school. I drop him off at school if I'm in town and then I go to the office to finish up. I mean right now I could be negotiating a lease. I could be overseeing and making sure construction is going on on certain sites. I try to have all the office stuff done by 11:00, 12:00. Go grab some lunch somewhere and then in the afternoon I'm heading out visiting stores or inspecting construction. If I'm in town I'm there to pick my son up from school by 5:00, 5:30. Come home, prepare a dinner, get everything ready and it's pretty much family time until about 8:00 and then 8:00-9:00 is kind of husband and wife time, catch up. After that she goes to sleep and I'm still probably working at 10:00. Going to bed about 10:30, 11:00.

Marcus: Checking in on how all the different locations did and stuff. Yeah, and it doesn't stop that's for sure.

Seth: So, no, getting back to being an entrepreneur. I mean you've got to have a passion for what you do and if you don't have it, it's hard.

Marcus: Find a job.

Seth: Yeah. 

Marcus: Yeah. So tell us where people can find you?

Seth: We have a website Jubileerestaurants.com and go to the website, you can click on that and I don't know if we've gotten the Uncle Maddio's Pizza updated yet.

Marcus: Yeah, I looked early. It wasn't on there.

Seth: That's in the works right now. But you can also... I could be reach at the office 251-964-4041 but we will be opening Uncle Maddio's in West Mobile at airport in Schillinger probably the first of October. We also have downtown Pensacola which will be opening. That will open up probably up first of November. And then we're building another Five Guys in Caryville, Tennessee at the same time with all of this going on. 

Marcus: So I was going to say that's four projects just before the end of the year.

Seth: Yeah.

Marcus: Wow. That's pretty impressive

Seth: It's a balancing act. [laughs]

Marcus: Spinning many plates. Well, I want to thank you again for coming on the podcast. To wrap up, any final thoughts or comments you'd like to share?

Seth: No, I appreciate you guys reaching out to me and giving me an opportunity to come and talk to you.

Marcus: No, I've enjoy this thoroughly. I've known the Five Guys brand for a long time. I did not realize when Jared was making the introduction that was who you represented. I just think this is fantastic. It's been great talking to you.

Seth: Well, thanks again for having me.

Marcus: I appreciate your willingness to sit with me and share your journey as a business owner and entrepreneur. It's great talking to you.

Seth: Great talking to you guys.