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: Greene Turtle is known for its Mug Club member program. How else do you make sure the restaurant stays different than others?
BOB BARRY: There’s a huge advantage to being in the business for 40 years. Mug Club has been around since day one, so we’ve stayed very true to that. It continues to be one of the unique points of our business.
We love the fact that people in some locations have two or three mugs. I’ve got a great story: When we moved our location from Salisbury two years ago, we actually moved it a mile away. We moved it right down Route 13. We had a closing party that consisted of people who had mugs. They were invited. They did their final cheer at that location, and we had a police escort down Route 13 to open our new location. We had a ribbon cutting, we did our first cheer, and we had people decorating their cars. We had a person that has three mugs—we call her Mama Turtle, she’s been around since day one—and she was just in tears to christen our brand new Turtle. So, it’s pretty easy when you have the loyalty and the brand and the people that have been supporting you for many years. We have so many people that have been around since day one and still are our guests.
Q. Tell us about the brand and the turtle logo—it doesn’t seem to have changed much over the years. Why do you think it has so much sticking power?
A. The brand itself is cool, right? We call it our little guy. We’re one of the only few restaurant companies that people actually purchase and wear our t-shirts. I’d ask you how many times you’ve seen a Buffalo Wild Wings t-shirt walking around the street or an Applebee’s? I mean, the brand is cool.
Q. To what extent can franchisees differentiate their own locations? How much leeway do they have with the brand?
A. We have to let our franchisees be unique and do things that they want to do. One of the biggest things that we’re really good at is getting involved in the community. We do a lot of fun things in the communities, whether it’s races, whether it’s Special Olympics where we do the Polar Bear Plunge, we want to have fun with the brand. We want to make sure that our locations are having fun with the brand, and that they’re involved in the community and making sure that we don’t take ourselves real serious. We want to go out and have a good time.
We’re in the hospitality industry. One of the big things that I say every time, to our general managers, is “You have the opportunity every day to host a party. You’re the host and you’re welcoming people into your home. Have fun!”
We have brand guides now. That is something we have to do. But we want to also give them the opportunity. So, our woodwork, our paint colors, our monster metal—which is unique to us—our branding, our décor packages: we want those fairly standard, but we want [franchisees] to also have the ability to do things in their market. Take the core package for instance: we want our franchisee to go out to the community and get high school uniforms, and high school photographs, and trophies, and show that. And there are certain elements that we want them to do that have a touch [of something local]: We have a location in Morgantown, West Virginia, right next to a Harley Davidson dealership, so they have a motorcycle hanging from their ceiling—it’s still a sport. We have another location near the water in Rehoboth where they have surf boards hanging, and fishing. So, there’s the sport element, but a little bit of their own culture as well.
Q. How do you make sure you keep the menu fresh, interesting, and consistent enough across locations?
A. We have a full-time person working on our menu development. We get him out into the marketplace a lot, working with our vendors. His name is Jeremy Larkin. He’ll actually travel to our partnerships, whether it’s farms or whatever, but in some cases our vendor partners have executive chefs and they’ll come up with ideas. We’ve used third party consultants, chefs from our local market here in the Baltimore area, or we’ll go up to New York and see if there’s a famous chef up there that we want to bring in and they’ll develop an item.
It’s worked out great. It’s really raised the bar for the menu items that we have. As I stated earlier, having homemade crab cakes—made daily—hand-breaded chicken, hand-breaded fish, things like Ahi tuna that our competitors just don’t have. It’s something that we are very proud of: that our food is a huge focus now, as well as never forget about our roots—and that’s our beverage department.
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