When Great Food Turns into a Great Business Model
Building a successful brand of sports bars & grills
Opportunities often arise in surprising ways. When Brett Clure and his close group of colleagues and friends started meeting at Tanner’s Bar & Grill off 156th & Maple, it was simply as a social outing. They felt the food and service were far beyond any other local sports bar. It was so good, they talked about owning it themselves. That casual conversation turned into a serious business proposition for the Tanner’s owners, and in 2010, Clure and his group bought the location.
But their plans weren’t to just own one. “We knew it had legs and could expand,” Clure explained. Tanners actually started in 1985 out of Kansas City, and Clure’s holding group, Hooksbiz, became licensees. “We had our eyes on our other locations, we explored them, and it’s been exciting,” he added. The second location they purchased was in Madison, Wisconsin. Clure said they wanted to see if the brand could travel and do well in a market where it wasn’t already known.
The move proved to be successful, and the group continued to expand at a rapid pace. Three more locations opened in Omaha, with a fifth opening later this year. They also opened locations in Cedar Rapids, Ankeny, and Sioux City, Iowa; and one in Lincoln with a second to open soon. “Things are going very well, and we’re profitable across all markets,” Clure said. “So we’ll keep moving forward with the business plan.”
"Every time we drive by one of our restaurants and my two-and-a-half year old wants to stop and eat there, it's all worth it."
Clure attributes a large part of their success to the team he has in place. There are seven on the management side of the holding company, with Clure serving as president and responsible for finding each location site—a good fit given his background in real estate. His brother, college roommate, and a close friend of his father’s are all partners. Additionally, several of Clure’s friends, all of whom played football together at Burke High School, hold management roles at various Tanner’s locations.
“People say not to work with friends, but I have had the opposite experience,” he said. “We have become closer friends than ever; we travel together, our families spend time together, and we allow each other to do what each does best.” For Clure that’s overseeing the real estate and daily operations, working with the general managers at each location.
With so much success in the neighborhood sports bar & grill arena, Clure and his group decided to try a new concept. They recently opened Tavern 180 in West Omaha, which is an upscale version of Tanner’s. The idea had been brewing for several years. Clure and his partners are avid golfers and travel frequently, so they’d visit upscale sports bars around the country, gathering ideas they wanted to incorporate but tweaking them to fit the Omaha market.
“We wanted to redefine the dining experience to reflect what we consider is the best,” Clure said. That includes offering prime steaks, something typically only found at high end steak houses. At the same time, the menu also includes salads and BLT sandwiches. “We wanted to bring fine and casual dining together,” he said. They asked Happy Hollow Country Club’s executive chef, Jason Hughes, to help create the menu. And they brought on board Mahogany’s executive chef, BJ Engler, whom they felt was the best in Omaha at cooking prime steaks.
"We wanted to redefine the dining experience to reflect what we consider is the best."
Other aspects incorporated from similar restaurants on the coasts include a tablet based menu that provides photos and descriptions of every item. “When you can see what a dish looks like, it makes it more appealing,” Clure added. Tablet menus are also being test marketed at the Tanner’s in Sioux City to see if it works well in a casual environment.
The Pairing Pro is also part of Tavern 180, which pairs 10 wines with each dish, based on properties of the dish—similar to what a wine sommelier does in a high end restaurant. There’s also a Frost Frio for keeping beer and cocktails cold, wine on tap, and is the first restaurant in Omaha to introduce dry ice martinis. “Our main goal with Tavern 180 is to offer a fun dining experience whether you’re there to watch a Husker game or have a nice anniversary dinner,” Clure said. And so far, the feedback has been fantastic. “It’s everything we hoped for,” he added.
With the right team in place and concepts that are continued successes, Clure said their biggest challenge is keeping a consistent level of customer service across all the markets. However, they are implementing better training tools, again tablet based, to help new employees have a quicker understanding of the food products they offer. But those challenges are manageable, and Clure said what he enjoys most is the freedom offered from owning your own business. “I have a beautiful wife, three children, and this allows me to spend time with my family,” he said.
"Even more important than having good business partners is having a supportive family."
Clure has worked with The Firm Business Brokerage for several opportunities on both buy and sell sides of the closing table, and said they have been extremely helpful. His advice to other entrepreneurs considering making a move to buy their own business, is that it will be what you make of it. “There are always bumps in the road when taking on that risk, and you have to be aware of what can happen if the risk doesn’t pan out,” Clure said. “We’ve been very fortunate, but we made sure we had the right business partners to help. Surround yourself with people who have been there and done it successfully, and make sure they have a broad business background.”
Even more important though than having good business partners is having a supportive family. Clure said everyone from his parents to his wife and children are understanding of the industry. When they open a new restaurant in another city, he’s out of town for two to three weeks at a time. “If it weren’t for the understanding of my family, we wouldn’t be six years into it,” he said. “But every time we drive by one our restaurants and my two and a half year old wants to stop and eat there, it’s all worth it.”
The Firm Deal Review
Newest Investment: Arena Sports Bar & Grill
First Tanner's Location Purchase: 2010
Total Tanner's Locations Owned: 11
Number of Owners (Not Partners): 7
Business Brokerage Preferred: The Firm Business Brokerage