VOL. 11 | NO. 36 | Saturday, September 8, 2018
By Michael Waddell
What a difference a decade can make. Successful local entrepreneurs like Muddy’s Bake Shop founder Kat Gordon, Hollywood Feed president Shawn McGhee, and executive chefs and owners Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman at Enjoy A|M Restaurant Group spent that time growing their small businesses into thriving enterprises over that time.
They will share some of their personal stories of triumphs and challenges as panelists at the upcoming Memphis Daily News Small Business Seminar on Thursday, Sept. 13, at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art.
In the mid-2000s, McGhee wrote a business plan that involved a chain of pet stores doing things that were different than what was being done in the market at the time.
“I did that because of the poor shopping experience I had received at competing stores,” he said. “I thought there was a better way to do it, a better way to treat our employees, a better way to enhance the product, and a better way to treat our customers.”
Today, McGhee feels fortunate he was able to find the funding needed to get the venture off the ground. In August of 2006, Hollywood Feed acquired three struggling pet stores, and since then the company has grown to 77 stores, with the overall number of employees growing from 13 to more than 550.
“We just celebrated our 12th anniversary, so we've been able to be fortunate and grow quite nicely and continue to scale,” he said. “We'll open another 20-plus stores this year and continue to grow.”
Before setting out on his own, McGhee was president of North America for Office Depot and a former executive vice president of merchandising, marketing and supply chain for Memphis-based AutoZone Inc. He describes his experiences there as a boot camp for becoming a small business owner.
“I think it was one of those things that even though you were running multi-billion dollar businesses, it gives you a broad insight across all the various spectrums, from marketing to supply chain to advertising to human resources to accounting to finance to all the components out there,” he said. “I had a broad spectrum review that I had been through at the highest levels.”
For McGhee, small business offers a nimbleness of decision making not found at big corporations.
“You can, therefore, move faster and take advantage of opportunities in the marketplace,” he said. “You can assist the customer in ways that big businesses can't, and that's how you take advantage of the opportunity. We're always trying to be the Whole Foods of the pet food business, and we always put our own twist on it in some way, shape or form.”
With research showing that within three years, 76 percent of all small businesses will be out of business, McGhee has some advice for prospective small-business owners.
“The first thing is, planning is everything,” he said. “You must be prepared to invest time, money, resources and research, in particular, into a niche to figure out what will make you successful or, most importantly, what will make you unsuccessful.”
The Daily News 2018 Seminar Series: Small Business
Thursday, September 13 • 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, 1934 Poplar Ave.
The heart of any city is its small business scene. In Memphis, that scene is thriving with a strong startup ecosystem spanning new and seasoned business owners alike. Join us as we talk with Memphis entrepreneurs who have grown their startups into thriving enterprises, the opportunities and challenges they’ve faced, and the advice they have for all small-business owners.
Kat Gordon, Founder Muddy’s Bake Shop
Andy Ticer, Executive Chef & Owner, Enjoy A|M Restaurants
Shawn McGhee, President, Hollywood Feed LLC
Michael Hudman, Executive Chef & Owner, Enjoy A|M Restaurants
Seating is limited. Wine & cheese reception to follow.
Kat Gordon opened Muddy’s Bake Shop in 2008 in the Sanderlin Center in East Memphis.
“Looking back at starting a business a decade ago, it was the recession. So it really was the craziest time to start a business,” Gordon said. “Food prices were skyrocketing, but that same challenge turned into a strength. At the same time, that pulled the community together in Memphis so much. There was a spirit and energy going on in 2008 where we were really looking out for each other.”
Working out of a small 1,300-square-foot location, she opened a larger second location called Muddy’s Grind House in 2014 in the Cooper-Young area, as well as a commercial kitchen in 2012 on Broad Avenue, where the majority of the baked cupcakes, pies, cakes and other yummies sold at both shops are made.
Putting a Muddy’s on every corner has never been the priority for Gordon.
“Our first franchise offer came in that first year, and the answer has been and continues to be ‘no’,” she said. “My growth strategy has always been focused on depth, not width, so we want to make sure we’re growing our roots deeper.”
Instead of focusing on increasing locations, Muddy’s focuses on staff training and opportunity for her more than 50 employees as well as growth in product quality.
“We spend a lot of our time and energy looking at how we can take something good and make it better,” said Gordon, who worked as a real estate agent before striking out on her own and starting her business.
One of the things she thinks she’s done really well to build the company’s culture is creating a vision of the future and teaching people how to create their own visions for the future both at work and personally.
“Not everything is going to go as planned, so I think having a clear vision of what your destination looks like allows you to roll with the punches a little more,” Gordon said.
Her advice for people starting their own business is simple.
“Expect it to be even better than you imagined, but also expect it to be different and to be challenging,” she said. “Even when you feel like you’re failing miserably, expect to feel that way.”
Long-time patrons of Muddy’s Bake Shop in East Memphis will finally get an espresso bar later this year. After more than 10 years at its original location, Muddy’s will undergo significant renovations in December.
Enjoy A|M Restaurant Group partners Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman started talking about opening their own restaurant as far back as their freshman year of high school at Christian Brothers.
“We grew up with some big Italian families, and we fell in love with cooking by watching our grandmothers cook on Sundays,” Ticer said.
The pair, who have known each other since 6th grade, attended culinary school together at Johnson Wells in Charlestown, South Carolina, after going to different colleges, and then both studied in Calabria, Italy, at the Italian Culinary Institute.
They opened Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen in East Memphis in 2008.
“When we started out, we had about 12 employees, including our fathers who would help out,” said Hudman.
The success of that first restaurant led the opening of Hog & Hominy in East Memphis in 2012, Porcellino’s in East Memphis in 2014, Catherine & Mary’s on South Main Street Downtown in 2016 , and the Great Canary in the Old Dominick Brewery early this year.
“Memphis has been so supportive of everything we’ve done,” Hudman said. “It’s been a real fun journey. There’s no handbook that’s given out when you first start, so you learn a lot along the way. The goal is to be the best and to strive for perfection every day.”
In 2016, they also opened a restaurant in New Orleans, Josephine Estelle.
Today, the restaurant group employs more than 250 people.
“We always wanted to start a restaurant group that’s like a restaurant family,” Ticer said. “Family is very important to us and has had a big impact on us for our entire lives, and we wanted to create that same culture in our business.”
As the company has grown, creating job opportunities for staff members to support their families has remained a driving force.
“No matter how much bigger we get from here on out, we want to make sure we take care of our people and help them take that next-level job,” Ticer said.
Next up, Enjoy A|M Restaurant Group will be involved in the creation of two riverfront restaurants inside the Carlisle Group’s One Beale mixed-use redevelopment. The restaurants are expected to open sometime in 2020.