Smoke and fire have been part of Brent Reaves’ life ever since his father John founded Smokey John’s in 1976. He never dreamed that a larger, destructive kind of smoke and fire — one that burned their restaurant to the ground in Dallas this September — would bring all of the lessons he learned last year in the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program (GS10KSB) into play as they rebuild.
The September fire occurred just when Brent was preparing for one of the busiest times of the year for Smokey John’s. The business was slated to serve barbecue at four booths at the State Fair of Texas, run two additional booths for Ruth’s Tamale House, also at the State Fair, cater for Thanksgiving, and take orders for the Christmas holidays.
“When the fire occurred, we already had thousands of dollars in catering on the books, and it was just two weeks before the State Fair was set to open,” Reaves said, “our company usually brings in 30 percent of its gross annual income during that 24-day period.”
He had to come up with a plan that would keep the catering business open and customers happy while the Mockingbird Lane restaurant repairs and rebuilding was scheduled to begin. That’s where he was able to implement the lessons he learned from his experiences with the GS10KSB program and a two-day coaching session in New York that was geared towards learning how to develop a new business plan.
Out of the Flames Comes a Plan
A typical day for Brent Reaves involves leaving his home in Cedar Hill to drive to the Dallas County Community College District’s Bill J. Priest Institute. He’s using a small kitchen at the facility to cook for his catering operation. Barbecue, pans of macaroni and cheese, and other delights on the menu are delivered to catering events for hungry customers. He’s even rented additional facilities to make sure the restaurant can meet the demand that comes during every holiday season.
Reaves also used the BJP kitchen to keep food flowing to his State Fair booths this fall, plus a second kitchen in town.
In fact, one of Reaves’ frequent customers, Royalyn Reid, suggested that he sign up for the Goldman Sachs 10K Small Businesses program when she saw more and more people coming to Smokey John’s. Lines were going out the door, and he needed to learn how to take the family business to the next level.
“My dad is a first-generation business owner; my brother and I are the second generation. I graduated from the University of North Texas with my degree in hospitality management,” Brent said. “I knew I needed to learn even more in order to expand the business, and that’s why I was excited to be accepted for the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program.”
Reaves started the program in the spring of 2016 and graduated in August from GS10KSB as a member of cohort 6. Among the many lessons he learned through the program, he specifically referred to one titled “It’s the People.” In reference to the module, Reaves said it “taught [him] how to look at [his] staff, how to create a culture for [their] company — and how to so with intention.”
He added, “the food service industry requires a certain type of culture that creates values and perspectives. The module taught me about core values and culture, and I believe that the number one core value [for our business] is humility.”
Other modules helped Reaves, too. “Through my GS10KSB classes, I learned how to read a balance sheet properly as well as P&L statements; what percentages and ratios actually mean; and how to calculate them,” he said.
And the modules gave him a banker’s perspective as well. “Now I know what they see [when you sit in front of them to ask for a loan] and how to answer the questions they will ask — and especially how to persuade them to invest in my business with a loan,” Reaves added. “The ‘You are the Leader’ module also helped me see my strengths and weaknesses. Businesses succeed or fail, based on a leader’s strengths and weaknesses.”
Building and Rebuilding: The Plan Moves Forward
With his eye on a possible June 2018 reopening date for Smokey John’s, Brent also wants to expand to include two or three additional locations — possibly in Downtown Dallas or East Dallas. That’s where the New York trip for a two-day coaching session from Goldman Sachs helped him develop a plan for the next phase of the business.
“During my visit to New York, I talked with Michael Bloomberg and Lloyd Blankfein, the CEO of Goldman Sachs. I was assigned to work with five different executives from Bloomberg and Goldman Sachs. We looked at the goals for my family’s business, and then they gave me the steps I need to follow to meet my goals. It was an amazing experience,” said Reaves.
He added, “I got help from the best of the best. Now I am developing a matrix for the business so that we rebuild with a strategy. The GS10KSB timing couldn’t have been better. My wife attended the coaching sessions with me, too, and now she wants me to attack those plans and put them into practice.”
What’s next? Re-opening Smokey John’s in 2018 is top-of-mind for Brent, as well as an expansion that will follow a “spoke-and-wheel” model in the Dallas area. With 20 full-time employees, and as many as 110 part-timers during busy seasons throughout the year, he knows that a lot of people are depending on him. He and his brother are partners who have weathered the fire together, leaned on each other and are looking ahead.
“As huge as barbecue is in Texas and Dallas, there aren’t a whole lot of family-owned, independent BBQ places,” said Reaves. “The area is not flooded with quality barbecue restaurants. That’s why we have our place.”
With a plan in hand, thanks to GS10KSB, and the family’s dedication to customer service and a culture of humility, Smokey John’s will rise from the ashes and fan the flames of success — serving each and every customer the best family-owned barbecue in town.
For more information about the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program, go here or contact Cristin Thomas, the executive director for the GS10KSB program at DCCCD, by email at [email protected] or by phone at (214) 860-5790.
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