Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Leadership in a Barrel

When I first get back to Kauai, the first restaurant I visit is the Kapaa Chicken in a Barrel. I get the chicken plate, 1/4 chicken, scoop of brown rice, chili. The box comes with a reference to John 3:16 and an Ichthys, Mike is an elder at Calvary Chapel North Shore. Kathy and I had the pleasure of eating there today with the founder, Mike Pierce.  This blogpost is about two leadership traits, vision and persistence. As John Ryan said in Forbes, "Compelling visions can truly change the world. But staying invested in them can be extremely difficult when hard times arrive."

The first CiaB opened November 2011.

Well, that is not exactly correct, it opened in March on a Friday, sold out, had a roaring Saturday, was off to a good start Monday when the health department showed up. Mike would later say, "I knew nothing about the restaurant business including the fact you needed a permit."

Turned out nothing whatsoever was permitted about the building he had leased from Richard Jasper, owner of JJ's Broiler. For the next six months, every week involved trips to the building and health departments on Kauai. Mike would bring what ever they asked for from the last trip and they would give him a new list.

Finally, they were open. Jimmy from U Turn for Christ was the first employee. Mike's struggles were far from over, CiaB lost money as they were trying to figure out how to run a restaurant, (Mike's background was construction and that funded the restaurant). After two years the accountant asked Mike, "What are you doing?" Mike believed in the product, people told him they liked it and after two and a half years, CiaB had a profitable month.

He still ran his construction business and at one point painting slowed down. Patrick Pepper, his son in law, moved over to the restaurant in Kapaa that he manages today. Every time I see him there he has a big smile on his face. He loves it.

Mike believed the island would support another restaurant and Hanalei was his target location. However, space was impossible to find. He was friends with Patti Ewing who owned a shopping center in Kilauea, a space was opening up, but due to the number of parking stalls, he could only open for takeout. Later, Mitch McPeek would run into the same problem. Today, that location is a wine bar with 28 seats?

Mike spoke with a Liz Grout, a seasoned real estate agent on the North shore. She confirmed that Hanalei was a white hot market, before something gets listed, it is already gone by word of mouth. Mike continued to believe. Then one day he got a call from Samantha Williams. She had a lease in Hanalei for Samantha's Place and was tired of doing it. She liked eating at CiaB and thought it would do well in Hanalei. There was one condition. Mike and his wife Anne, needed to take over everything that day including the employees. For the first month it continued to be Samatha's Place with Mike and Anne running it, till they could convert.

CiaB Hanalei was the first restaurant in the state of Hawaii to be approved to use carbon based fuel, charcoal, indoors. The hood was designed by Peter Taylor and crafted in Stockton. The special barrels they cook in had to be UL listed.

The construction business is uneven as everyone in the trades knows. Sometimes there is more work than you can handle, sometimes it is slow. During a slow period, another son in law, Brent, moved over, this time to the Hanalei location.

After, the two restaurants were stable and managed by his sons in law Mike started to think about franchising. That too is a long journey with multiple LLCs, protections for intellectual property and a 279 page franchise agreement. But sometime in the next year, a CiaB will open in Santa Barbara. At lunch today the couple just in front of us in line, picked up the franchise interest postcard and started filling it out. I thought about it myself long and hard. However, as I shared with Mike, "It is a great product and the way to win in the franchise business is to get in early. However, I have to be honest with you, a restaurant is just too much work." Mike smiled and said, "I'll be honest with you, it is a lot of work." I am not lazy BTW, I have been involved in eight startups, three of them at the helm, six of which succeeded and Kathy and I have promised each other we won't do it again.

Every time that we come back to Kauai we find they have added to the menu. Mike says he expects to be able to offer beef ribs and wild boar sausage soon. I don't know that they will ever make a fortune, but it is fun to see a God honoring family business succeeding. And Mike's story is a great example of the leadership qualities of vision and persistence.

Screen shot from CiaB Facebook page

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