“Boredom is the root of all evil,” noted Kierkegaard, who further suggested it derives from “the despairing refusal to be oneself.” Thus, the seeming trick to bypassing evil is having a clear idea of who you are; awareness of what you’re about, and maintaining consistency in the manifesting of that identity, both for yourself, and for others. Such is the fundamental philosophy that has also fostered excitement in a Canadian bar and grill franchise that has been attracting and enticing guests by serving an atmosphere as appetizing as its proprietary recipes involving chicken wings and ribs. And though it may be known by saintly-styled nomenclature, for the right kind of entrepreneur, the opportunities here are devilishly good.
Over the last decade, St. Louis Bar & Grill Restaurant, along with its signature dishes of wings and ribs, has flown brilliantly beyond its initial perch in Toronto to now encompass 38 locations throughout the province of Ontario, as well as other areas of Canada. From a single restaurant that generated a little over a million in annual revenue, the company collective today garners almost $60 million in annual sales. To be sure, those figures don’t just reflect overall sales growth, but ten solid years of consistent, increased sales at each respective location.
The restaurant’s trademark logo not only touts the term “Devilishly Good”, but also depicts a radiant halo and iconic, if not less angelic, bifurcated tail. But to tell the tale of St. Louis Bar & Grill’s success, it is important to note that it isn’t simply due to those wickedly-wonderful wings & ribs, nor their secret seasoning, but more so, the reasoning and illuminating inspiration of a man who diligently determined to transform one little restaurant into a leading brand.
As much as life is what happens when one is busy making other plans, St. Louis Bar and Grill CEO Brent Poulton says his initial life plans never included any notions of going into the restaurant business. Having been raised in a quaint and quiet Ontario community, he ventured to the big city of Toronto to earn a college degree in city planning & urban development. While attending school, he met the love of his life in a young lady whose father operated a small bar and grill. Though Poulton had secured good employment at a trust company where he was tasked with residential mortgage underwriting, the girl’s father was short of help at the restaurant and inquired if Poulton was willing to take over evening managerial duties. For the next years, Poulton did double duty, working for the trust company each day and the restaurant each night. This was his very first experience with managing a restaurant, and it didn’t take long before he realized just how much he enjoyed interacting with the guests and developing operational enhancements which catered to their service.
As time passed, Poulton began to formulate strategies on how to grow the business, and was confident there was an opportunity for multiple unit development, if only some operations improvements could be made, certain tweaks with operational consistency, menu offering and design enhancements involving fixtures and the restaurant floor plan. This would necessitate a degree of change that would ultimately have to be approved by the owner, namely his Father-in-Law, and rather than confront the certain challenges to implementing those strategies, the two men ultimately came to an agreement which led to Poulton’s purchase of the restaurant. His improvements ultimately proved to be a resounding success, business took off, and Poulton has never looked back. He did, however, look intently into techniques that could assist in distinguishing his restaurant from other environments imbued by edible enjoyment. Poulton’s perspective on this subject offers food for thought for everyone in business.
Creating the Brand
Upon assuming control of the restaurant, Poulton oversaw improvements in customer service efficiencies, kitchen functions and took an unwavering stance on standards related to product quality, not just in aspects of the menu, but the manner in which guests, and staff, were treated within the restaurant. Those determinations were anything but kneejerk reactions, because Poulton invested a healthy measure of time and energy formulating a strategy.
Overarching those determinations were his answers to such questions: What is our product? Who are our guests? What is it that they expect from us? How we will fulfill those expectations?
In searching for the answers, he contemplated the choices he made about where he might go to have his car washed, or where he might purchase clothes, or buy cold cuts. If he could understand his own process of reasoning, he thought he might acquire insight as to how other people made such choices.
“Brands are very simple, but very complicated too,” says Poulton. “The key is, or the value of a brand, is predicated on a promise that is consistently kept… guests know what they’re going to get and they know they’re going to get it every time…. choices are made through their want to have expectations fulfilled, every time, every visit.”
He also determined that brands were’ about a product. He says there is a reason why people’s brains automatically make associations when hearing such names as McDonalds, Nike or Xerox. The power of those names to respectively provoke thoughts of hamburgers, running shoes and copy machines is a reflection of focused delivery and specialization in producing a singular line of products that are clearly known and recognized by the consuming public.
With all of that in mind, Poulton set out to create an environment and array of epicurean enticement, that he says isn’t about trying to be everything to everyone, but being exceedingly good at one thing, which in this case, is all about satiating appetites for guest service and some of the most scrumptious servings of wings and ribs to be found on earth, or any other planet for that matter.
There is a reason that St. Louis Bar & Grill annually sells more than 1.4 million pounds of chicken wings. As Poulton says, “The Colonel may have his secret blend of 11 herbs and spices, but we have our secret recipe too, which can’t be gotten off the shelf. Our proprietary sauces and marinades are specific to us and allow us to offer a differentiated flavor profile that can’t be offered by anyone else.” Among those sauces is a garlic dill variety in which diners especially delight. Though others may attempt to replicate, the garlic dill sauce cannot be duplicated and stands out as one the flavors most savored by guests of St. Louis Bar & Grill. To complement the uniqueness of their menu, Poulton further demanded that guests be treated just as that, as guests, with names and needs, that are not only respected, but graciously welcomed as warmly as one might be to a familiar friend. Poulton ascribes to the “Guest-first” philosophy, and has worked to ensure that this philosophy is embraced by all in the organization.
In franchising St. Louis Bar & Grill, Poulton has become particularly adept at identifying business owners who similarly embrace his values on customer service and the ability to adhere to the operational system which has been so successful for him and his team. Potential candidates must submit to a personality profile that assesses what he describes as a myriad of qualities which include leadership, conflict resolution, communications and team spirit. The metrics of the assessment have been personally honed by Poulton, and it stands to reason, his company isn’t looking for just anyone, but those who are best capable of growing with the organization, and growing business. Poulton explains franchise candidates are typically attracted to buying a business system that already exists for the value that it brings. “I make it very clear to them, what they’re buying is not their own business,” says Poulton. “They’re buying a license to operate mine.”
Poulton says his fundamental job these days is working to protect the system that he designed after an exhaustive measure of sacrifice, research and sweat equity. His goal is to safeguard the operation from competitive forces on outside, as well as any people who might want to change the rules on inside. “If they want to do things a different way, or if they want to sacrifice quality in a misguided attempt to save money, they don’t belong here,” he says.
For those that want to belong, the investment can run up to $500,000, which includes $40,000 in franchising fees. That investment comes with a lot of support and a legacy of success. Poulton’s team provides help on everything from site selection, location design and build-out, and hands-on training in all aspects of business operations which begins prior to the opening of business and follows through the first weeks of operations. St. Louis Bar & Grill Restaurants typically require some 2,500 to 3,000 square-feet of operating space, but some locations have encompassed more than 5,000 square feet. Beyond operational and material support, the company provides marketing and advertising resources from its own in-house division. Poulton’s team has eliminated much of the guess work in starting a new business by delivering the systems and strategies that allow one to rapidly prosper in the profession.
Beyond the ability to effectively grow in business, St. Louis Bar & Grill has been able to beneficially impact lives well beyond the serving of a fine meal. Some years ago, after being approached by a group of fathers struggling with issues involving the care and schooling of their children who were afflicted by Autism, the company dedicated itself to providing funds that would lead to new resources for support. Poulton says he had also been inspired by his experience with an employee who had encountered similar struggles raising his autistic child. In the years that have followed, St. Louis Bar & Grill has provided more than $400,000 in support of Autism-related causes.
As Poulton says, “You have to give back. You have to keep your eyes open about what is going on around you and help where you can. That’s what we try and execute every day. That’s integral to the culture we’ve developed, it’s about treating someone the way you would like to be treated. And isn’t it nice to be treated with respect?”
St. Louis Bar & Grill has recently opened its first location in New Brunswick. Poulton anticipates further expansion into Alberta by next year. He envisions a time soon where the company will expand throughout the eastern coast of Canada. He has been fielding inquiries from Asia, as well as the US, and says he is open to the possibilities of international growth, but, for now, is fully engaged in recognizing the vision for further growth in Canada. While the company will continue to move beyond its home in Canada, Poulton says it will never move from the values he and his team worked so hard to instill at all locations. “Our achievement has come from not getting away from who we are, knowing what we do, being strategic, and remembering it is the brand we’re building. And that brand is not what we say it is; it is what the guest says it is… as long as we never forget that, we’ll be successful.”
For more details about St. Louis Bar & Grill Restaurant, including merchandise, franchising opportunities and fun facts (such as the distance from Yonge & Eglinton to Rome or how best to fend off an alligator attack) visit the company website at www.stlouiswings.com.