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After spending his early childhood in Little Rock, Perry J Smith’s family moved to the state of Maryland in 1974. He holds a BA in History from Lehigh University and an MA in Media Studies and Communications from New York University. Smith is a Maryland State track champion in pole vault, played 1-AA football at Lehigh University and is a USBA amateur boxer and member of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG.)
After graduating from New York University, Smith began work in the hospitality industry as General Manager of the Polly Esther’s Nightclub Group. In 1996, he relocated as President and Managing Partner to launch Polly Esther’s, DC. In 1997, Smith moved to the Midwest to build and manage Polly Esther’s, Chicago, Denver and St. Louis.
Prior to his eight-year tenure with Polly Esther’s, he succeeded in numerous areas of operations at such New York City restaurant and bar venues including The Coterie, Chumley’s Speakeasy, Sports on Broadway and Robert’s Jazz Bar in Hell’s Kitchen.
In 2001, he founded the successful multi-unit Matchbox Food Group with operations in California, DC, Maryland, Virginia, Florida and Texas. Under his tenure, the company’s concepts grew to 13 units with revenue of over 50M. Areas of focus are startup strategy, buildout and design, menu development, operations, legal, licensing, HR and PR.
In 2016, he founded The Avalon Institute with USAF Brigadier General John E. Michel (RET.) Avalon is a business development and leadership firm that incorporates forward thinking tools and strategies to assist growth and identify Best Performance Assets™ in individuals and organizations. These tools and strategies will be integrated into all phases of Minute Man™ growth and development.
In 2018, with an eye on moving back to Arkansas, Smith partnered with Ms. Linda McGoogan, owner-operator of the last Minute Man™ restaurant in El Dorado, Arkansas to regrow this beloved heritage concept throughout the state.
Up In Your Business is a Radio Show by FlagandBanner.com
[00:00:11] GM: Welcome to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy, a production of flagandbanner.com. Through storytelling and conversational interviews this weekly radio show and podcast offers listeners an insider's view into the commonalities of successful people and the ups and downs of risk taking. Connect with Kerry through her candid, funny, informative and always encouraging weekly blog.
And now it's time for Kerry McCoy to get all up in your business.
[00:00:36] KM: Thank you, son, Gray. My guests today are the most interesting visionaries and entrepreneurs, Mr. Perry Smith and his business partner, retired US Air Force Brigadier General, John Michael. Together they are bringing Arkansas's beloved Minute Man franchise and menu with its famous charcoal-grilled hamburgers, popular hickory smoked burger and deep dish radar pies back to Central Arkansas.
As a young man, Perry had many interests. He was Maryland State's track team's pole vault champion. I don't think I’ve ever known a pole vault champion before. He played football. He's an amateur boxer. Must mean he's thick-headed. Sorry to his wife. And member of the Screen Actors Guild, SAG. Though his young life began in Little Rock, it was in the east where Perry would find himself going to school and beginning his career as a restaurateur. Today we're going to talk with Perry and his business partner, John Michael, about this.
About Perry's founding in 2001, the multi-million dollar Matchbox Food Group that grew to 50 million dollars. I can't wait to see how he did that. His 2016 startup, The Avalon Institute, with retired US Air Force Brigadier General, John Michael, who is joining us today at the table. And Perry's recent move back to Arkansas where, again, he is partnering with his retired friend, General Michael, along with Ms. Linda McGougan, owner/operator of the last Minute Man restaurant in El Dorado, Arkansas, to grow this beloved franchise that once had over 50 locations.
And not to be overlooked, we are also going to have Perry tell us about the story and life of Minute Man founder, Wes Hall. He's fascinating, and Perry was able to use the University of Arkansas Little Rock papers for research and to Hall’s genius marketing, old menus, operations and even his old recipes.
It is my great pleasure to welcome to the table the ambitious entrepreneurs, dreamers and Minute Man hamburger restaurant saviors, Mr. Perry Smith and retired Brigadier General, John Michael.
[00:02:55] PS: Well, thank you for having us on the show. That was quite the lead, and I haven't heard anybody talk about my career in that such depth for quite a while. So thanks for having us on the show.
[00:03:06] KM: You're welcome. Thanks for coming.
[00:03:06] PS: Appreciate that.
[00:03:07] KM: You were born in Little Rock, but moved east. Was it to follow your father's career?
[00:03:14] PS: He actually was a – he was part of the Rockefeller administration and he graduated law school. Taught at Emory in Atlanta, and I was actually born in Atlanta, but we moved immediately back to Little Rock. And he was a member of the public service commission. And from there he was one of the last Nixon appointees to public office. So when I was about nine, ten years old, we moved to the Washington, D.C. area and he became a member – Or the commissioner to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. So that's when we landed in the Maryland area, but we were always back in Arkansas before any holiday, visiting relatives and coming back to the state.
[00:03:59] KM: Your family is a family of educators, but you are really not, and I can see why you were coming back all the time because your father had been – Taught law at the University of Arkansas. I guess he taught law.
[00:04:10] PS: He taught classes there. And again, he also taught at Emory. And I just found out from my mom, she corrected me. He actually taught at the University of Illinois as well.
[00:04:17] KM: Oh. Your mother taught at Shorter College.
[00:04:21] PS: She did.
[00:04:22] KM: Is Shorter College and African-American college?
[00:04:24] PS: It is.
[00:04:25] KM: That's really awesome. And that was in the 70s. Your grandfather was the head of the history department and your grandmother was the head of the English department at Hendricks College in Conway, Arkansas.
[00:04:34] KM: Yes ma'am. So my grandfather, who was actually my step-grandfather. My dad's father had passed away when he was very young, but I saw him as my grandfather was Richard Yates. And so Richard Yates was the head of the history department and long-term faculty member there. And my grandmother, Helen Yates, her maiden name Sanders, was the head of the English department. And so we spent our time as kids in Conway, staying there, going to Hendricks, swimming in the pool and just kind of roaming the campus.
[00:05:08] KM: Were they so disappointed that you decided to go to Maryland State?
[00:05:11] PS: Well, I went to Lehigh in Pennsylvania. But I actually had applied to Hendrix and was accepted to Hendrix. And my decision came down to – You mentioned my pole vault career. Hendrix wanted me to come and pole vault. And I had planned to do that, but I was offered a little bit of money to go play football in the northeast at Lehigh. So I made that choice.
[00:05:33] KM: So tell us about being a champion pole vaulter. Why pole vaulting? What was your highest vault and how does that compare to today's athletes?
[00:05:45] PS: So I still – Okay. Well, this is an interesting question. I haven’t answered questions about pole vaulting for a long time.
[00:05:48] KM: He don’t still pole vault.
[00:05:52] PS: I tried to pick it up about four years ago and I said I tried –
[00:05:55] KM: How old are you?
[00:05:56] PS: I’m 55.
[00:05:57] KM: You tried to pick it up at 50.
[00:05:59] PS: I tried, because there was a gentleman in our area who actually has pole vault clinics and he teaches seniors how to pole vault. So I tried it and I lasted about three weeks and I said, “I’m glad I got it out of my system. I’m not doing this anymore.”
[00:06:12] KM: I hope you didn't break anything.
[00:06:14] PS: The way you land and your body hurts and we're getting old. But it's interesting. My pole vault career was the balance in my football career, because football as you know is a team sport and you're playing as a team. You're working out as a team. And pole vaulting is more individual. And I said, “Okay, well I'll run spring track and I can train for football.” But I picked it up in 10th grade. Aand the highest height I went to I think was 13-3 and was a Maryland State runner-up my junior year. And senior year I ended up –
[00:06:49] KM: What do they go to now? Because everything's bigger now.
[00:06:52] PS: So now they go up around 15 feet. I think you have state champions in our area 15 feet, but Arkansas is a thriving pole vault community, and they're over 16 feet. And women are pole vaulting too.
[00:07:03] KM: Yeah. They just keep improving the equipment, and I think people are taller. But you're tall. You're 6'3 you said.
[00:07:12] KM: Yes ma'am.
[00:07:13] KM: Graduate of New York University. So you got a degree at the one school in history. Then you went and got a degree in New York in communications, I think.
[00:07:22] KM: Yes ma'am.
[00:07:22] PS: You want to be an actor? Because you're a member of the SAG, the Screen Actors Guild.
[00:07:29] PS: So it's an interesting story. So I went to NYU and essentially moved to Greenwich Village with a bag. Getting my grad degree there, I had taken a semester off. I got accepted at NYU, and I balanced out my NYU career of studying communications by working in hospitality. And I also had some roommates who were actors, and one thing led to another. And they said, “Would you like to hear this commercial casting? They need football players.” And I said, “Sure.” I said, “I’m still kind of a football player.”
So I went to this Mountain Dew casting where they were casting about 10 football players and auditioned for it and I got it. And so the next thing you know I’m in full football uniform in Giant Stadium shooting a commercial. And they paid me for it.
[00:08:19] KM: So that's why you had to join the Screen Actors Guild.
[00:08:22] PS: So they forced me – Right after that you have to – In order to do more, you have to join the union. I think at the time it was four hundred dollars. And so I just took it out of what they paid me.
[00:08:31] KM: Did you do any more work?
[00:08:34] PS: I did.
[00:08:35] JM: Tell them about the movie.
[00:08:38] KM: Thank you. Thank you, John for interviewing. That's a good.
[00:08:43] PS: I know. And I’m stuttering over this, because I haven't talked about this in a long time. I ended up paying for a portion of my grad school with the money that I got. I did a light beer commercial with Dwight Clark, the former football player for the 49ers, and a few other commercials that were some dribs and drabs here and there. But I did about a third tier movie that ended up on Showtime with Brian Brown, the Australian actor who did Cocktail. Do you remember that movie?
[00:09:11] KM: Yeah, with Tom Hanks.
[00:09:12] PS: With Tom Cruise.
[00:09:13] KM: I mean Tom Cruise.
[00:09:14] PS: Yeah. And just the nicest guy in the world.
[00:09:17] KM: But you weren't in Cocktail.
[00:09:18] PS: No. No. This movie was called Devlin, and it was a made for a Showtime movie that they actually released it outside of the US and in Canada. And that was my last thing. And after that I said, “Okay, it was fun. I had a great time doing it. I graduated.” And that's when I went into business.
[00:09:36] JM: And we had a great time reviewing it when we were all first getting connected. It was a wonderful –
[00:09:40] KM: When did y'all meet?
[00:09:41] JM: We actually met –
[00:09:43] PS: 2016?
[00:09:44] JM: Actually it was 2013 when I was in Afghanistan. I was the Nato commander out there, and I'd created a hospitality concept in the war zone because I had 14 nations work for me. So I was like, “How do I get everyone to connect across all these cultures?” So I do what a lot of people do. I look towards hospitality. I found an old dilapidated trailer and made it a coffee shop called Gratitude Café. Gratitude Cafe became quite popular.
[00:10:08] KM: I love that name. Gratitude Café. Somebody needs to use that.
[00:10:12] JM: Well, we're using it again.
[00:10:13] KM: Oh, good.
[00:10:14] JM: So Gratitude Cafe was born, and then we started to tie it into social media and started soliciting people from the state. So we'd highlight a different school or a different church or a different – Someone who was sponsoring the coffee and the things that were going to the troops. And one day received an oversized box of someone who was extraordinarily generous because they saw on Twitter that there's this thing called Gratitude Café. And it turns out that's where Perry and I first met. So I was like, “I need to call this cat.” And that was it.
[00:10:38] KM: Was that you that's sent the box?
[00:10:40] JM: So Perry had sent a huge box. I reached out to him over social channels and then I said, “When I get out of this war, we're going to meet at a coffee shop in Washington, D.C.”
[00:10:48] KM: How did you know to send him this box of stuff? Was it a bunch of DVDs or what was it?
[00:10:55] JM: All coffee related.
[00:10:56] PS: Kerry, I’m going to throw this back to you. So you took a survey for from us, from the Avalon Institute, and you're an associative thinker. In other words you get an idea and you say, “Well, how can I execute that idea? Well maybe this idea will work with that idea. I'll throw that other idea out.” But the central idea still holds. I know what I want. I know what the goal is.
My goal after I – you mentioned my other restaurants, Matchbox. After I sold Matchbox I said, “I'd like to get involved in something that benefits veterans. I like to also use my hospitality skills and my business skills. Where can I find this?” So I started plugging stuff in the internet and all of a sudden this thing comes up and I said, “These guys are putting a coffee shop on the Air Base in Afghanistan and it has it has a mission and a theme?” And so I’m just like, “This is exactly what I’m looking for.” I said, “We can support everybody here.”
So I started calling a lot of my former vendors, Cisco, US Foods and I said, “Okay, you guys are about to get involved in something.” And then I was buying coffee myself and I have other friends who are coffee shop founders and operators and things. I said, “Send them coffee.” So that's how we met.
[00:12:06] KM: So that's what you got? He sent you that huge box of coffee?
[00:12:10] JM: Yup. So it started with – And then other things started to show up. So he started to feed the mission. The mission got pretty popular. It was actually highlighting what? Food Network or whatever it was? Or in the food magazine? Because, again, we started. So I changed the rules when I was there. I said we will start the day social. Canceled all the meetings from 7:30 to 8:30 and we all met at the coffee shop. So people from – And pretty soon the folks from Italy wanted to have their time to make their unique coffee that I had. So it was hard enough getting 14 nations to even talk to each other.
Then it became a matter of it was a very inclusive space and it created what we want as a very flat where people can be very real and it becomes very productive. He then started really feeding it and then it kind of took on life its own. Today, ironically, a week ago, a friend of mine sent a picture from a coffee shop in Chicago. He and his wife were there with their little daughter. And on the wall was a picture of Gratitude Cafe taken just this year that they now sponsor. So it's taken on where now it's got a whole network of sponsors that send stuff as their way to say thank you to the troops and then in turn it creates opportunities for nations over there trying to do the work –
[00:13:15] KM: Is it in the same location where you started?
[00:13:17] JM: Same exact place. Nothing's changed.
[00:13:19] KM: I thought all those kind of troops moved around and stuff?
[00:13:20] JM: No. So we were in the Afghan camp, downtown Kabul, which is the only place we really have a presence today. So it's the last place standing seven years later. So today we're building another Gratitude Café, number two. I work with a group that's building a 47-acre place for kids and parents to come together and for community to come together and have outdoor activities.
[00:13:41] KM: Where is that?
[00:13:42] JM: It's in Shiloh, Illinois, where I live. I live just outside of St. Louis. And the old grain silo now is being converted into a coffee shop.
[00:13:53] KM: But it's not for the troops, or it is for the troops?
[00:13:55] JM: No. This one is for people in the community to come out and have an opportunity to connect and then take place in some activities to get people back out in nature.
[00:14:01] KM: Oh, that's nice. All right, this is a great place to take a break. When we come back we'll continue our conversation with business partners, Mr. Perry Smith and retired Brigadier General, John Michael, who's just been telling us some great stories. And these two guys are bringing back the Minute Man franchise and famous menu with charcoaled-grilled burgers and deep dish radar pies. Still to come, founding the Matchbox Food Group. What is it and how did Perry grow it to 50 million dollars in sales? And Arkansas history lesson about West Hall, founder, innovator and marketing genius who founded Minute Man hamburgers in 1948. You won't want to miss this story. What Smith and Michael's plans are for the future Minute Man restaurants? And these two gentlemen's ideas, dream and plans for the launching of a leadership profiling business called Avalon Institute. Tips on being a leader to come. We'll be back after the break.
[00:14:01] ANNOUNCER: Well, the holidays are going to be a little different this year. What can you do to still feel that special November and December vibe in Arkansas? Decorate and share the photos and videos. Holiday home decor you won't find anywhere else is in stock now at flagandbanner.com. You can come to the store on 9th street in Downtown Little Rock and see for yourself all the different things we've got, decorative Christmas flags, wreaths, ornaments, garland even service themed Christmas decorations in case somebody in your family served or is serving. Imagine the joy your active military family member will get from a video featuring that kind of Christmas decorations at home. Advent calendars, stocking stuff or gift ideas, nutcrackers and all the razorback themed Christmas ornaments and decorations you can imagine. This year do your Christmas shopping for gifts, tree trimming ideas and home and office decorations at flagandbanner.com. Online at flagandbanner.com or in-person in the showroom at 800 West 9th Street in Downtown Little Rock.
[00:15:58] KM: You're listening to Up in Your Business with me, Kerry McCoy. I’m speaking today with Mr. Perry Smith and retired Brigadier General John Michael, business partners and bringing back the Minute Man famous char grilled burger and deep dish radar pie, and founders of the leadership program called Avalon Institute.
Before the break we talked about Perry's career as a movie star, in the movie – what was the name of it? What was the name of the movie?
[00:16:25] PS: Oh gosh! It's called Devlin.
[00:16:28] JM: And it's available on YouTube.
[00:16:32] PS: Oh, agree.
[00:16:33] KM: And we talked about John Michael starting the Gratitude Cafe in Afghanistan, did you say? And boy, it was a nice story. If you missed it you need to go hear it. It's inspiring to hear these kind of stories. Now we need to talk about Polyesters – Is that how you say it? Esters?
[00:16:47] PS: That was it. Polyester Nightclub, yeah.
[00:16:49] KM: So you went from bouncing around, working at bars and night nightclubs in New York, Hell's Kitchen to working at Polyesters Nightclub Group. What is that?
[00:16:57] PS: So Polyesters was a dance club concept, that if you remember back when there were a lot of theme bars that were happening in the 90s, there was Planet Hollywood. What else? Hard Rock Café.
[00:17:09] KM: In Little Rock we had Studebakers.
[00:17:12] PS: Studebakers. They were all these themed kind of retro-type bars. So Polyesters was the next iteration of the Studebakers. And it was a 1970s type of disco with a lot of fun memorabilia. We had the Brady Bunch wall where people could get their picture taken. We had a lot of – We had a partridge family bus where they could sit in. But it was the right time at the right place. And I got involved in that because, through a friend, I started managing for them and they started to grow. It sounds very, very funny, but that was actually the most profitable business I’ve been in, because the nightclub margins at the time were 50% after taxes. So you sat and you just crunched up your numbers, and that was an exercise in just almost insanity because we had to expand as fast as we could to stay ahead of the curve. But we opened up two in New York. I did one back in the Washington, D.C. area. Almost immediately moved to Chicago, and I never set foot in Chicago. We did one in St. Louis. And then I also helped open one in Denver. But within about seven to eight years, that was my entire first career, was doing these nightclubs. And then they just petered out. Right around 2001, it was about over.
[00:18:28] KM: Are you still there?
[00:18:30] PS: No. I sold my shares right about that time. And it was the right time to do it, because then 9/11 happened and the entire club business just flattened. It was done.
[00:18:38] KM: You must have worked really hard because you moved up the corporate ladder a lot. I bet you traveled a lot.
[00:18:42] PS: I traveled a lot. The hours were insane. I worked – Because in the nightclub business you're really only working four days a week as far as active operations, but I probably worked about 65 or 70 hours in four days. You just didn't really sleep in that four-day period. You were covered in the three days after that. And then you did it all over again and you did it –
[00:19:03] KM: Were you married?
[00:19:03] PS: I was not married at the time.
[00:19:05] KM: That's a hard lifestyle to be married.
[00:19:07] PS: It's rough, right.
[00:19:09] KM: Now you started Matchbox Food Group. How did you transition from managing Polyesters restaurant across several states to transitioning to founding the Matchbox Food Group? What does it do? What is it? The name does not really tell you much.
[00:19:27] PS: We took a break after Polyesters, and I took about six to eight months off. Began to just kind of look around and say, “Okay.” Again, going back to the idea, I wanted to move out of Chicago and go back to the East Coast. So I knew I wanted to set up shop there. My former partners at Polyesters were off doing a couple different things. I'll take you through the whole story arc because I think it's actually – It’s kind of an exercise and caution in hospitality.
So we looked in the DC area. I called my old landlord from Polyesters and I said, “What things do you have in downtown Washington?” Because we knew that – The feeling was that area would soon be developed. And we started to look around. He said, “I have this building, this building, this building.” He goes, “And I have this other building over here.” He goes, “But you don't want that.” And I said, “Why is that?” And he says, “Well, it's a very thin building and it doesn't have a lot of space.” And I said, “Well –” and based on our budget and where we are, I thought it was perfect. It was right around the corner in Washington, D.C. from the Verizon Center, and that was really a growing and thriving area of downtown Washington. We could see it. We could feel it. It's one of the things you walk into it and you say, “This is going to be it.”
What he also didn't know is there was an option to take out the lease on the building next door. So our whole thing was give us this one lease at a low rate knowing that we would expand into the second part of the building and triple the size. So he thought he was getting rid of something that was like a sore thumb and we said, “No. No. No. We can figure out a way to scale this and connect the two buildings.” So that's what we did. We took the lease out there. We built it from the ground up. It was where there was no pizza in Downtown Washington that was any good. But what we started to do as entrepreneurs is we were never satisfied. We said, “If it's pizza, not just a deck oven. Let's make it bistro brick oven, wood fired.” Nobody was doing that.
So the entrepreneurial lesson that we always talk about when I talk to young people getting involved in business is we called it the they gots. And so the they gots were what do they got? What does the competition have? And we would sit around after getting messy and building the space ourself at the end of the day and we would have these pickle barrel conversations sitting on the pickle barrel saying, “What are the they gots? What can we do better?”
So Matchbox ended up kind of just peeling these layers away and we decided that, “Okay, if we have pizza, we also want to have bistro.” So we had nice bistro items and a good wine list and we kept the price points at about 22 dollars per person. So we made it very affordable. So nobody was in that mid-range. At the time there was either fine dining or fast casual. Nobody had moved into the Washington, D.C. market with quality, but also being able to keep your price points around there. And with the demographic in Washington, with the young people, that was what they wanted.
So we took off from there. And long story short we opened up a new restaurant about every two years. And then we had another concept called Ted’s Bulletin, which was a 1930s style diner. So we added to that. And the third concept was called DC3, and that was a kind of a gourmet, fun, hot dog place that we did. But we just incrementally increased the revenue. And so by the time I left, we actually had 13 restaurants that were on tap with more on the way. And at that point I could feel that it was time for me to leave.
[00:23:03] KM: How come?
[00:23:05] PS: Okay. That's a good question too.
[00:23:08] KM: So Matchbox Food Group is the name of the umbrella company that has all these different type of restaurants under it.
[00:23:12] PS: That’s correct.
[00:23:13] KM: I got you. It’s a corporation.
[00:23:14] PS: Was. It didn't end well.
[00:23:17] KM: Oh! So you started to leave because why?
[00:23:21] PS: Well, I started to see two things in 2010. And I essentially left in 2012 and finished it out completely in about 2016. What I noticed was that dining was changing. And especially in the Washington, D.C. area, and it was changing for a couple of reasons. One big reason was Uber, because people weren't sitting in the restaurants as long. And we started to see that because we were building restaurants where people with large restaurants were kind of elbow to elbow. And the largest restaurant we had was 450 seats. But we were packing it in the beginning in about 2009, 2010-ish.
But what happened, we started to see how the product mix was changing, and people were buying one pizza and two drinks and leaving. And it was because of Uber. And so a lot of our clientele who were in their mid-20s were just saying, “Hey, we'll meet at Matchbox.” And they put a reservation in. And our expectation was that they would come in and have a three to four courses and have the whole meal. And that started to change. And we saw our ticket prices going down.
[00:24:31] KM: So they would come in and have one pizza and a bunch of beer?
[00:24:33] PS: That's correct. Whereas before they'd have the beer, they'd have the pizza, they'd have a salad, they'd have dessert and they'd make a night of it. Now they weren't making a night of it.
[00:24:40] KM: Oh, they were going to go somewhere else.
[00:24:41] PS: That's right. So one of the things that I talked to the partnership about was we have to flex and we have to adapt and we also have to work on a delivery model and we have to be more flexible in the way that we're looking at our customers and not expecting them to sit in the seats. And that also played into the reservation model that we had, which was a little bit static at that point. It was all in-house reservations. And I said, “No. We have to do more flexible.” So we had some a little bit of friction going on there.
I think the biggest reason that I decided to leave, Kerry, was because we had so many millennials working for us at the time and they were having a different conversation. They didn't want – And we talked about this from a leadership standpoint.
[00:25:22] KM: You and John do?
[00:25:24] PS: They didn't want top-down leadership. And the larger we got, unfortunately what was happening was it ended up being more of a static trickle-down type of leadership with the owners essentially becoming more removed from it. And I said that is not the way we have to go. It felt so wrong for me. And john, please jump in, because I know you've seen this in the Air Force too.
[00:25:48] KM: But John wasn't – You hadn't met John yet.
[00:25:49] PS: We haven’t met at that point.
[00:25:51] KM: You didn’t meet him after you sold your shares, which was ugly.
[00:25:55] PS: Well –
[00:25:57] KM: I can tell by your face, it was not nice.
[00:25:59] PS: Yes, he was a high observer. You're right. I had to walk away. I said I put my time in. It was about another eight to ten year cycle. And I said, “If we can't change the way I think we need to change, let's shake hands and I will walk away and I will take a buy-out.” I will be honest with your audience and I'll be honest with you. It didn't go well after I left. Every instinct that I had home to roost. It just did. And the bank ended up taking it over. The partners ended up being fragmented. And as of about eight months ago, Matchbox had filed for bankruptcy. Now, COVID didn't help things.
[00:26:40] KM: No.
[00:26:43] PS: I left I left at the right time. It was time.
[00:26:45] KM: Okay. So now you've left. You’re a typical entrepreneur. You don't have anything to do. So you start surfing the net and you find your partner in crime sitting over here, John Michael, General John Michael online. And as you said earlier before the break, you sent him a care package all the way to Afghanistan and y'all been friends ever since, especially since he saw you on the movies. He was like, “I got to get to know this guy.”
All right, this is a great place to take a break. When we come back we're going to continue our conversation with business partners, Mr. Perry Smith and retired Brigadier General John Michael who are bringing back the Minute Man franchise and famous menu with charcoal-grilled burgers, deep dish radar pies. Still to come, Arkansas history lesson about West Hall, founder, innovator, marketing genius, who founded Minute Man Hamburgers in 1948. What Smith and Michael's plans are for the future Minute Man restaurant, and these two gentlemen's idea dream and plan for launching their leadership profiling business called Avalon Institute. So we're going to get tips on being a leader to come. We'll be back after the break.
[00:27:53] ANNOUNCER: This year's Giving Tuesday, which is going to be December 1st, is more important than ever. Join others who are giving back to this community hit hard by COVID-19. One of the places you could donate to, Friends of Dreamland Ballroom. Though this year's conditions surrounding the COVID pandemic have made it impractical for our annual gathering, Dancing Into Dreamland, it has in no way caused us to falter in our dedication to preserving this pivotal structure in Downtown Little Rock and advocating for its historic significance. We're still moving forward with phase two of the Dreamland Ballroom Public Access Project. That's going to make the third floor ballroom open and available to all persons by being compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Our grand reopening is to be announced in 2021 and we hope you've joined our Facebook page so you don't miss our invitation. Without this year's biggest fundraiser, Dancing Into Dreamland, Friends of Dreamland is lacking its largest source of annual revenue. So we ask for your kind and tax deductible donation on Giving Tuesday, December 1st. It'll help us continue our renovation work, further our educational curriculum and lectures and facilitate safety conscious tours and storytelling events. If you receive regular emails from flagandbanner.com, please check down near the bottom and we'll have links to Giving Tuesday coming up December 1st. Please donate to the Friends of Dreamland.
[00:29:20] KM: You're listening to Up in Your Business with me, Kerry McCoy. I’m speaking today with Mr. Perry Smith and retired Brigadier General John Michael, business partners and bringing back Minute Man famous charcoal-grilled burger and deep dish radar pie and founders of the leadership program called Avalon Institute. Before the breaks, we talked about the General’s work in Afghanistan for – What was the name of that? Gratitude Café. And we talked about Perry being a movie star in New York. And we talked about the Matchbox Food Group and it filing bankruptcy. COVID didn't help it at all. Now let's talk about Minute Man. West Hall, the founder, talk about an entrepreneur. But first, Perry, you have longed to move back to Arkansas. How and when did the idea of rekindling the Minute Man brand come about?
[00:30:09] PS: In going back to the earlier segment. So I haven't talked about this before, Kerry, but I want to be clear about it. After the transition, which was a little bit difficult out of Matchbox, I went down to visit my aunt and uncle in El Dorado, Kay and Emon Mahoney, the Mahoney clan, which a lot –Jody Mahoney. So they've been involved in Arkansas politics for a while.
[00:30:33] KM: That’s your aunt and uncle?
[00:30:34] PS: That's my aunt and uncle.
[00:30:35] KM: Okay.
[00:30:36] PS: And it was a I needed to get back to my roots and back to a safe space. I said, “I need to get back down to Arkansas.” And so I started to take some trips down here. And whenever I would go visit, I said, “I need to go to one place, the last Minute Man.” So they would take me over to minivan, we would have some burgers. And that's when I met Ms. McGougan. And she – God bless her. She blew me off for years. It took so long. And I love her to death and I talked to her every day. And I said, “I’d go in there.” And she said, “Oh, you're that guy from Maryland.” And I say, “You're right.” And I said, “I’m back.” And she says, “You just keep talking to me.” And I said, “You're right.” And I said, “Because we need to do something together.”
[00:31:22] KM: You wanted to get back in the food business.
[00:31:24] PS: And I wanted to do Minute Man because of what it meant. It was such a legacy. I went to the Minute Man up the road here on Cantrell with my dad. I went to the one on South University. We went to the one on Broadway. My dad took me there. And I tell this story before, but we begged to go to the McDonald's on Cantrell when it opened. He went there one time and he said, “We're never coming back.” And I said, “Well, yeah. But I thought it was pretty good.” He says, “No.” He says, “We're going to Minute Man.” He said, “That's a real good tasting burger. It's charcoal-grilled.” He goes, “And besides, it's an Arkansas company.” And I always remember him saying that. I was like, “Wow!” So that always stuck with me. And I always had this very fond memory about Minute Man.
[00:32:07] KM: So Wes Hall, in deciding to come back, you went to the University of Arkansas Library and you got out the West Hall papers, which I’m surprised that they've got those there. And he opened in 1948 on Broadway in downtown Little Rock, Arkansas as a 24-hour coffee shop. Eight years later he bought out his partners and converted this flagship coffee shop into a quick service restaurant specializing in the burgers that y'all are talking about. And when it was over with, he had 52 Minute Man restaurants at its peak. But what was interesting in your research is you found out that West Hall was the first of many things.
[00:32:48] PS: Well, there was so much there. And in fact all of his papers – They jumped out of me, because when I started to do my homework, I saw on the internet and I said, “Wait a second.” I said, “The founder of Minute Man's papers and his corporate documents are all at the University of Arkansas Little Rock?” I said, “I’m going to go down and look at that.” So I sneaked in there. And they looked at me they said, “Well, no one has ever asked for this stuff.” And I said, “Oh, let me just take a look at them.” So they said, “Well, what do you want to see?” And I said, “Everything.” They started bringing out boxes and boxes of –
[00:33:19] KM: So nothing was on film or scanned?
[00:33:21] PS: Well, some was. Some had been scanned. But a lot of it was in paper form. And so the entire history of Minute Man was laid out there. And Wes Hall was very diligent about keeping his records. I saw his old PNLs. I saw when they went public. And so I’m just sitting there for hours on end by myself in the library looking at this stuff, and they thought I was crazy. They said, “No one has ever asked for this stuff.” But it was a wealth of information, because I saw the entire arc of what happened with Minute Man.
[00:33:50] KM: What happened?
[00:33:51] PS: Well, long story short, he peaked and he sold to his former CFO in about 1983. It was at the top. He had gone public. He had restaurants all over the place. He had franchises. He had company owned stores. And what happened was when the CFO took it over, and this is an interesting lesson. We talk about this a lot. He actually did the opposite of what Ray Kroc did at McDonald's. Ray Kroc wanted to be in the real estate business. So he made sure to maintain the real estate portion of it and then to be able to guide or control his franchisees. This gentleman started to sell the restaurants out from underneath his franchisees. He said to them, “You'll either buy them or I’m selling them.” And a lot of people don't know this. The franchisees, they couldn't keep up with that. They couldn't pay for the building. They didn't have the money to do that. They couldn't get the loans. That’s what happened.
[00:34:46] KM: So you’ll either buy the property. Not you’ll buy the business, but you'll buy the property.
[00:34:51] PS: He wanted them to buy the buildings. He wanted to sell the buildings out from under them.
[00:34:55] KM: And so McDonald's owns all these – I didn't realize that. McDonald's owns all this property that you see everywhere. They're like the Catholic Church. They got property everywhere.
[00:35:03] PS: That's right.
[00:35:04] KM: And then all of their businesses I guess pay them rent to –
[00:35:09] PS: Yes.
[00:35:10] KM: Like Chick-fil-A. Every single store is company owned.
[00:35:13] PS: Yes.
[00:35:14] KM: Okay.
[00:35:15] PS: I mean there are some – Again, there are some outlier with McDonald's. The empire is huge. But essentially what ended up happening was –
[00:35:23] KM: They had to borrow money.
[00:35:24] PS: That's right.
[00:35:25] KM: To pay for the property.
[00:35:27] PS: That they couldn't – They didn't have the money.
[00:35:28] KM: And then they had this no payment.
[00:35:29] PS: Right.
[00:35:30] KM: And they couldn't keep the doors open.
[00:35:32] JM: Think of the divergence between an innovator who sees, because we haven't even talked about – I mean the amount of people that are now names you see everywhere that Wes Hall was their inspiration. He even sold them intellectual property. We'll talk about that in a second. So you have an innovator who sees what's possible and creates the conditions for it. Then you have his partner who's a CVFO, and you can see where now the thinking from a pure profitability. How do I cash out of this type of thing? But in the process of that, literally killed his own business, because the spirit of it – And he ended up putting – I mean think about it. He's putting all this pressure unnecessarily just by virtue of his view of a business model.
And so you can see the complete divergence between Wes Hall, the primary guy, and his CFO, and it just marked the end of the business, because you didn't keep the innovative spirit alive. You didn't create the conditions. We talk about leadership. Leaders see possibility in people. They create the conditions for people to grow into a version of themselves they don't see yet.
[00:36:24] KM: I’ve never heard anybody put it so well.
[00:36:26] JM: Well, parents do it, right? Parents are leaders because they see things in their kids. And when we're young we're like, “Yeah, whatever.” Then one day we wake up and go, “There was a lot of wisdom in what my parents told me.” That's a version of leadership. But if you think about it in the world, leaders, they look and they see and the good ones. They spend all their time creating the conditions for you to be and do the things you're capable of.
And so it’s what Wes Hall did. He created the conditions for other people now to play their game. Their game was I want to serve people in this thing called hospitality. And the mechanism for it was the Minute Man. When they moved it to a, “You've got to own your building.” So they started to take away that sense of possibility and created now a whole series of new problems that clouded it and it fell in on itself.
So there're all kinds of cautionary tales in there about when you look at it in isolation and business, right? You know, you've got an extraordinary successful business. When you look at an isolation, this is now – Oh, it's never going to work out well. You have to look in the totality. If you don't see it –
[00:37:20] KM: A good manager empowers people.
[00:37:21] JM: That's right. And then invite other people also.
[00:37:24] KM: Invites other people.
[00:37:25] JM: They don't think like you do.
[00:37:26] KM: That's right. You don't want everybody the same at the table. So Wes Hall was really a master marketer. He was the first guy to partner with Coca-Cola to do a signature glass with Coke. What?
[00:37:36] JM: Ooh, moment.
[00:37:38] KM: Uh-oh. Uh-oh. Uh-oh.
[00:37:38] PS: This is a perfect moment. In fact it's funny you mentioned this. Because I’ve been obsessively collecting things like this for Minute Man. And when I find them, I go on eBay.
[00:37:51] KM: Oh my gosh! Thank you Minute Man.
[00:37:53] PS: That is one of the original Minute Man glasses and people – We have a promotion right now for the new restaurant in Jacksonville. If anybody brings that glass in and they show it, they get free soda for life. Because West Hall was –
[00:38:06] KM: I got free soda for life.
[00:38:06] JM: Yes you do.
[00:38:07] PS: You do. But Kerry, he was the first to do this. He was the first.
[00:38:11] KM: When was this glass from?
[00:38:13] PS: Pardon? 1972.
[00:38:15] KM: Thanks. That’s year I graduate of high school. Perfect.
[00:38:17] PS: Perfect. There you go.
[00:38:18] KM: All right. Go ahead. He was the first?
[00:38:20] PS: So he was the first to come up with a lot of things. I mean he had a lot of intellectual property in the slogan old-fashioned burgers. He sold that to Wendy's.
[00:38:27] KM: Yeah, can you imagine?
[00:38:28] PS: He’s the first person who came up with a kid's meal called the Magic Meal.
[00:38:32] KM: Sold it to –
[00:38:33] PS: It was Burger Chef and then Burger King. What else did he –
[00:38:37] KM: Oh, he was the first to put radar technology.
[00:38:39] PS: That's right.
[00:38:40] JM: Yup, with Amanda. So you talk about – Look at that, the first. So now we still see the Wendy's out. They still have [inaudible 00:38:45]. Still underneath the sign across America, and that came from Wes Hall right here in Arkansas.
[00:38:51] KM: So I think it's cute. If anybody is under 50 years old, they don't remember the word radar range. But it is what we called the microwave when we were kids.
[00:38:59] PS: That’s right.
[00:39:01] KM: It's a World War II technology and radars and when they started the radar range. And Wes Hall teamed up with Raytheon to receive a microwave oven that he used in his restaurant to warm up his fruit pie. So when you go to a Minute Man and you see deep dish –
[00:39:17] PS: Well, they're called radar range pies, but everybody just knows them as radar pies.
[00:39:21] KM: Radar deep dish pies. Now you know that's because of the radar range, and it would burn your mouth off.
[00:39:26] PS: Absolutely. And I remember the cherry radar pie. That was what I always ordered at the Cantrell location. But see, Kerry, why I get so excited about this, everybody talks about strategic partners, getting a strategic partner or corporate partner or corporate backing or something from an innovation standpoint in business. You have to understand, Wes Hall did this in the early 1950s and he started working like late 40s early 50s. So he was so far out ahead of his time. And that's why I got so enamored with the idea. I said, “Oh my gosh!” I go – He was also the head of the National Restaurant Association.
[00:40:02] KM: No. Really?
[00:40:03] PS: Oh, absolutely.
[00:40:05] KM: Is his family still around?
[00:40:08] PS: And I met with them.
[00:40:09] KM: I figured you did.
[00:40:09] PS: They are. Yeah. His daughters are still here in Little Rock, and maybe I shouldn't say that. But I sat down with them and said, “This is where we are. This is what we like to do. I’m asking for your blessing.”
[00:40:24] KM: And they said, “Sure.” Your dad's picture, put it in every Minute Man.
[00:40:27] PS: Well, let's just say we came to an agreement and I said – What I told them is I said, “It's Minute Man. Minute Man belongs to the people of Arkansas. I can't name it nor will I name it West Hall’s Minute Man anymore. I can't do that.” So they respected that. I respected their point of view. I said, “I can't bring your dad's Minute Man back. I'd like to bring back a heritage brand for Arkansans.” That's where we left.
[00:40:52] KM: And it's keeping his memory alive. It really is. That's a cool thing. Let me tell everybody that you're listening to Up in Your Business with me, Kerry McCoy and I’m speaking today with Mr. Perry Smith and retired Brigadier General John Michael, business partners and bringing back the Minute Man famous charcoal-grilled burger and deep dish radar pie that you've just been hearing about, and founders of the leadership program called Avalon Institute.
Let's talk about Avalon Institute. Avalon Leadership Institute. what is it? And that's how really how you guys got together. 2016. You're in Afghanistan, John. Perry finds out about you on the web. He sends you a huge care package to all of your 14 countries you're uniting in your Gratitude Café. Now y'all become friends. How did y'all end up finally meeting?
[00:41:42] PS: So let me add one piece to that if I can.
[00:41:44] KM: Okay.
[00:41:45] PS: So I was, again, doing all my homework and the research on Minute Man and working on the concept. Deciding what it needed to be.
[00:41:53] KM: So you started this thinking about this a long time ago?
[00:41:55] PS: Oh yes, because it took that long to get Ms. Linda to actually say, “Let's sign a deal.”
[00:42:01] KM: How long? When did you start? Would you say what year?
[00:42:03] PS: Oh, I started to crawl up her –
[00:42:08] KM: Don't say it.
[00:42:08] PS: I won't say it, but I was just being insufferable. But I go down a couple times a year.
[00:42:14] KM: What year?
[00:42:14] PS: Oh, starting 2012.
[00:42:16] KM: Oh wow! So that was before he even met you, John.
[00:42:19] PS: Right. So when John and I met, and we can talk about Avalon. I always said, I said, “I have this thing,” and John encouraged me. He said, “Don’t give up on it.” He said eventually it took years for us to get to the point where we could actually sign a development deal with Ms. McGougan. And John kept saying, “Don't give up on it, because this is going to be leadership in action.”
And now I guess to your question about Avalon –
[00:42:41] KM: So that's how Avalon was birthed.
[00:42:43] JM: It was. I mean one of the things that caught Perry, I think because of what Gratitude represented, was a very different kind of organizing model for how you can bring disparate people together for a common cause. People from different backgrounds, different cultures, right? And so what happens, it doesn't matter. That what thing happened to be called Nato in a war zone. It's no different than in the community, right?
So it was an organizing way to get people together very quickly around an idea that they could go I can identify with that. It's not complicated. It's food. In this case it was coffee. So when we got connected, we connected in a coffee shop, because we said, “I owe you a cup of coffee when I get to the states.” So my first trip coming back from Afghanistan was in October. We met at another – For a different story about another gentleman who created a coffee shop out of a crack house and is now very famous downtown Washington, D.C. So we met there and we learned about – Started telling me about Minute Man.
My whole background is creating high-performing organizations, leadership, so on. So we started to realize you know there's a lot of synergies here. What he talked about, the trend he picked up with the millennials. As it shifted and their preferences has shifted in these structures around them, they didn't want someone telling them what to do all the time. They wanted to be empowered to say, “Here's your space to operate.” And there's a set of rules that start to emerge. So we said, “We should start to codify this. I got all this experience and you have that experience and we’ll use it as an opportunity now to teach others.” We collected some assessments and things that we do, and that's how Avalon was born. But what's really important with Avalon for the purposes of this conversation we're having is one thing to have a place where you can have people who have different experiences and we go help companies and we spent time together lecturing at special operations command. Very specialized government agencies whose names we can't say on the air. All kinds of people wanted to know, “How can I do a better job of connecting people?” But for us at Minute Man, the way it came together, we represent three primary things. We're mission minded. Means our vision is to be America's first all-veteran-led franchise hospitality system.
[00:44:32] KM: What?
[00:44:34] JM: So that's one.
[00:44:34] KM: Where is that written anywhere?
[00:44:36] JM: Oh, it is written. You'll see it on the walls.
[00:44:37] PS: You just got the scoop. We haven’t talked about this yet.
[00:44:40] JM: We have a new website coming out. It's about to be plant plastered on all the walls.
[00:44:44] KM: The name is perfect, the Minute Man.
[00:44:46] JM: It is.
[00:44:47] KM: Yes. Okay, go ahead.
[00:44:48] JM: Then we're people powered, which is what we're talking about here, right?
[00:44:51] KM: One, it's going to be all veteran.
[00:44:52] JM: So, mission-minded. America's first all-veteran-led franchise system. Why? We have people that now have innate leadership like we talked in the hallway. We just couldn’t give them the business skills. So instead of giving – People talk about give veterans a job. Thank you for all those who do that. I'd rather see more become business owners, business leaders. You know why? When we first opened Minute Man, one thing we noticed is a we have a bunch of young people now, schools changed. So we have a big flagpole that you probably know is when you were there. We asked them how many understand the history of the flag and how many has ever raised and lowered a flag? So we have a ceremony every day. They raise the flag. The young people in our store raise the flag every morning, which you should appreciate given your business.
[00:45:30] KM: Oh my gosh! I love this.
[00:45:32] JM: So we raise it. We explain the history to it. They lower the flag at night. We now – So, second part. People-powered. We can talk about Avalon. We've built a leadership program for our employees. It's called the citizen leader program. So whether you're learning flag, US history. What does a Minute Man represent? That's servant leadership. So now it's selflessness and it's teaching us skills to be how do you connect? What are the skills that really matter in this economy of ours? And then the last part is about being other-centered, right? And so we've got a currency of caring program which promotes charities from the community. So people can do a simple transaction. So everything you touch. I want a veteran who's taking their leadership skills and training the next generation. We want to now have something that invests in this generation. And so we're investing in the citizen leader program for our employees.
Southwest Airlines is the most successful airline for a reason. They were the first to say the customer isn't the most important. My employee is the most important. Because if I get it right with them, they'll get it right with the customer. We say that, but they were the first to live it. And look what happened with that brand? And last but not least, if we keep our eyes focused on the people around us by now saying, “Everything you touch –” And we live in a society. Take a look at Tacos For Life around here. They've been very successful. Why? Their tacos are good. It's because you can't – You're moved by the pictures of the children you're helping on the wall. Every meal is actually doing something to make a difference in the world. And when you want to talk millennials and young people, people yearn for that.
So bottom line, we think Minute Man is what I call patriotism, no nonsense. Get back to what the symbol is about. If somebody was willing to give up their life for an idea, called America, that's all it was. They were willing to do whatever it took that was selfless. And that's really what made this country possible. So we just want to get back to those core things in our simple way, except hospitality is a beautiful way to connect people.
[00:47:25] KM: I am speechless. I want to join. How do I join Avalon?
[00:47:29] JM: Just join. You're an associate member already.
[00:47:31] KM: Who does join Avalon?
[00:47:33] PS: Anybody can join Avalon. I mean, Avalon is an idea. Our website is called avalonleadership.com, but anybody can join. And again, we mentioned things like assessments. May I say one thing before –
[00:47:45] KM: Yes.
[00:47:45] PS: Okay. One thing about Minute Man and all the things that John just outlined there, Wes Hall created that space in the community where people could gather. It's home, it's school. It was a Starbucks before Starbucks even existed, and he gave so much back to every community, and that's why all his locations throughout Arkansas, let's think about it. They were in Camden, they were in Magnolia, They were in Jonesboro. They were in Fort Smith. They were everywhere in Arkansas. That's why when I started to do the homework here, the sense of good will. And we talked about the business and what happened, but people didn't really understand why Minute Man went away. They just knew that it left a void. And so that sense of in the community and being part of the fabric and the conversation in the community is what really made me so enamored by it, because I said, “Oh my gosh!” I go, “That's the leadership model.” That’s it. The presence in the community where things get done.
[00:48:41] KM: Is Avalon Institute for anyone or just for businesses?
[00:48:44] JM: That's for anyone. We have government. Again, think of it more as –
[00:48:48] KM: Is it cost to enroll when you go there? It says enroll. So you just go in there and put your information in, because you can't really get past the advertising unless you put your information in, I noticed. I wanted to dig deeper and find out what the courses were, but you have to go ahead and put your – Do you sell anybody's name or information if they go put it in there?
[00:49:07] PS: No. No. No.
[00:49:07] KM: It's completely safe. Go put your information in there. And then you can get down into the nuts and bolts of what Avalon is.
[00:49:13] PS: We have three different types of assessments. We have what's called the cognitive peak performance assessment, which is more about how you think and how you process information. We also have an assessment on emotional intelligence, which we teach our employees as well.
[00:49:27] KM: Which is huge these days. These EQ. Everybody's talking about EQs.
[00:49:31] PS: And then of course the other assessment that you used in the military.
[00:49:34] JM: Yeah, it's professional data metrics. So it's your preferred style. So your preferred style of being, your way of thinking and your way of acting with others. So that's probably –
[00:49:44] KM: Listen. You guys have got to come back. The show's over. We're not going to be able to do our usual run out of the show here. They're starting to play the music on us. But I just want to tell y'all how much I’ve enjoyed it. I hope you come back in a year.
[00:49:54] PS: Thank you so much for having us. This has been amazing.
[00:49:54] JM: Thank you.
[00:49:56] KM: And let's talk more about Avalon. I want to learn a lot more about Avalon. Thank you to all of our listeners who's been watching. I hope you've heard or learned something that's been inspiring or enlightening, and that it, whatever it is has helped you up your business, your life or your independence. I’m Kerry McCoy, and I'll see you next time on Up in Your Business. Until then, be brave and keep it up.
[00:50:15] ANNOUNCER: You've been listening to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy, a production of flagandbanner.com. If you missed any part of this show or want to learn more about UIYB, go to flagandbanner.com and click on radio show or subscribe to her weekly podcast wherever you like to listen. All interviews are recorded and posted the following week with links to resources you heard discussed on today's show. And Kerry's goal, to help you live the American dream.