Pinki Goolsby was laid off in 2010 from her job as a purchasing agent, and worried that, at 63, her age would prevent her from ever being employed again. Her son Shane Keinz, 41, a former business owner and talented chef, was newly relocated in Florida, and looking for work. Her other son, Matt Holt, 35, is an MBA who was selling health insurance but wasn’t thrilled with the corporate world; earlier in his career he had been the co-owner of a restaurant in West Palm Beach. All three knew that Shane’s culinary skills — and his conviction that stuffed burgers were the next big foodie thing — could somehow be the solution to their collective employment issues.
Together they launched Full Belly Stuffed Burgers in Bradenton, Fla., where their mission was to elevate the humble burger to a gourmet experience.
Americans will never stop eating burgers, but the market is saturated, the trio knew.
Their value proposition: “Put a new spin on a classic and make it better than anybody else. And make sure that something truly differentiates you — in our case, that every burger is hand-crafted every morning, and that the flavors are inspired,” Shane explained.
Stuffings include sun-dried tomatoes, bacon, peppers and various cheeses. Two of the more popular menu items are the Matty Melt, which is stuffed, however unlikely, with maple-cured bacon and peanut butter, and the Jalapeño Popper Burger.
The trio started modestly, selling stuffed burgers at three farmers markets in Sarasota and Tampa — cooked on a grill at the market, and also available packaged for customers to grill at home. They also catered special events. After three years, they had developed solid experience not just with sourcing but with direct interactions with customers. When people kept asking about a restaurant where they could get a stuffed burger whenever they wanted, the family knew it had a marketable idea.
“I’m a firm believer in going where the market takes you,” Matt said.
The venture was completely self-financed. The three owners cashed in 401(k)s, earmarked a small inheritance from Pinki’s mother, and pooled their savings (“every dime,” Matt said) to scrape together the $35,000 they needed to launch the restaurant. In the two years they’ve been open, they’ve spent little on marketing and advertising, relying mostly on a devoted customer base and word of mouth to keep the restaurant full. They’re also beginning to partner with other like-minded small businesses in the area. In July, Full Belly teamed up with a craft brewery, Big Top Brewing Company, for a prix-fixe beer pairing dinner, and later in the year did a “tap-takeover” with the Darwin Brewing company, featuring four of its craft beers at the restaurant.
Full Belly has been a solid performer since it opened, with 4.5 stars on both Yelp and Trip Advisor. The family is considering a move to a bigger, better location when the current lease, in a strip mall that lost its anchor right before the restaurant’s grand opening, is up in three years. Another future plan is to grow through franchising, according to Matt, which would bring in more revenue more quickly than growing organically.
In the restaurant business, margins are tight, hours are long, and customers are fickle. You have to be satisfied with slow growth. This isn’t the kind of business that will get you rich overnight, Matt said.
Working with family is a bit of a “faith walk,” he added. Personalities can and do conflict. But at Full Belly, there’s a clear division of labor and little overlapping of functions, which helps avoid friction. Shane is the creative force, both with décor and menu; Matt the business expert; Pinki the operations head. (Or, as the sons put it, Shane’s the talent, Matt’s the brains and Pinki’s the muscle.) All will give feedback and support to the other, but otherwise each person runs his or her own wheelhouse.
From Shane: Involve your customers. “We’re always trying out new recipes, and we test them with a few trusted people before we put anything new on the menu,” Shane said. But it’s not just about new flavors and combinations, he pointed out. “We also have to consider the cost of the raw ingredients and how well any stuffing works in production. Pinki is already making 1,000 burgers a week by hand, so I don’t want anything that’s too complicated or time consuming for her.” The owners also engage their customers with a monthly specialty burger selected from customer recommendations. That keeps people thinking about stuffed burgers, and the novelty is something that really appeals to regulars hungry (literally) for different burger choices.
From Matt: Understand what you don’t know as much as what you do know. In other words, when you do your research, keep asking about what you need to consider that you haven’t yet addressed. You don’t want to get blindsided because you weren’t completely informed, or were naïve about something.
From Pinki: If you want to be an entrepreneur, know that what you’re getting yourself into is not just a puddle of water, it’s a swimming pool — and you are going to have to swim around and know where the sides are. Also, if you’re going to put in 12-hour days, you’d better be passionate about what you do and who you work with.
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Images courtesy Full Belly Stuffed Burgers