Brad Hobbs: Central Ohio’s ‘Bankable’ Restaurateur

Photo provided by ECDI.

Growing up in Youngstown, OH, Brad Hobbs’ first job was delivering pizza for Little Caesars, followed by a position at TGI Fridays. He knew right away that he would be spending the rest of his life in the restaurant business.

“The whole culture appealed to me,” he says.

Brad has worked at many restaurants and bars in Ohio, as well as Las Vegas. After settling in Columbus 14 years ago, he knew that he wanted to go into business for himself. Brad and his family live in the Olde Towne East neighborhood, where he aspired to open his first establishment, the Olde Towne Tavern – but he struggled to figure out how to cross the bridge from restaurant employee to owner. He was plagued by the long-held, and long-standing belief that banks don’t loan to restaurants because they are a risky endeavors. He exhausted all of his personal resources trying to determine how to get a loan, and finally stumbled on a surprise.

“I spoke to a gentleman who bluntly asked me if I had been to a bank. I sluffed it off and said, ‘From everything I’ve heard, banks don’t lend money,'” Hobbs says. “He was actually with Chase Bank.”

Hobbs talked with one of the man’s colleagues, who gave him the ins and outs on the small business lending process, and recommended Huntington Bank as a lender that commonly assists with capital for startups.

“We went into Huntington, and I was prepared,” Hobbs says. “Our business plan request was for $150,000, and Huntington agreed to loan us $75,000.”

With only half of the funding he needed, Hobbs was also fortunate enough to be introduced to ECDI by an Olde Towne East neighbor in late 2011. The Olde Towne Tavern was one of the first businesses to approach ECDI that had already acquired capital from a bank. Up until that time, ECDI loans were capped at $50,000, but because Hobbs had already been approved for a larger amount and he needed a $75,000 match to start his business, ECDI increased its maximum loan amount to allow Hobbs that landmark opportunity.

Hobbs repaid the entire loan within one year, making him one of ECDI’s most “bankable clients” in the small business microlender’s first 13 years of operations. He is one of only nine ECDI loan clients to have completed a lump sum repayment of at least $50,000.

“One thing that I’ve learned is that as you progress in your business growth, everything becomes a little simpler. People start to reach out to you, opportunities start to present themselves, and everything gets a little more simplified,” Hobbs says. “When you’re first starting out, it’s the exact opposite, and that’s when you need the most help.”

A couple of years later, Hobbs was introduced to a Downtown Columbus property that would become home to The Walrus, now a popular restaurant, bar and event venue. When Hobbs reached out to ECDI for additional assistance with this startup project, ECDI did not hesitate.

Hobbs has benefitted from ECDI’s other small business resources, as well.

“The biggest resource has been having many people who I consider trustworthy contacts to answer my questions,” Hobbs notes. “There’s not a lot of information for people who want to startup restaurants, or at least it’s difficult to find. ECDI provided a very strong forum for me to go back and forth with…[people] who [are] well-informed in the community, and understand our goals and who we are.”

As a result of receiving loan capital from ECDI, Hobbs has been able create 150 jobs in the community, and anticipates surpassing the 200-employee mark by the end of the year.

Hobbs attributes his success to the close-knit partnership his management team has with each staff member. Hobbs, along with his business partners — his wife Krista, and Kevin Burns — assembled their staff through existing relationships they developed during their years in the restaurant business.

“When we were able to open our own business with people that we trust, [who] do an amazing job, I think that definitely provides a very unique atmosphere in our restaurants where they’re able to make everybody feel very at home,” Hobbs says.

Hobbs and his team also emphasize growth opportunities for their staff – not always a focus in the restaurant industry – as a main goal of their entrepreneurial endeavors. The team listens to the goals of all staff members, and offers resources and support to help them transition into roles such as general manager, director of operations, owner or executive chef. In this way, Hobbs and his team are working to break down the cultural assumptions that working in a restaurant is a “dead-end” job.

“Being able to cultivate motivation in the staff by leading by example and listening to the voice of your team, and giving them a voice, making each person feel as important as they really are to your business – I think this is necessary,” Hobbs says. “Also, surrounding yourself with people that share your vision.”

Hobbs also feels strongly about helping other entrepreneurs achieve their dreams. Rather than being secretive about his pathway to success, he values opportunities to share insight with aspiring entrepreneurs as a way of paying forward the assistance he received as he was starting out.

What does he tell them? Don’t be afraid to dive in.

“Most skills can be learned as you go,” Hobbs says. “Obviously you need to have some experience, but I don’t believe it’s so much about skills as it is effort, and willingness to learn… and not being afraid to ask for help.”

Hobbs’ team is preparing to open two new establishments toward the end of 2017 – a second Duck Donuts location in Dublin, and a new BBQ concept called Pecan Penny’s, located in Downtown Columbus at the former site of the Ray Johnson Seafood Market.

Since 2004, ECDI has assisted Ohio’s entrepreneurs through their one-stop-shop business services model, suited to meet the needs of all entrepreneurs, regardless of what business stage they’re in. From providing capital to entrepreneurs looking to expand their businesses, to providing focused, business-specific educational opportunities to enhance entrepreneurial skill sets, ECDI works with their clients to meet their specific needs. Whether you merely have a business idea or are opening up your fifth location, ECDI’s “never say no” approach has allowed over ten thousand entrepreneurs to take advantage of the services they provide. Visit today to learn more.