Last week we filmed Chester Kroeger for the Restaurant Owners Uncorked video series. Chester has owned Fudpucker’s in Destin and Fort Walton Beach, FL, for 30 years. The concept started as a snack bar in a nightclub,and has grown to two locations with more than 60,000 square feet.
The interview covered a wide range of topics, from why Fudpucker’s has a lake filled with more than 100 alligators, to the advantages independent restaurants have over chains, to the changing attitudes and expectations of staff and customers over the last decade, to the importance of avoiding complacency, to what he’d tell himself if he could travel back and give himself advice before starting in the business. Here’s what he had to say about that specific topic:
“If I could speak to a young me before I got started in this business, there’s a number of things I would say. The first thing that came to mind was, ‘What the heck are you doing?’ Which, of course, is ridiculous because I really do love my job. I love the challenges it presents. I love the customer interaction. I love all of the things that go along with it. It’s never the same, It’s something different every day.
“A more truthful answer would be to pay attention to the numbers. This business is all about slim margins, and that is not my forte. I’m fortunate that I have people that do that with me, because it matters. Every percentage point means something in this business.
“Something else I’d say is that once you realize that you are good at something, stick with it. Don’t go in too many different directions. We all get to a point where we have success and we feel like we are invincible—where everything we touch is going to turn to gold. The reality is, that’s just not the case. It may be sometimes, but for the vast majority of people, myself included, it just doesn’t work out that way. So play it close to the vest in that regard.
“Lastly, I’d say that, even though I do try to take good care of my employees, I’d probably say to take better care of them in the early years. Not that we were ever harsh or difficult. But I don’t think that I understood the value of a good employee when I was 27 years old. I had just come out of being an employee at that point, and I was very valued where I was. But if you give people an opportunity to succeed, and you craft a framework in which they can grow, they’ll do it if you give them a chance.”
Wil Brawley is a partner at Schedulefly, a company that provides restaurants with Web-based staff-scheduling and communication software. He is the author of the book Restaurant Owners Uncorked: Twenty Owners Share Their Recipes for Success and producer of the Restaurant Owners Uncorked video series.