On this week's podcast, Marcus sits down with Matt Golden. Matt is the owner of Loda Bier Garten, home of over 100 types of beer on tap and some seriously fantastic burgers! Listen to this week's podcast to see how he got from working the ER, in medical sales and as a Winn-Dixie bag boy to owning multiple bars and restaurants.
Matt: I'm Matt Golden with LoDa BierGarten.
Marcus: Awesome, Matt. Welcome to podcast.
Matt: Thank you.
Marcus: Yeah. Now we were talking a little bit before hand. I am a big fan of your burgers.
Matt: You're not alone.
Marcus: So, no, I think a number of years ago I wrote a blog post for some friends that kept asking me, cause we had moved down here and people on the Eastern shore were not very familiar with a lot of the restaurants that were in downtown. And I kept raving about how good the eating was and is still. And if I remember correctly, your entry was for the best burger that I'd had in Downtown. There's another location that I have become quite fond of and I won't mention them because we're interviewing you today. I think the Sugar Rush burger at the time and now you've added like a waffle burger and stuff ...
Matt: Yeah, we've got all kinds of stuff. We've got about 12 different burgers. The Sugar Rush is one of our more popular sweet and savory ones. We've got the waffle burger. We actually just had one called the Honey Boo-Boo which is ... it's got two honey buns, Nutella, raspberry jam, bacon, cheddar ...
Marcus: Oh my gosh.
Matt: I feel like cardiology associates should be giving me money.
Marcus: Does it come with a side of Prilosec, or Lipitor rather. Why don't you tell us the story of Matt ... Where are you from? Where did you go to high school? Were you a good student? Did you go to college, if you did, where did you go? Did you graduate? What did you study? Those kinds of things.
Matt: Definitely. So, I was born in Moody Alabama, which is a little bitty town up around Birmingham, and then we moved down to Mobile when I think I was four months old.
Matt: My father spent 30 years in the military and we ended up staying here. He didn't want to travel around, so passed up rank a lot of times to be able to stay here and finally retired after 33 years in the Army. My mother was a nurse. Grew up with a Golden Retriever. Got one sister. I mean, literally, I'm the average American, middle class family.
Marcus: Did your family have a picket fence in front of the ...
Matt: That's the only thing we did not have.
Marcus: That's funny.
Matt: I went to Faith Academy out in West Mobile, towards Semmes. Was there for 13 years. First grade twice. Decided to go to South Alabama a few times. I was 16 hours shy of graduating. I've done everything before I started opening up bars and restaurants. I thought I wanted to go to medical school so I worked for the Alabama Eye Bank doing cornea procurements. Worked in the ER at South for a few years when I was in college. I was a DJ here locally for radio stations like WABB for like five years. So, I've done a lot of just ...
Marcus: A lot of living.
Matt: A lot of fun things to talk about to my grandkids one day. Opened up my first bar, I wanna say it was close to ten years ago when I was like 24. Over on St. Francis Street. It was called The Bar. Had the big deck and everything.
Marcus: Did you remember that one?
Matt: Yellow building. I was working with a couple of guys and I kind of say it's like a bad marriage. We ended up having a divorce and going our separate ways.
Matt: Looped up with my current business partner who happened to be in the military with my father. We opened up a place out towards Dauphin Island called The Sandbar. Managed that for about four years or so while we were getting BierGarten off the ground. Ended up selling that business and we just lease the property now. LoDa was founded I wanna say 2001 on New Years Eve night.
Matt: It was crazy. We had a fire, a grease fire about an hour before we were supposed to open. I had absolutely no clue what I was doing with food, cause obviously I had only done stuff with bars and things like that.
Matt: And to be honest with you, even at that point, I had a little bit of clue what I was doing when it comes to alcohol and serving drinks, but only what my bartenders had taught me at the time. I had business sense about me, but ...
Matt: I was letting them teach me and finally after a while, started going no, we're not gonna do things this way. It's been a journey to where we are now though.
Marcus: Yeah. I can imagine. So you again, going back to ... if you haven't been to BierGarten and haven't tasted the food ... I don't drink anymore, it just was kind of effecting my body in ways that I didn't really care for.
Matt: I understand.
Marcus: Occasionally I'll have something but not on a regular basis. But I still go because besides the burgers, your reuben is phenomenal. I think you have the best onion rings I've ever had. The french fries are good. And there was some like Conecuh sausage appetizer or something like that.
Matt: Yeah, pig on a stick.
Marcus: Yeah. Pig on a stick. That was just phenomenal. Had that like a month or so ago. We were kind of going, walking around for first Friday or second Friday, whatever it is that Downtown Mobile does. The food is not just there. It's not a normal bar where it's just greasy crap that you're slopping out to the people that are there at 3am. You actually care about it.
Marcus: And it's good.
Matt: Yeah. You're right. So, we used to be, and really for the first five years, we were a bar that served food. Now, we're a restaurant that has incredible beer.
Marcus: Ridiculous. I mean, gosh.
Matt: It used to ... food was actually ... alcohol always surpassed our food numbers.
Matt: And then the past two years, food ... we're doing more food sales than we are alcohol sales and I'm not saying that our alcohol sales have gone down any, because that's not the case ... [crosstalk 00:06:06] they're continuing to grow. It's just we're now a destination for food and not only just these trendy craft beers that you can't get anywhere else in the Southeast.
Marcus: Right. So, the other thing that people may not know is it 104 still or how many beers ...
Matt: So, we have 102 beers on tap Downtown. West Mobile, 108 on tap. But starting at I believe it's January first, we're gonna be offering four wines on tap at each location so the lines will go up a little bit.
Marcus: That's crazy.
Marcus: I can't even imagine what that looks like behind the scenes. You look at the wall and it's just like all these taps. But I can't imagine what that looks like behind with all the kegs that it takes to do something along those lines.
Matt: Downtown it is a little bit of a squirrely puzzle because it's nearly a hundred year old building and so you've got two different walk-in coolers, plus a few jockey box style coolers scattered throughout the place. West Mobile, that was kind of my Taj Mahal. I got to build it from the ground up, so the walk-in cooler out there's got glass windows, you can actually see behind the scenes and see all the kegs, the regulators, the lines and stuff like that. So, it actually allows you to be able to see that.
Marcus: Yeah, I wanna make a trip out there because business wise I'm all over Mobile now so occasionally I'll find myself out there so I need to stop in and see what the difference is. So you went to college. Did you graduate?
Matt: No. Like I said, I was 16 hours shy of my Biomedical degree. I kept saying I'm gonna go back, I'm gonna get it, I'm gonna get it, I'm gonna get it and you just get busier and busier and busier.
Marcus: Obviously, if you're going in a path and you don't really need that, then why bother. You said you started with The Bar, but what was that like? The restaurant industry is an extremely competitive and very difficult one to be successful in and obviously you have found that success. How did you get into that? Was it just, you liked bars and you're a little bit of a lush and like to ...
Matt: At the time, no. I was at the time, I was doing medical sales. Like I said, I headed all over the place. I was 23, 24, somewhere in that neighborhood. Single and didn't have any kids. And I'm just gonna be blunt. I had money burning a hole in my pocket and I had a buddy come to me at the beach and say hey, I wanna open up a bar, I've got a building and it's gonna be great. Here's the idea. And I went, you're out of your mind. Just like you just said, it's extremely competitive. Most bars are out of business within the first year.
Matt: No. Well, like I said, I was 23, single, and I'm like this is every guys dream. I'm gonna do this, I can do this. So I'm just gonna give him the money, I'm gonna keep doing what I'm doing and I'm just gonna be able to go hang out on the weekends. Well, it didn't really pan out that way. I threw my money in and went okay, it's time for you to put your money in now, and he goes I don't have any money. And I went, what are you talking about? And he goes, well it was my idea and I said that's not how it works. I think a Walmart on Airport Boulevard is a great idea, but I don't have a few hundred million dollars.
Matt: So, long story short, he was insolvent, so then i had to go out shopping for partners as well. Found them and we opened up and right out of the gates it was a huge success and we did really well and it's one of those things to where some people just don't mesh really well together and that's what it was.
Matt: We had a horrible working relationship. I wanted to do things one way, they wanted to do it another way. So, I left. I'll be honest with you, it was not the nicest and friendliest separation.
Matt: I hit rock bottom after that. You hear about these people that have got these businesses and stuff and then say they hit rock bottom. That was it. I had my tail between my legs. So, it took me about ten months to get on my feet. That's when we started opening up these other places. The story that time told itself, you look at how they ended up doing and I wish them the best. But I'm glad it happened because there's no telling where I'd be now. I definitely probably wouldn't have BierGarten.
Marcus: I wanna first say thank you for your honestly, cause not everybody would be as honest about hitting bottom like that. I just think it's phenomenal if you're out there listening to this, note that hitting rock bottom isn't failure, that's not the end. That you picked yourself up and you kept moving forward because you had kind of seen hey, I like this, it's something that I can do.
Marcus: There's profits to be made here and that you kept moving forward. So kudos to you. But going back, one of the questions that I always ask is about the person's first job. And when I say first job I don't mean, you mentioned a lot of nicer jobs like working in the ER and stuff. I mean your first crap job, did you work in a fast food restaurant, sweeping floors or ...
Matt: I had a couple. Yeah, so the rule in my house is once you turn 16 you've gotta have a job. At the time, labor laws were a little bit different back then, but it was difficult to find a job before you were 16. I tried finding jobs everywhere and just couldn't find one so I ended up volunteering at the animal shelter but that wasn't my first paying job. My first job was at Winn-Dixie as a bag boy and I was a typical 16 year old when it came time for July 4th I wanted off and they wouldn't give me off so I'm like I'm not doing this anymore. So I quit. I wanted to hang out on July 4th. My father said you know what, that's fine but you have a week to have a job and so yes sir, that's fine. I went and applied and got a job at CiCi's Pizza as a dishwasher.
Marcus: Nice. Bet you're wishing that you had worked on July 4th.
Matt: Here's the deal. Two days, I finally went, you know what? I don't love money this much, I'm out. I'd come home and I'd have a towel sitting in our garage and literally have to strip down because my mother wouldn't let me bring those clothes in the house cause they were just so disgusting and everything.
Matt: I ended up getting a job at TGI Friday's and started serving there. Served there and worked at Abercrombie and Fitch at the same time. Then also started interning at what at the time which was Hot 104 and that's kind of where I got into DJing. So I had three jobs my senior year in high school and that's kind of how I looped into ...
Marcus: Well go back to the either the bag bog job or the dish washing job, were there any lessons that you learned from that that you still carry with you to this day?
Matt: You know, I can't really say that there is from those particular jobs, no.
Marcus: Just that you didn't wanna be a dishwasher for the rest of your life, for sure.
Matt: Yeah, that was the main thing. And again, I don't wanna discount what they do, because that's the toughest job in my restaurants is the dishwasher. Those guys, unfortunately, they're bottom of the totem pole, but they have the toughest gig in my place. But yes, I realized real quick that hey, I had to do certain things in life and get certain places in order to have the things that I wanted. Even from a young age at 16 years old, I had really expensive taste. I wanted the best of everything.
Matt: And I'm not saying that I have that now, but you have to work in life to get to where you wanna be. That's hustling. That's the main thing that I learned. Learn how to hustle.
Marcus: Well if you had three jobs, obviously you weren't afraid of hard work either.
Marcus: Now if you were talking to someone that wanted to get started in running their own business, what's the one bit of wisdom that you would impart to them?
Matt: Plan every single detail out and don't leave anything for guess. I think I've opened seven now and just on this last one did I get to the point to where I finally went, okay, I planned everything out in advance, wrote it all out so I didn't have any surprises. I see so many people ... I really only relate to my industry. But I see so many people, they go out and they try to do this and they go okay, I've got x amount and I'm gonna do this. There's always surprises that they don't know about so they either have to ... they're not able to open up or they have to bring in people whether they're angel investors or whatever and they don't really want to. That's the main advice that I would have is just plan everything out. I see so many businesses, and this isn't just my industry. I think this goes for everybody. They go in thinking they're gonna make all this money and rely on it and don't realize that hey, you really shouldn't be taking a dime out of that place for the first couple of years just reinvest, reinvest, reinvest. And that's what I did with Beer Garden. I actually didn't take any money out of it for the first five years. I just kept reinvesting and reinvesting and reinvesting. I think that's the key to success in my eyes.
Matt: Is not stopping to improve.
Marcus: Yeah. Money doesn't grow on trees, right?
Marcus: Unfortunately. So, what's surprising to me is what you're saying is that people so often times think, well I'm just gonna do ... whether it's a franchise or starting a business from scratch, that they just assume that they're gonna open up their ... that they're gonna put a shingle out and that they're gonna start reaping all these rewards. And the truth is that like Bluefish was founded in 2008. So, like ten years ago plus. And so, we're a little bit different in that for a long time I was working as a freelancer and I was able to make money, but still, even we're investing back in the business. Whether it's the building that Bluefish resides in or equipment that's needed or whatever. There's a large amount of money that just goes into reinvesting for growth. I talk to people all they time, they don't account for marketing or advertising their business, or hiring employees or improvements that are gonna need to be made to their facilities, or any of these things. Money starts coming in and then they realize that there are all these expenses and then they can't figure out how to balance all that stuff and they end up out of business.
Matt: Well to relate to that, so we've got two BierGarten's now and I had to create a couple of positions that I didn't previously have when it was just one. They're some literally the highest paid positions that I have that you have to have with two locations but truly don't start paying for themselves until you have that third location.
Matt: So experiencing that right now and having to swallow that for the first couple of years until you get that third location open, is something I can relate to.
Marcus: Yeah. So one of the questions I have, what are you currently working on ... is a third location something that ...
Matt: Third location is definitely something that we wanna do. Whether we go to the Eastern shore or go up towards Saraland, I don't really know. I can tell you the one place where I do not want to go is the beach.
Marcus: Just a rough crowd down there or why do you say that? That was pretty strong.
Matt: It is so tough to make it down there.
Marcus: Yeah, the seasons.
Matt: I've had several friends that have gone down there and try to do it and let me tell you, it is great when it's on but when it is off, wow.
Marcus: It's dead.
Matt: It's tough. Just the distance, I don't really wanna own something that I can't put my hands on within 30, 45 minutes if somethings going on. So, if you get that phone call in the middle of the night and it takes me an hour and a half to get there, it's not really something that I wanna do.
Matt: Another BierGarten, we have another concept that we're trying to work on right now, it'll probably be another year, year and a half down the road before that happens. We're just so ...
Marcus: Tied up with what you've got going on ...
Matt: Yes. You've gotta focus on something and get all the kinks worked out before you can move onto the next project. I've seen a lot of people where they just boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. They do all these things so quickly and it's just tough to keep up with.
Marcus: Yeah. Who is the one person that motivates you from the business world?
Matt: My father.
Marcus: C'mon now, you can't do that. Give me the father answer and then give me somebody from the business world.
Matt: Okay. All right, all right.
Marcus: Everybody always does that and I'm tired of letting people off.
Matt: Okay, that's fine. I will tell you this. Actually, my father is the work ethic.
Matt: As far as motivation in the business world ...
Matt: Somebody that's in the same industry as me ...
Marcus: Yeah, yeah.
Matt: Matt Laman.
Marcus: Oh, c'mon.
Matt: Is that another one that you're not gonna let me have?
Marcus: No, no, no, that's totally fine but now I gotta give Matt crap. He is a phenomenal individual.
Matt: He is. You gotta think, here's the deal, Matt and I are the same age, we opened up our ... and Matt has always been about three months ahead of me and not only that, but also doing things better than me. So Matt's three months older than me, got engaged like three months before me, got married like three months before me. The only thing I beat him to is having kids.
Marcus: That's funny.
Matt: So he's got to have all the fun while I'm changing diapers and everything. But no, for real, Matt will tell you, and he told me this years and years ago was that he's not an entrepreneur, he's a marketing guru. That's what he does. [crosstalk 00:20:45] that's something that you can relate to.
Matt: He's seriously, you asked, him or Noell Broughton would be the two that I would tell you that I look up to the most in my industry.
Marcus: Yeah. I mean, going back to Matt, I know Matt and one of the things that I'm always impressed by is how he has been able to build community around his bars.
Matt: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Marcus: While that may seem like, for those of you that are old enough to remember Cheers or just familiar with what the neighborhood bar kind of mentality feels like, but it's beyond that. It's the whiffle ball season, it's the SantaCon that they just had this past weekend, where they went bar hopping and ended up at B-Bob's dancing the night away before the drag show. I mean, it's all these things. Kickball, whatever.
Matt: Mo-vember. All of it. It's all year long.
Marcus: He just does a phenomenal job of kind of getting people building in that community. It's cool that you ...
Matt: And he never stops, that's the thing, he's always moving forward, not only in that but planning events. And that's truly what Matt ... I really think he likes to do is he likes planning events. He used to work for RedBull ...
Matt: He's just really good. And then you got Noell, who I've really become close to over the past four or five months and he and I talk probably on a daily basis now.
Matt: Noell Broughton. So, Noell owns Brickyard, Boo Radley's, They Lucky's, Bone and Barrel across the bay, Little Whiskey Christmas Club. He's been doing this for decades.
Marcus: So we need to get him on the podcast ...
Matt: Oh yeah, you definitely do. He started Café 615 and then sold it. Noell B's. All these places ... I bet Noell's probably had 25 different bars and restaurants.
Marcus: It's funny cause we work with a couple of people that are like that. It's just like they buy a restaurant, build it up, either sell it or close it cause it isn't doing what they want to do and it's just interesting ...
Matt: That's Noell's passion. He loves building them and selling them and stuff like that. He's great at it too.
Marcus: That's cool. Are there any books, podcasts, people or organizations that have been helpful in moving you forward?
Matt: You know, and this is gonna make me sound really bad, I truly don't read that much.
Marcus: That's fine.
Matt: I read my restaurant smart brief emails that I get and stuff like that.
Matt: There is, I will tell you the book that I liked the most here recently, and you're gonna laugh again, Matt ... we were on our way up to Canada last year for a convention and he let me actually borrow his wife's copy of Rich Dad, Poor Dad. The most typical book, whatever, but it was fun. I enjoyed reading it. It makes you look at things a different way. I've probably read it about four times since he let me borrow it.
Marcus: Yeah, no. Rich Dad, Poor Dad, I think everybody should read that.
Matt: A lot of people do. That's what's so funny.
Marcus: Well, a lot of people do and it's kind of their ... when it comes to personal finance, there's not enough emphasis placed on that I don't think. If you don't have the personal finance side and figure it out, then running a business becomes even more difficult. So what's the most important thing that you've learned about running a business.
Matt: That's a tough one.
Marcus: They're all tough.
Matt: Yeah. Most important thing about running a business. Is knowing how to communicate and talk with your staff. I see so many business owners, they look down on their staff and treat them poorly. I had somebody ... not somebody, it's my father, so I am gonna quote him on this one.
Marcus: That's totally fine. Sorry, let me clarify. When people give that it's like I get it, our parents are always motivating us and we follow in the footsteps of our parents and stuff like that but the question is pretty specific about somebody from the business world. So it wasn't to like ...
Matt: No, I know what you're saying, I got you. So, my father told me something one time, he said when you're having to get onto somebody, there's no need to cuss, no reason to scream, all of these things, raise your voice. Something that a late 20 year old guy would be probably be doing when he got pissed off. But, instead, if you've got your staff and you have to get onto them, do it in such a manner to where when you're finished, they feel like they've let you down and they're disappointed like my two and a half year old little girl would be when I got onto them.
Matt: And I'm not saying treat them like children, I'm saying that they have so much respect for you and want to have your back and go to war with you.
Matt: That when you do get onto them, they're disappointed that they've let you down. I see so many business owners that they just treat their staff like garbage and it's disheartening because I think the best business owners are those ones when you ask them what their biggest asset is, they say their staff. Because it's the truth. Let's be serious. I'm not here on every Friday and Saturday night, I'm not the one closing this place down at 2am in the morning, making sure every dish is washed, that every last dollar is counted. That's not me.
Matt: I'm getting down here at 7am in the morning, so without my crew there is no BierGarten.
Marcus: Right. Yeah, just all operations cease. It's interesting, because I've had this conversation with a couple of people lately where I've mentioned the book Servant Leadership, by Jocko Willink and for those of you that aren't familiar, Jocko is a former Navy Seal and has now started making the rounds as a speaker, and he's been on a number of very popular podcasts. I'll save you ... I mean, go ahead and read the book if you want, but I'll save you the time if you want. It's basically the whole thought process is that as the leader, it's your responsibility. So if something doesn't get done or if there's an issue or if there's even a person that is a problem or whatever, well guess what, it's not them, it's you. So I've kind of taken that mentality over the course of the last year of ... if there's a problem, it's an educational opportunity. And if it continues to be a problem, well then, it's still my problem. But I need to address it. I think that's changed quite a bit, if not necessarily for the team, it's just changed my mentality of it's not always the person's problem, it's my problem. I need to fix that.
Matt: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Marcus: It's been good. How do you like to unwind?
Matt: This is gonna sound funny, cause I'll make the note that I drink like a sorority girl. The funny secret about me that a lot of people don't know, with these 210 taps that we have, I don't drink beer.
Marcus: Really? What's your drink of choice then?
Matt: Well I said, I'm like a sorority girl. Chardonnay or Captain Morgan's.
Marcus: That's great man.
Matt: No. Drinking is not the way I unwind. I enjoy fishing and hunting. I'm a huge outdoorsman. Especially this time of the year. Being able to take my boat out on the causeway, it's super quick. Go down there, I can go fish in the morning ...
Matt: And go take a shower and come to work or in the afternoon I can get off at three o'clock and go fish until it gets dark. That's really the way I like to unwind.
Marcus: No, that's really cool. We do have a great asset in the water that surrounds us.
Matt: We do.
Marcus: I don't take advantage of that enough.
Matt: You should, it's very therapeutic.
Marcus: I'm thinking about heading to the beach this weekend just to kind of get away. That's my unwind. Well, tell people where they can find out more information about BierGarten, especially now that you've added the second location.
Matt: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Marcus: Where can they get more information about ...
Matt: You know, the best place, and we obviously have our website, lodabier.com, but our Facebook page is just inundated with all kinds of information, specials. Obviously, we're on Instagram and all the social media outlets. But I would say Facebook is probably the best way to find out what's going on, see new menu items and things like that.
Marcus: And for those of you that aren't familiar, LoDa stands for Lower Dauphin.
Marcus: Right. So LoDa.
Matt: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Marcus: And beer is the German Bier not beer.
Marcus: So, if you're looking for them it's LoDa Bier on Facebook and lodabeer.com is that right?
Matt: Yup. Lodabeer.com yup.
Marcus: Very good. Well, I wanna thank you again for coming on my podcast and wrap up any final thoughts or comments you'd like to share.
Matt: Like you said, a lot of people haven't experienced our food yet and it's finally gotten to the point where when I go to the grocery store or wherever and I've got one of my logo things on, oh I love that place, love that place. So, when you meet somebody that's like I've never tried it before, it's kind of getting a rarity so if they haven't tried it yet, yeah definitely, come give us a shot, you definitely won't be disappointed.
Marcus: Yeah, no it's good stuff. For those of you that know me, I'm a food nut and I highly recommend it. So, try the reuben, try the burger. It's good stuff. Well Matt, I appreciate your willingness to sit with me and share your journey as a business owner entrepreneur, it's been great talking with you Matt.
Matt: Thanks for having me.