January 27, 2017
At an early age Rich Cosgrove became fascinated with the ancient technology of the preservation of meat through smoking, curing and drying. This led to the formation of a World-Championship Barbecue team with his brothers over 30 years ago.
With a background in Engineering and Sales, Cosgrove and his wife, Nancy, opened theWhole Hog Café in North Little Rock in July of 2007. Cosgrove still says: “It’s a hobby that got out of hand.” Seven years later, Whole Hog NLR has become the 13th overall Restaurant by Sales Volume in the trade area, the only non-national chain in the top 30, the most successful Whole Hog Café in the U.S. and the largest Barbecue Restaurant in the State – cooking an average of 3 ½ tons of meat per week. “Here’s how Nancy and I divide business responsibilities: She is Vision; I’m merely Execution.” My motto is “Manic attention to detail,” Cosgrove explained. Cosgrove says the Whole Hog Cafe is the “Purveyor of the world’s best barbecue, and provider of a phenomenal dining experience.” Up In Your Business is a Radio Show by FlagandBanner.com
[0:00:03.2] TB: Welcome to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy. Be sure to stay tuned till the end of the show to hear how you can get a copy of this program and other helpful documents.
Now, it's time for Kerry McCoy to get all up in your business.
[0:00:18.7] KC: Thank you Tim, you’re listening to Kerry McCoy and it’s time for me to get up in your business. You may be asking yourself, “What makes this lady qualified to do this?” I’ll tell you, experience.
My experience is deep and wide and my advice is free. 40 years ago with just $400, I started Arkansas Flag and Banner. Since then, it’s morphed into simply, flagandbanner.com with sales nearing four million, that’s worth saying again, I started Arkansas Flag and Banner with just $400 and today we have sales nearing four million.
I started by selling flags door to door then went to telemarketing, next mail order and catalog sales and today we rely heavily on the internet. In addition, over the last 40 years, I’ve navigated Flag and Banner through two recessions and two wars. When people find out I’m that woman who owns Arkansas Flag and Banner, they often say, “Oh I’ve heard about you” and began asking me business advice.
I amaze even myself with all the knowledge I’ve gained. If you call for advice from me or my guest, you will not be given text book answers or theory but you will be given candid advice from our real world experience. Be prepared for the truth, it’s not always easy to hear.
For instance, you may not want to hear this. In business, there are very few overnight successes. Starting and owning a business takes persistence, perseverance and patience. When I started Arkansas Flag and Banner, I supplemented my income by waitressing.
All while I pedaled flags door to door. After nine years, did you hear me? Nine years of working a part time job, the company began to grow and solely support me. My first hire, a book keeper.
My first expansion, the beginning of manufacturing custom flags.The next decade ushered in desert storm war. Flags were scarce so I added a screen printing department to meet the consumer demands.
In addition to sales and manufacturing, Flag and Banner now has a purchasing department, shipping department, technology, marketing, call center and a retail store. I spearheaded each of these departments’ development.
My experience is deep and wide and my advice is free, I hope you’ll take advantage of this unique opportunity by calling or emailing me on today’s show. Before we start taking calls, I want to introduce you to the people at the table. We have Tim Bo, our technician who will be taking calls and pushing the buttons. Say hello Tim.
[0:02:43.7] TB: Hello Tim.
[0:02:44.3] RC: What’s up Tim.
[0:02:46.4] KM: That’s my guest, Rich Cosgrove from Whole Hog. He is the owner and the operator of Whole Hog. He’s the owner and the operator of Whole Hog Café in North Little Rock Arkansas. His education comes from both Hendricks College in Conway and the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville with a BS BA, whatever that is, in Organizational Behavior Modification.
I think he’s going to be judging me. Rich’s career began in corporate America while still in college, he worked as a technician and repairman for South Western Bell and he’s a musician, played a little guitar, this all helped fund his education. After graduation, he had several stints with Alltel. First, in operation management and later in employee development.
From 1984 to 1999, about 15 years, Rich Cosgrove tested his entrepreneurial skills in a venture called Cosgrove Consulting where he served as president and chief operating manager of his own company.
[0:03:47.9] RC: How did you find out all that stuff?
[0:03:50.4] KM: Because I read about you. Following – there’s more. Following his passion in 2007, Rich planned and secured funding for his startup, Whole Hog Café in North Little Rock. Rich says this about himself. It’s a hobby that got out of hand.
Here to talk to us about living the dream is Rich Cosgrove, owner of North Little Rock’s Whole Hog Café, welcome to the table Rich.
[0:04:16.1] RC: I’m so excited to be here Kerry and we’re big fans of yours as you know.
[0:04:20.4] KM: Your wife is one of my best customers.
[0:04:22.3] RC: I want to make sure we definitely have to mention Nancy who is at least as responsible as me for this business so she is – Nancy is vision, I’m merely execution. Shout out to you hon and I also want to shout out to our new partner, Tim Bryant. Tim, put down that 40 ounce and that telephone and drive.
Tim’s on the road to Stuttgart and just want to say hey to him.
[0:04:44.1] KM: Yeah, put down the 40 ounce and the phone, that’s a good idea. Your bio said, and I quote this about you, “that from an early age, you have been fascinated with the ancient technology of the preservation of meat through smoking, curing and drying.” Can you tell us about that?
[0:05:04.6] RC: Sure, early age is relative, isn’t it? I was roughly 20 when someone gave me a smoker and I found out that I could properly treat and smoke meat and it would stay just fine and delicious unrefrigerated and I was fascinated with that.
[0:05:20.4] KM: I didn’t know that. How long?
[0:05:23.3] RC: How long?
[0:05:23.6] KM: Will it stay perfectly fine?
[0:05:25.2] RC: It depends on how you cure it, how you smoke it and how you treat it but for instance, you can make sausage that virtually impervious to decay or bacteria and it will sit there, you can scrape the mold off of it, or ham, properly cured, you’ve seen that hams hanging from the ceiling?
[0:05:45.4] KM: Yeah.
[0:05:46.0] RC: Virginia hams, those hams are – will last virtually forever.
[0:05:51.1] KM: Really? You just scrape the mold off and keep eating?
[0:05:54.5] RC: There you go.
[0:05:55.1] KM: That is a college kid’s dream come true.
[0:05:56.3] RC: Kind of like cheese.
[0:05:58.5] KM: Well, there you go, yeah.
[0:06:01.2] RC: It’s controlled spoilage, a lot of this stuff, it’s like cheese, alcohol, all these things were developed years and years ago to preserve food.
[0:06:09.8] KM: But you didn’t think that you were going to grow up to be an owner of a barbecue place? That was your hobby?
[0:06:15.8] RC: Well, first of all, I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to grow up, and I’m still committed to that.
[0:06:19.5] KM: I know you and he hasn’t.
[0:06:22.6] RC: No, it was a whim, friend John Adney, I want to shout out to John. John bugged me for about 10 years to do this until.
[0:06:31.6] KM: To do what?
[0:06:32.9] RC: Get a Whole Hog license and do the barbecue thing. John finally pushed me over the edge and here I am.
[0:06:40.2] KM: How old were you when you started your – when you bought Whole Hog Café? Or when you started Whole Hog?
[0:06:45.5] RC: A little over 10 years ago, I was 50.
[0:06:47.4] KM: I think that’s a great age to start a new business.
[0:06:49.8] RC: Sure.
[0:06:50.3] KM: Because you’re mature enough?
[0:06:51.6] RC: Well, reference to my previous comment you know?
[0:06:54.3] KM: Yeah, that’s right. You went to school to be a –
[0:06:58.6] RC: I studied, something called Organizational Behavior Modification which when you graduated with a college degree that sounded like that in the 1800’s as I did, you processed insurance claims in the back room of somebody’s HR department.
They didn’t really have that so to work for the telephone company because I had telephone experience, they trained me on the job as an engineer and I became an engineer for many years. Fast forward to 1999, I went to a Tony Robbins seminar if you guys don’t know Tony Robbins, he’s the big toothy guy that – big motivational speaker. Walked on Fire, yes I did.
[0:07:38.1] KM: Did you really?
[0:07:39.1] RC: I did. I was inspired by Tony Robbins and within five months, I had completely changed my life. Got a job with Alltel as a performance consultant because now, fast forward to 1999 from 1980, the field I always wanted was there, Alltel took a chance on me and I worked for Alltel for five years.
People still coming up to me in the restaurant and they say, “Bet you really miss Alltel, don’t you?” Absolutely, it was one of the best real jobs I ever had. I love that company, that great culture and after five years working for Alltel, studying under a gentleman named Steve Mosely, he was brilliant, I went to work for a company that sold training and performance solutions to fortune 250 companies.
Did that for three years and made enough money to start a restaurant, what was I thinking?
[0:08:30.7] KM: Thinking you want to work all the time. You said you’ve heard that before.
[0:08:50.5] RC: I love that.
[0:08:51.7] KM: Good, that was for you. 30 years ago, you and your brothers became world championship barbecue team, that was even before you owned Whole Hog?
[0:09:02.2] RC: That’s right.
[0:09:02.6] KM: Are they in the business with you?
[0:09:04.3] RC: No, they’re not but each of my three brothers were, four boys a year apart are arguably a lot better barbecue men than I am. These guys, all three take it very seriously and…
[0:09:17.6] KM: Do they still do it?
[0:09:18.2] RC: They do, they’re amazing. Baby brother David is head of our team because David’s going to have to be the head of whatever he’s doing and yeah, David’s really good at what he does. Jim, the baby of the bunch is probably the most avid barbecue man and Jim is also a prepper. Now, he’s not a prepper in the classic sense of guns and ammo.
[0:09:44.6] KM: Doomsday.
[0:09:45.7] RC: No, he’s ready for a six month electrical blackout or whatever but Jim spends a lot of time curing, smoking and drying up meats and cheeses.
[0:09:56.6] KM: For Y2K.
[0:09:58.4] RC: No, just for a six month outage of whatever.
[0:10:01.7] KM: Yeah.
[0:10:03.1] RC: He likes to play with it too. He’s very good at it.
[0:10:05.6] KM: He’s a little paranoid, but in a good way.
[0:10:09.7] RC: Maybe so.
[0:10:12.2] KM: You got – do you use your recipes at the whole - your family recipes?
[0:10:16.5] RC: No, I use the recipes that were handed down to us. Now…
[0:10:20.4] KM: From Whole Hog Café?
[0:10:21.7] RC: That’s right.
[0:10:23.2] KM: You’re going to have to tell us about that business model. I’m not sure about how that works.
[0:10:26.9] RC: Sure. These guys started like I did, with a barbecue team.
[0:10:30.6] KM: Who’s these guys?
[0:10:31.5] RC: Ron Blasingame, Mike Dave’s Steve Lucci. Mike Dave is called Sarge. He was in the army and he was a barbecue guy in the army. Sarge is responsible for the recipes that we use. Essentially, I can sort of credit Sarge with the success of the whole organization because he is the meat man.
He’s the best meat man I’ve ever known, he’s the guy behind the core of what we do. Ron Blasingame, God rest his soul, Ron passed away about five years ago. Ron was a business man, also a very good barbecue man. Ron was the kind of guy that would do the right thing no matter what it cost him. The kind of guy we hope we are.
[0:11:10.5] KM: Right, you know I grew up with Ron.
[0:11:12.1] RC: Did you really?
[0:11:12.0] KM: He’s from North Little Rock.
[0:11:13.3] RC: I just love Ron. Ron worked so hard to keep us between the ditches in our first few years and was mostly successful at it. Now, but Steve, Ron and Sarge were the first three. Now, they brought Ron’s brother in, Mike Blasingame who had been with Cisco foods for 20, 25 years and Mike really turned the thing into a serious business. Mike was able to drive margin out of the business, they were wildly successful to the top line instantly.
But Mike was instrumental in helping them actually squeeze money out of the thing. That’s the tough part of a restaurant business.
[0:11:51.1] KM: Yes, I would imagine the margins are low.
[0:11:53.6] RC: They are.
[0:11:54.5] KM: The employee overhead is high.
[0:11:56.2] RC: You know, the key things you have to manage in a restaurant are food cost and labor cost.
[0:12:02.3] KM: Is there a bunch of what is it when food goes bad, what is that called?
[0:12:05.0] RC: Spoilage?
[0:12:05.4] KM: Spoilage.
[0:12:07.8] RC: No, not in our case, we are volume –
[0:12:09.5] KM: Because it’s smoked.
[0:12:10.7] RC: Well, actually, it’s our volume, we cook so much food for so many people that it doesn’t sit there very long.
[0:12:19.2] KM: It says you do three and a half tons of meat a week.
[0:12:21.7] RC: Three to three and a half, yup.
[0:12:23.1] KM: That’s a lot of meat.
[0:12:24.0] RC: That’s a lot of meat.
[0:12:24.5] KM: It’s a production operation but it’s something we take very seriously in terms of every single piece that we manage so these things have to be white boarded. Tell me about the business? You don’t – it’s not a franchise and the Whole Hog in North Little Rock is separate from the Whole Hog in Little Rock?
[0:12:42.0] RC: That’s right. If you want to get into this business now, you will be a franchisee. When we started, we were a licensee, the primary difference being, as a franchisee, the franchisor is able to dictate whatever they’re willing to dictate or whatever they want to dictate you know? Uniform policy, your hours, your menu, your pricing, whatever they want to dictate, as a licensee.
Ron said to us, “Here is the name, here’s our business model, here are the recipes, take what you want, change what you don’t.” We’ve made a lot of changes in North Little Rock and we’ve kept a lot of things the same when the mothership has made a lot of changes. Nancy and I tried over the years, really hard, we’ve always aired in the customer’s experience.
We’re willing to sacrifice points to the bottom line for good word and future business.
[0:13:39.8] KM: Yes you have, on your business card, enhancement, enchantment served daily.
[0:13:44.8] RC: That’s right, exactly. I feel like it’s important to define what business you’re in and be able to – that should be dynamic and so we started out, we thought we were in the barbecue business and we realize that barbecue is a hobby, restaurant is a business. We were in the restaurant business, then I realize that no, really not, we’re in the hospitality business because you have to look at it like that.
You have to play offense, you have to realize that you got to make people feel good and make them happy. Then, I read a book by Guy Kawasaki who was the apple pitch man in the early 80’s. Job’s hard and he was a jeweler.
[0:14:20.2] KM: What was it? What is it?
[0:14:21.2] RC: It’s called Enchantment by Guy Kawasaki. Guy Kawasaki is now a motivational speaker but I read the guy’s book called Enchantment, I said, “Wait a minute, we got to be in that business, we’ve got to be in the business of enchantment.
We’ve got to make sure that when people come in, they don’t” – everybody’s got good food and good service or they don’t stay in business anyway. If you want to get good market share, if you want to really bring lots and lots of people in, you got to enchant them.
[0:14:47.2] KM: With your floor, your polished floor?
[0:14:49.5] RC: Well, pixie dust, it’s the vibe.
[0:14:51.7] KM: Pixie dust,
[0:14:52.2] RC: That’s what I call it, it’s a pixie dust, you’ve got to have that extra something so when you’re eating in there, you feel good and most people can’t articulate it but they know that when they sit down Whole Hog Café North Little Rock, it’s not, it’s a combination of the recess lighting, the Boss sound system, yeah, the dominant polished or the original artwork on the walls but it’s our people, it’s the people you’re eating next to.
It’s a community. I do a monthly newsletter and I have 6,000 people who subscribe to it and they’re my customers and it’s about two thirds funky food and barbecue information and about one third shameless self-promotion.
[0:15:33.8] KM: If people want to get on your newsletter, how do they do that?
[0:15:36.0] RC: Just hit our website at www.wholehogcafenlr.com. North Little Rock, wholehogcafenlr.com
[0:15:45.8] RC: You can sign up for the newsletter.
[0:15:47.3] KM: 6,000 people in your newsletter is a big deal.
[0:15:49.6] RC: It’s home grown, it’s an organic list that we’ve developed. I’d get your business card and I ask you if I can put you on my list, you know, it’s…
[0:15:58.4] KM: You’re an entrepreneur all the way, you never stop. Why are there no wings or do you have wings over there? I know the Whole Hog over here doesn’t have wings, it’s my favorite thing.
[0:16:06.3] RC: No, we don’t have wings, we have to be really careful because our volume is so high. I know I keep kind of beating that thing out but it’s what you want in a restaurant, lots of people through the door, we got one window that we pushed food through, it’s like a picture of.
[0:16:21.9] KM: you mean literally?
[0:16:23.5] RC: Yeah, literally. Picture an hour glass, one big part of the hour glass, I’ve got my three to three and a half tons of meat, on the other side, I’ve got thousands of customers and then a little skinny part, that’s my window.
Anything I do, any menu item that I add, anything I do to complicate the work of the highly talented people in that window slows down the flow. Wings would be you know, we do wings for like catering if somebody wants wings, we’ll do wings or you know, we do wings for special occasions, Carlton Wing who ran for state legislature recently is a very good customer of mine, we hosted a watch party for him and guess what?
[0:17:01.9] KM: He wanted wings.
[0:17:02.7] RC: No, he didn’t want wings, it was our idea.
[0:17:04.9] KM: It wasn’t his idea? He didn’t ask that everywhere he goes?
[0:17:09.0] RC: We just cooked wings and put them out, I thought it would be fun.
[0:17:11.5] KM: Yeah, that’s good. You started Whole Hog Café in 2007 with your wife Nancy?
[0:17:17.0] RC: That’s right.
[0:17:18.0] KM: Mentioned at the top of the show, she is my customer. She’s my good customer. She loves flags.
[0:17:24.9] RC: She is, I can’t say enough about her. Nancy is responsible for our success. Again, I’m an engineer by profession. Nancy is an enchantress and an amazing person about profession and Nancy designed and built, she was the architect and the general contractor on the restaurant and Nancy handles all finance in the marketing and the big ideas and anything that’s worthwhile, you know, the vibe that you feel, that’ something that Nancy created.
I’m the thing guy, you know, I managed margins, I hire people, I fire people, I fix things when they’re broken. I’m just – things I do are terribly pedestrian compared to what Nancy brings to the table.
[0:18:06.5] KM: You sound like a great combination and I wish my husband would call me an enchantress.
[0:18:12.5] RC: I also want to mention that we originally taken on partners, we’re selling the business, we brought Daniel Bryant and Tim Bryant and Christin Bryant on this last year and so.
[0:18:23.1] KM: What do you mean you're selling the business?
[0:18:24.5] RC: We’re selling the business.
[0:18:26.1] KM: You really are?
[0:18:26.5] RC: Yes, Timmy? You hear that? It’s real, everybody knows now.
[0:18:31.9] KM: You’re selling the business, how long is your exit strategy.
[0:18:34.9] RC: We’ve got a couple of years, be able to decide if we want to stay in for a percentage or get out altogether. Our partners own about 14 other restaurants.
[0:18:45.5] KM: They’re good at it.
[0:18:46.7] RC: They’re really good at it and they’re super good people. Probably what Nancy and I are talking about doing is maybe playing a larger role in that organization, bringing the key component to our success which is our culture, bringing that culture piece into larger organizations.
[0:19:05.4] KM: Into the all the other restaurants, a kind of consultant?
[0:19:09.1] RC: Well, you know, we don’t know what it’s going to look like yet. That will be the word I would use, but you know, we don’t know exactly how that’s going to take shape, we’re just talking about it right now.
[0:19:18.4] KM: Well, you’re an entrepreneurial career is long, you had Cosgrove Consulting and then when I heard you got here, you told me you were a big supporter of KABF in the 80’s I think you said when you were the very first micro brewer in the city of Little Rock.
[0:19:33.8] RC: In the state of Arkansas.
[0:19:35.6] KM: In the state of Arkansas and you lost your shirt and had to get out?
[0:19:52.1] RC: Yeah. Listeners, I just want you to know, Kerry just cracked herself up over that.
[0:19:56.1] KM: I love that. I love pig meat and it’s just – when we found that today, Tim and I laughed and said, “Yeah, it is good stuff” and I want to tell the listeners, you wrote down the name of that song, you’re going to play it in your restaurant.
[0:20:10.0] RC: You remember the name of the song and the artist?
[0:20:12.7] KM: He was impressed by our choice.
[0:20:15.3] RC: Indeed I was.
[0:20:16.8] KM: You’re listening to Up in your business with Kerry McCoy and I’m speaking today with my guest Rich Cosgrove, owner and operator of the Whole Hog Café in North Little Rock. Rich, I’d love how you call yourself the owner and the operator. To me, this specificity of your title shows the influence of your college education and organizational behavior modification and your experience in corporate America training. Can you speak about that and how you chose the words, owner, operator, to describe yourself.
[0:20:47.6] RC: I guess I’m kind of taken aback but I never really thought about it. I think probably I just plucked it from the lexicon.
[0:20:55.4] KM: What’s lexicon mean?
[0:20:56.0] RC: Of the restaurant business. The list of words that people use to –
[0:20:58.6] KM: Well most people call themselves the president, thinking about change in mind to owner operator, I like it a lot.
[0:21:04.3] RC: Well it’s kind of fun, I ran into a guy I knew from college when I was sweeping the front porch and he kind of looked at me kind of funny and said, “Rich, you working at Whole Hog now,” I go, “yup, I kept sweeping and he says, “the manager or something?” I go, “no.” just kept sweeping. “Well, great seeing you.”
You know, titles aren’t important. What’s important is our culture, we have 26 employees, we have no managers, we have no job titles, we’re completely flat, we have turnover.
[0:21:37.2] KM: In the restaurant business, you have no turnover?
[0:21:38.4] RC: None.
[0:21:39.1] KM: That’s bizarre.
[0:21:40.6] RC: Well, our goals are really simple, my personal goals and I try to impress some of the employees I like for them to mirror these if possible. Number one, have fun, number two, make a contribution outside yourself so we run the restaurant by the four R’s. Respect, responsiveness, responsibility and resilience.
We expect people to treat one another that way, treat us that way, treat our customers that way and as important, our vendor partners that way. We’re all one family and everyone is as important as everyone else.
We are a professional basketball team, that’s a very good analogy because everyone rebounds, everyone – people play multiple positions. No position pays higher than another. Again, we don’t have names for those positions, we have names for the tasks that we perform.
[0:22:30.5] KM: Right.
[0:22:31.3] RC: But people don’t peer title and we don’t really carry titles. If I had to have one, it has to be I guess, owner, operator.
[0:22:39.3] KM: That’s why you’re not the president.
[0:22:42.8] RC: Well, let’s not go there.
[0:22:45.4] KM: I like it, I could tell when I’ve never seen – I could tell when I read that, I thought, there’s some thought put into that.
[0:22:53.1] RC: Again, it is our people in our culture that make all the difference and Nancy sets the tone, I’ve sort of fallen to her groove and for instance, you’ll never hear any of us issue a direct order. You’ll never hear anybody issue a direct command, it will be in the form of question or a suggestion.
We won’t make changes in the restaurant until we check with the employees and see if everybody thinks it’s a good idea. Every doing everything, everybody passing balls back and forth together, nobody’s really in charge.
Everybody understands what needs to be done and fills in for one another and make sure that everything gets done.
[0:23:29.8] KM: You give seminars on this topic don’t you?
[0:23:32.0] RC: Actually I do.
[0:23:33.2] KM: I know. I can tell that, is that what your seminars are about? Is team building?
[0:23:39.8] RC: No, people don’t ask me to speak on that subject, they want me to talk about the restaurant business and so I speak to groups about the restaurant business but I can’t help but talk about how we do the restaurant business because that’s what I’m passionate about is developing people and letting the people – once you give someone a sense of fulfillment and importance, it’s off to the races. I mean, the sky’s the limit.
People don’t work for money all right?
[0:24:12.9] KM: They don’t. I agree with that completely.
[0:24:14.6] RC: They work for three things. Autonomy.
[0:24:17.6] KM: What’s that mean?
[0:24:18.2] RC: The ability to make independent decision that guides the business somewhere.
[0:24:21.7] KM: Okay.
[0:24:23.2] RC: Mastery, the ability to get better at something and the most important of all is purpose. Autonomy, mastery and purpose, a reason to come to work that doesn’t just have to do with getting a paycheck. That is unsustainable, no matter how much money you make, unless you have a purpose, to me, why come to work?
[0:24:43.3] KM: That is so well said. Do you mention that in your seminars and do you mention the team building and then what else do you talk about in the restaurant business that you could tell our listeners? Give us your seminar 101.
[0:24:55.8] RC: My restaurant buddies out there will appreciate this. The thing that the painful thing that nobody wants to talk about and I start seeing eyes glaze over is margin management. Things that you have to do that seem to be very boring on the surface that make a difference between staying in business and not staying in business.
Look how many restaurants go out of business? The statistics are phenomenal. No other business with an attrition rate is great as a restaurant business. In order to stay there, you got to do a couple of things that seem to be at odds with one another, number one, you got to figure out how to spend money to enchant people, you got to figure out how to play offense.
You’ve also got to be playing defense, you got to figure out how to manage your margins, how to mitigate your waste, how to get your food cost as low as possible and still provide an exceptional experience.
[0:25:46.1] KM: And not have your quality suffer?
[0:25:47.4] RC: Exactly.
[0:25:47.4] KM: What do you tell them?
[0:25:49.8] RC: I have a spreadsheet and a chart and I’ve developed methodologies that I’ve shared with other restaurateurs how to manage your margins, it’s not rocket surgery. It’s –
[0:26:05.0] KM: Rocket science.
[0:26:05.8] RC: No, rocket surgery.
[0:26:06.9] KM: What does that mean?
[0:26:08.2] RC: It’s a combination of rocket science and brain surgery. You count things. For instance, I hate to take up your time with this but you know, you do a weekly inventory first of all.
[0:26:19.2] KM: Weekly? I bet no restaurant people do that.
[0:26:22.1] RC: Yes they do, the major chains all do weekly inventories, the Brinker Internationals and the Young branch. They also do daily counts of their high food cost items. I have a system setup for instance, when you buy a pork sandwich, my system automatically registers five ounces of meat and so on. So that every portion that goes through the registers is tabulated at the end of the week, I’ll pull that down and I’ll compare that to what I actually used, I physically weigh the meat, myself, each Sunday.
I take starting inventory plus purchases, minus ending inventory and I see exactly what it cost me. I can tell you a scientific certainty, what it cost me to put a pound of each meat on the plate that week and I can make adjustments. I’ve got a dashboard, I can make quick adjustments, I’m not waiting three weeks into the next month for my accountant to give me his best guess at what my food cost was.
[0:27:16.9] KM: To find out that somebody on the food line is putting too much meat on the sandwich.
[0:27:22.3] RC: That and there was a period of time that I was getting several days in a row, this was when I was doing it daily, before I got it under control and that’s a whole other story. Losing money for two and a half years.
That’s the key to our success. I found out that I was getting an ordinance, yields on pork. Getting really high yields on my pork butts and that would normally be good news to an operator but I had to think something was amiss so I went out and I became the expediter for about three days, that’s the person that pulls the plates out of the window and calls the number and hands a plate across.
Sure enough, the portions looked small. I keep a small postal scale on the line where the little funnel is, we talked about it earlier in the middle, I keep a small postal scale and a line, I’ll throw it down there and say, “Okay, Doug,” shout out to Doug Hanson and JP Hatfield, two of my best line guys.
“Doug, show me five ounces and under pressure,” Doug can hit that every single time. I say, “Okay, guys, let’s get those portion sizes up.” Portion sizes came up, my yield started to go down. I’ve got a very small range that I like to keep them within.
I got to make sure that the customer’s received value is extremely high without sacrificing major points to my food cost. It’s a tenuous balance that you have to walk.
[0:28:39.3] KM: That’s exactly what you were talking about earlier. Is this a total picture, you see the whole thing, you have the enhancement from the customer’s point of view, all the way to making a profit in the back kitchen.
[0:28:49.6] RC: You’ve got to be able to see the matrix.
[0:28:53.2] KM: I said earlier that you were an entrepreneur, you had cost grows, consulting and before that, you were in the beer business with your?
[0:29:02.3] RC: With my former father in law, William Line from Florida Ice.
[0:29:04.7] KM: This is a good story.
[0:29:07.5] RC: It is really good story.
[0:29:08.5] KM: Before they had beer.
[0:29:10.5] RC: Before you could just go out and buy a DME brewery from Germany for $200,000 or $300,000 or whatever they charge for how many barrels you can make with a brewhouse that you can now buy prefab. They didn’t have that when we started this in the early 80’s. We had dairy tanks and fittings and we had an onsite plasma torch wielder, wielding jackets for this tanks so we could cool the tanks and we had to figure this out.
We basically had taken a gentleman named Scott Reilly, was our brew master and we took his home brew recipe and try to multiply it, we had a 30 barrel brew house and if you guys out there – you brewers out there and I have some friends there that are in the business. Scott McGee, my neighbor is making some really fine beer out there right now.
But 30 gallon brew houses is big and especially for it today.
[0:30:03.1] KM: You’re using a home brewed recipe?
[0:30:04.9] RC: Home brew recipe.
[0:30:04.9] KM: You're trying to multiply it which never works.
[0:30:06.1] RC: Multiplied it, didn’t work really well, we threw out lots and lots of beer and –
[0:30:12.5] KM: How was the beer?
[0:30:14.2] RC: The beer was really good at first but because it was home brew, it had sediment in it all right? This being Arkansas, you know, you had people picking up bottle and go, that’s crap floating around in here, look at that.
That’s the healthiest part of the beer but we had to figure out how to filter our beer at that point and that’s when things started to go downhill. We’re no longer producing bottle conditioned beer. Now, bottle conditioned beer is connoisseur’s delight and a lot of people will actually pour off a beer and carefully save the sediment and drink it from a shot glass.
[0:30:47.5] KM: You were ahead of your time.
[0:30:48.8] RC: Well, that’s one way to put it. Also, you could see we mostly made crappy beer.
[0:30:54.0] KM: How long did you stay in that business?
[0:30:55.8] RC: about three years.
[0:30:57.1] KM: Then you got out.
[0:30:58.4] RC: Went right back to engineering because that’s a non-perishable skill and easy to find a job.
[0:31:05.3] KM: Yeah, we don’t have enough engineers out here today. I really do hear that we have a shortage of engineers today coming out of college and then you start your own consulting business, was it in using your engineering?
[0:31:16.2] RC: That’s right, yes ma’am, I did telephone engineering, telecommunications engineering. It’s not extremely technical, it’s a combination of civil and electrical engineering, basically I buried telephone cable. Figured out where to put it and where to put the switch in stations and the little pedestals you see out there and it’s like a sign in the distribution network to a very wide area.
[0:31:37.4] KM: Why did you get out of that, that seems like a great business, why did you get out of that? Too competitive?
[0:31:41.0] RC: Well that’s a great question because it’s bigger now than it ever has been. That business is very big, I have significant opportunities to get back into that business and I’m considering doing that
[0:31:52.7] KM: yeah, it seems like a it’s booming.
[0:31:55.5] RC: It is, there’s more fiber optic cable being placed in the ground right now than ever before. If you’re a contractor or a telephone company and you decide you need some fiber optic cable, you want to order it from the factory, there’s about a nine month wait right now.
[0:32:08.6] KM: Wow.
[0:32:09.1] RC: It’s big.
[0:32:10.1] KM: They can’t keep up.
[0:32:11.9] RC: They can’t keep up.
[0:32:12.3] KM: Is fiber optics made in America or…
[0:32:13.5] RC: All over the world.
[0:32:13.9] KM: All over the world. Interesting. You’re listening to Up in your business with Kerry McCoy, I’m speaking today with my guest Rich Cosgrove, owner and operator of the Whole Hog Café in North Little Rock. Rich, you professed a motto, your professed motto is “manic attention to detail.”
[0:32:44.3] RC: Absolutely.
[0:32:44.9] KM: Are you a micromanager?
[0:32:46.5] RC: No, far from it. When I say manic attention to detail, I mean that the amount of meat that we cook and the amount of food that we serve requires – that’s what requires management. You don’t manage people, you manage margins, you manage things, you manage food, you lead people. No, not only do I not micromanage people, I don’t manage people.
[0:33:11.9] KM: Did your corporate training prepare you for owning your own business, is that where you learned all these skills would you say or was it your education?
[0:33:19.6] RC: Well, I think it’s a combination of, actually, quite honestly, it’s mostly reading that I’ve done all on my own.
[0:33:26.7] KM: You like self-help books it seems like?
[0:33:28.3] RC: I like business books, I like philosophy books, I like books on physics, I like nonfiction books, I like things that add value and giving me new ideas, I really don’t’ have – everything that you’re hearing, I don’t have any original ideas but I’m a pretty good aggregator, pretty good assimilator of other people’s ideas.
[0:33:45.8] KM: Do you put your list of favorite books in your newsletter? If you don’t, you should, I think you got another subject you could add to your newsletters.
[0:33:53.7] RC: Actually that tip, that is a great idea.
[0:33:55.7] KM: You’re welcome. That’s about I have is great ideas.
[0:33:59.8] RC: Great ideas are –
[0:34:00.9] KM: here is one of my favorite questions that I ask a lot of people, not everybody but when I have time, I ask people this question and it’s kind of a hard question so here it is. Which of the four cardinal rules and I don’t mean roman catholic cardinals but rather, the Latin meaning of the word cardinal which is hinge, pivotal. Thus, these are pivotal rules that are a little bit fluid. Which of these four cardinal, pivotal, fluid rules best explains your management style and they are? He’s frowning at me like he’s trying to follow.
[0:34:32.9] RC: No, that’s not a frown, I’m deep in thought.
[0:34:36.4] KM: Thinking, I know, I could tell you’re thinking about this. They are, the four cardinal rules which best describes your management style. They are? Prudence, temperance, justice and fortitude and when I say prudence, I mean, thoughtful, calculated, possibly conservative, that’s definitely not me, temperance, calm, steady, that’s definitely not me.
[0:35:03.3] RC: Never been me.
[0:35:04.6] KM: Justice, keeper of all things fair.
[0:35:07.5] RC: Sounds a little rigid but it’s closer than the other two so far.
[0:35:11.1] KM: This last one I think is every entrepreneurial style. Fortitude, staying the course.
[0:35:17.1] RC: You certainly had to do that in this business, I know we did. This business requires a lot from you, it takes an emotional toll, financial toll, physical toll. I would have to say that historically, fortitude describes us and again, I have to point back to my wife and partner, Nancy because she exemplifies that. Nancy’s sheer tenacity has gotten us through some tough situations.
[0:35:44.5] KM: Don’t you think all entrepreneurs have to have that?
[0:35:46.7] RC: It’s either that or luck. Give me luck please. Give me luck.
[0:35:51.4] KM: I think they’ve all had a little luck also.
[0:35:52.4] RC: Give me luck over what were your three P’s? Patience, persistence and perseverance?
[0:35:58.5] KM: Yes.
[0:35:58.8] RC: Yeah, I love that. Give me luck any day.
[0:36:02.4] KM: I would say that prudence, I would say that you are probably prudent, you seem like you look at the numbers, you tell people to keep your margins, that’s pretty prudent.
[0:36:11.3] RC: Okay.
[0:36:12.8] KM: I’ll buy that. Your temperance I would say is positive always.
[0:36:16.7] RC: Try to be, again, I’m married to the most positive person I’ve ever known who wakes up sometimes in the middle of the night giggling for no apparent reason and it’s hard to be someone who is always upbeat to be around her all the time, it’s amazing.
[0:36:34.1] KM: You’ve been in the restaurant business since 2007 so it will be 10 years.
[0:36:38.3] RC: That’s right.
[0:36:39.3] KM: You’re going to try something new.
[0:36:40.8] RC: Possibly.
[0:36:42.4] KM: You think that’s about, what do you think about people who stayed in the restaurant business all of their life?
[0:36:48.3] RC: I think it almost defines them. I have lots of friends who have been in the restaurant business their entire lives and it’s hard when you're in this business to break out, to be identified with anything else, it really is. I found myself in that same spot.
People ask me how my day was and the first thing I think about was well, we had a great day at the restaurant or we had a poor day at the restaurant.
[0:37:13.6] KM: Yeah, I think I would say that about myself too. I think I always think about my day in relationship to my business and how it’s doing.
[0:37:21.7] RC: She think that speaks of an integrated lifestyle which is kind of – I think it’s a good goal you know? Yeah.
[0:37:27.2] KM: What does your day look like?
[0:37:28.2] RC: Nowadays? Well, thanks to my partners, pretty much, although I handle most of the catering transactions which is an all day and all-night job. I’m pretty much always on call. We do a very large catering business and other than that, I get my errands running, I get my workout in the morning, I go in the restaurant, maybe about 10 and I usually leave before two. I try to come back at night and greet my guests when I can but I don’t really have other than catering, I don’t really have a specific function.
Because again, the employees run the business.
[0:38:02.2] KM: You work on the business not in the business?
[0:38:04.3] RC: Absolutely.
[0:38:04.9] KM: Don’t you think that’s smart too? It’s hard to do sometimes.
[0:38:08.2] RC: You have to work in the business to the extent that you lead by example. You’ll see me taking out trash and pulling chicken and sweeping the floor, do whatever needs to be done, if I see that needs to be done. You have to work in the business to set an example but unless you’re working on your business, I don’t think you’ll ever be truly successful.
[0:38:26.8] KM: It takes a long time I think for new entrepreneurs to learn that lesson. Did you read the book the E Myth? I can’t believe it because you read all the –
[0:38:34.7]KM: The E Myth, the entrepreneur myth.
[0:38:36.7] RC: No, but it’s on the list now.
[0:38:38.2] KM: It’s an old book but it talks exactly about that and you already do that.
[0:38:44.1] RC: Well, you know, sometimes it takes a while not only to acknowledge or recognize that but to be able to turn that corner because initially, especially in a very small business, you know, you were in there stocking flags and you were in there –
[0:38:59.2] KM: Selling flags and sewing flags.
[0:39:00.8] RC: You were doing everything yourself. It takes a while to be able, you said that you were able to finally hire an accountant, that’s the smartest thing you could possibly have done but you know, you have to work, you have to be able to – at some point, transition to being able to be strategic and not just tactical.
[0:39:18.2] KM: I don’t’ think that there’s a specific day that there’s a cutoff for that. You just have to keep your eyes open to know when you’ve trained somebody enough and I do believe that one of the challenges of entrepreneurs is hiring, training.
[0:39:30.5] RC: Absolutely, I’m so glad you brought that up. It’s the biggest thing. My philosophy is, John Wooden, the legendary basketball coach said there are two things that you can’t coach. Height and heart. To me, those two things are character and attitude.
When I see a resume, full of restaurant experience, it’s a big red flag. You’ve got a lot to overcome if you walk in my door and all you ever done is work in restaurants. I want somebody with a great attitude of smile, a quick step and the ability to go by the four R’s. Treat other people well, in other words, if your parents and your childhood friends didn’t teach you to be a nice person, that’s not something I’m going to do.
You give me a chimpanzee, two bananas and 30 minutes of his attention and I’ll give you someone that can perform a task but I can’t make you excited and I can’t make you want to have fun and I can’t make you nice to people.
That’s something that you hire, those are attributes, not skills.
[0:40:27.6] KM: Do you hire the people at your place?
[0:40:28.9] RC: I do all the hiring and the firing. We fired 80 people in the first six months and now we just don’t – that’s not an issue now, the only people that leave us are people that may graduate from college or graduate from high school, we want to do something else.
[0:40:46.4] KM: Yeah, I think every time I started a department, it seems like the very original people we start the department with end up not staying, there’s a lot of turnover in the very beginning while you try to find your core people.
[0:40:57.2] RC: Absolutely.
[0:40:58.3] KM: That stay there. Well, it’s been really good to talk to you, you are a wealth of information, I think you should write a book.
[0:41:05.0] RC: That’s what my wife says.
[0:41:06.0] KM: Does she? I think so too.
[0:41:07.3] RC: It’s going to be called, It’s So Not About the Slaw.
[0:41:11.3] KM: I like that. It’s So Not About the Slaw.
[0:41:14.8] RC: I really appreciate you having me on, I really do.
[0:41:16.9] KM: I love it. I love it and I love it that you’re an old KABF.
[0:41:20.6] RC: Love KABF, love the station, love the people, love what you guys do here.
[0:41:24.6] KM: People don’t’ know this but while we were on break, one of your old crones came in here and gave you a big hug.
[0:41:29.0] RC: The Griff came in here and I don’t know if he still has inside a quiet fire, I don’t know what his show is now but I got to catch his show on KABF, Robert Griffin.
[0:41:38.8] KM: Tim, our technician today, he has a show on what time?
[0:41:42.7] TB: Wednesday nights, nine to 11. I don’t actually go by Tim, I use a stage name.
[0:41:47.0] KM: What is it?
[0:41:48.9] TB: Our show is called Phono mania and I’m Lu Logger on that show and my cohost is Burt Logger, we’re the logger brothers.
[0:41:55.5] RC: Ladies, he’s extremely handsome and I don’t see a wedding ring on his finger.
[0:41:58.8] TB: No, there’s nothing there.
[0:42:00.0] KM: It’s Wednesday night’s, I don’t think you and I like the music, it’s probably alternative, I can’t believe I haven’t listened.
[0:42:04.5] TB: We play every genre.
[0:42:05.2] RC: No, actually, a love alternative.
[0:42:07.0] KM: There you go.
[0:42:07.9] RC: New rock.
[0:42:07.5] TB: Everything under the sun, we don’t have a set.
[0:42:10.7] KM: Rich, do you have any upcoming events or cook offs, is most of your business catering or is it in the restaurant?
[0:42:16.0] RC: No, it’s definitely butts in seats.
[0:42:17.7] KM: Butts and seats.
[0:42:18.5] RC: Yeah, we do about.
[0:42:19.8] KM: What’s your hours?
[0:42:21.2] RC: We are open 10:30 AM to 9:00 PM six days a week, we’re closed on Sunday, we’re the only whole hog in the country that does not open on Sunday.
[0:42:29.4] KM: You’re open six days a week.
[0:42:30.4] RC: That’s right. 10:30 to nine and you can call us at 501-753-9227. We’re at 5107 Warden road, by the golf shop, right across interstate from Gander Mountain.
[0:42:42.7] KM: Up the bomber canal? Yup, I’ve been there. Does a Whole Hog Café have a one season that’s busier than the other?
[0:42:49.4] RC: Gosh, December. Because the catering is nuts. We catered all the big companies around us and we do shift work catering, one AM, two AM, three AM. You know, yes, December’s by far the biggest.
[0:43:01.3] KM: You probably have a staff, we got to go her in a second. You probably have a staff for two different, one for the catering staff?
[0:43:07.5] RC: No, we all handle everything.
[0:43:08.7] KM: You just work them to death?
[0:43:10.1] RC: Well, they work themselves to death.
[0:43:11.1] KM: You’re open six days a week, 11 hours a day, that doesn’t include cleanup or prep in the morning and we cater.
[0:43:19.7] RC: I appreciate you Kerry.
[0:43:21.0] KM: You are so welcome. Thank you for coming in, I forgot to bring you your cigars, I’m going to mail it to you for coming on my show and birthing a business, you get a cigar from Colonial Wine and Spirits on Malcolm. It’s a nice cigar and I can’t believe I left it. I’m going to mail it to you.
[0:43:36.4] RC: All right.
[0:43:37.4] KM: Tim, do you know who our guest is next week?
[0:43:39.7] TB: No, I don’t think you’ve told me.
[0:43:40.6] KM: I forgot to look that up, I can’t remember who our guest is next week.
[0:43:44.0] TB: It will be a surprise, we’ll have someone good.
[0:43:45.4] KM: Yeah.
[0:43:45.8] RC: Timmy, keep your eyes on the road.
[0:43:47.9] KM: To our listeners, if you have a great entrepreneurial story you would like to share, I would love to hear from you. Send a brief bio and your contact info to.
[0:43:57.1] TB: firstname.lastname@example.org.
[0:44:00.1] KM: And someone will be in touch and finally, to our listeners, thank you for spending time with me. If you think this program has been about you, you’re right but it’s also about me. Thank you for letting me fulfill my destiny, my hope today is that you’ve heard or learned something that’s been inspiring or enlightening and that it, whatever it is will help you up your business, your independence or your life.
I’m Kerry McCoy and I’ll see you next Friday at 2 PM on KABF radio in Little Rock Arkansas, until then, be brave and keep it up.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[0:42:08.0] TB: You’ve been listening to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy. Want to hear today’s program again or want someone else to benefit from it? Jot this down. Within 48 hours the podcast will be available at flagandbanner.com. Click the tab labeled “Radio Show”, there you’ll find today’s segments with links to resources you heard discussed on this program. Kerry’s goal: to help you live the American Dream.