A classic, family-friendly hangout on the verge of growth in the Mid-Atlantic and beyond
Bob Barry is the president and CEO of The Greene Turtle Franchising Corporation. Founded in 1976, The Greene Turtle Sports Bar & Grille is a casual, all-ages restaurant that provides a one-of-a-kind dining experience for the whole family. The restaurant’s menu features American comfort food classics as well as local beer, fine wines, and an evolving selection of cocktails. The Green Turtle currently operates in over 40 locations across Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, DC, and New York, with plans to expand further throughout the Mid-Atlantic region and the US as a whole.
Bob Barry spoke with citybizlist publisher Edwin Warfield for this interview.
EDWIN WARFIELD: Stone-Goff Partners recently announced that Greene Turtle would be their first Fund II investment. How did you get connected with them?
BOB BARRY: You know, in most cases private equity groups like to stay around three to five years. Obviously, we came in in 2007. Then 2008 and 2009 were some tough times, not only in the restaurant space but in a lot of businesses, so we probably lost a couple of years of momentum. We were in it for seven years when we went out to market. We knew we wanted to go out to market. At that point, I felt that we had a great opportunity to go out to market, because we finally cleaned up the portfolio and did some really nice things with the balance sheet. Stone-Goff came in, along with several others, and we interviewed them just like they would interview us. They liked the management team. I liked the way they approach business.
We’re the first restaurant in their portfolio. They have raised money. I think they are excited and about to continue to invest in the restaurant space. They came in October 2015 and it’s been great. It’s been a great opportunity for our management team. It’s a good opportunity for them. We have formed a great board. We talk about strategy and growth plans and that’s what a really good, healthy board should do.
Q. Could you tell us about your relationship with MGH and your marketing strategy with them? How much focus do you place on the menu?
A. MGH is our main platform, as far as our advertising agency. We’re building our brand through really focusing on our food. We do a lot of work. We’ve worked extremely hard on our menu. We do handmade crab cakes daily, hand-breaded fish, hand-breaded chicken—locally sourced. We’ve we put a lot of effort [into that].
In 2007, when we bought this business, we were doing 50% food, 50% alcohol. We’ve moved that needle to 65% food, 35% alcohol. We love that. That’s the mix that we always had a goal in mind. In some of our newer restaurants, [food is] even slightly higher than that. But, from a competitor standpoint, that 35% is very healthy compared to a competitor like a Buffalo Wild Wings that does 20% in alcohol. We have a healthy mix there.
As far as marketing’s concerned, we went out to market two years ago with an ad campaign, poking a little fun at ourselves and poking a little fun at our competitors through billboards, supported by radio. We’re in the process now of testing some digital marketing to go out there and try to see if we can see the consumer and watch the consumer’s behavior through the digital platform.
Q. There have been an increasing number of bankruptcies in the casual dining space. What do you think is causing so many of your competitors to go out of business?
A. Fast casual came in five years ago and really put a hurt in on the casual dining. We’re seeing a lot of things going, as far as bankruptcies, the portfolios that either private equity groups or public space companies—the debt to equity ratios are upside down in their balance sheets. You know, in this industry, the margins are very small so in order to survive you can't have a lot of what we call “dogs” or “losers” in your portfolio. You have to work extremely hard to make sure those are cleaned up, and you are concentrating, making good site selections, making sure that your cash flow is healthy. The reason you’re seeing a lot of bankruptcy right now is the fact that those portfolios are really upside down. But it gives us an opportunity, number one, to shrink the space, so it’s okay for the industry. And the other thing is it gives us an opportunity to look for some great sites.
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