When you started thinking about starting Hot Head, did the condition of the economy matter to you?
Not so much. I guess had I known then what I know now about economics, I might have thought twice. I do remember something Barbara Corcoran (Shark Tank) said: “If you have a great product that people want, a recession will not hurt your success.” So I guess with that thinking and being a glutton for punishment and adventure, we pushed forward and opened Hot Head.
As the economy tanked did you consider delaying your launch of your first store in Kettering? No, Actually, I think at that time my Subways were doing really good, so I felt financially stable and able to take on some risk.
How did the first year go – less or better than expected? Well, it was interesting to say the least. The good news is we opened up with strong sales, and we had a good team we brought over from my Subway company to back the operations. The interesting (actually scary) thing was I made a calculation error in the food cost that had a massive negative financial impact. You see, coming from the pizza business and Subway, both of which we did not cook raw meat, I did not know that when you cook a piece of raw chicken or steak, the weight after cooking was only about half of what it weighed before cooking, resulting in food cost being twice as much as I thought it would be, due to the fact it took twice as much chicken to make a burrito than I calculated.
So needless to say, we made a number of modifications to correct that situation (raising prices and changing portions). The funny (not so funny) thing about it was because our sales were doing well and I was working a lot in the new store, I really wasnt monitoring the checking account balance. Then one day my banker called and said “your overdrawn”. I said “no way”. So I looked into it and discovered our food cost was 70% which should have been 33%. A restaurant only makes about 15% to 20% profit, so I was losing about 20% on each sale. The higher our sales, the more I lost. As I said we made changes and got the profit back on track. Within about 6 months we had food costs under control and sales were holding steady.
What factors led you to launch the chicken venture in an equally (or maybe more so) challenging time?
Our Hot Heads have done fine through COVID-19, due to the fact they historically have been about 70% carryout, so the pandemic simply pushed our dine-in business to carryout. Rapid Fired, on the other hand, was a big Thursday, Friday and Saturday night family place, and with COVID, families are less likely to dine out now.
We had an Rapid Fired Pizza location in Huber Heights which had a drive-through, which RFP does not really use due to the cooking time of custom pizzas. The drive-through sector of restaurants is thriving right now, so we decided to start a Wings and Tender concept (dine-in and drive-through) to utilize those assets we had already invested in. We have developed a way to produce wings in about three minutes which can work in a drive-through.
What’s your advice for someone thinking of starting a business during this economic slowdown?
Well, the first thing I would say is be well-funded. Right now, things change quickly, and consumers want to change quickly. For a first-time entrepreneur, right now is probably not a great time to jump into the restaurant business.