Go Wild with Brian and Jeff Carmody
Alumni who fondly remember Casey McNab's can rejoice. No, the former popular meeting spot across from the Ferris campus has not staged a comeback -- although it is at least partly responsible for new restaurants operating in Big Rapids (and elsewhere) with deep Ferris roots.
"At Ferris I got a job at Casey McNab's, where I did just about everything from bussing tables to cooking, to bartending and serving, and I just really enjoyed it," remembers Brian Carmody, chief operating officer of JK&T Wings, Inc., which owns and operates Buffalo Wild Wings restaurants in Michigan, Illinois, Massachusetts and Louisiana. "When I graduated with my Business degree, I was interviewing for jobs when my dad and his business partner were looking at getting into something as an investment. Then they discovered what was at the time called BW3. There was one that had opened in East Lansing. I went down there the spring of my senior year and saw something similar to Casey McNab's. I felt very comfortable with the concept and knew that, with my experience, I could make a difference with it."
Today, JK&T has 34 restaurants, including its Big Rapids location, which opened in November 2009. Brian and his brother, Jeff, a regional manager, bring the same dedication to the business as they did as defensive backs on the Bulldog football team during their combined careers from 1990-98.
With its sports memorabilia and trade-mark winged bison, Buffalo Wild Wings' combination of food, drink and entertainment is instantly recognizable the moment you walk in the door. However, the Big Rapids location is uniquely its own attraction, with many framed photographs of Bulldog sports teams, pep bands and cheerleaders sharing space on the walls with flat-panel televisions tuned to a variety of sports broadcasts. The homage to Ferris is more than just a nod to the local community and their alma mater.
"We put a strong emphasis on grassroots marketing in our communities and helping people who are less fortunate," says Jeff. "We've had some great fundraisers here in Big Rapids, some great involvement with the high schools and the University, fraternities and sororities. Those are the kinds of ways being in a smaller community like Big Rapids will be impactful."
In the first half of 2011 alone, JK&T Wings is opening new Buffalo Wild Wings restaurants in Saginaw, Mich.; Danvers and Saugus, Mass.; and Baton Rouge, La.
"When we opened up our first couple of stores we did them ourselves. We did the build-out ourselves, painted the walls ourselves. We did it the hard way. Now, it's exciting to see some of the opportunities we have come from the work we put in earlier," Jeff says. "We're currently the largest franchisee and have been since the second year of the business."
The Carmodys know that they will have to continue to up their game to keep their growth on the trajectory it has been on to this point.
"We're running into stores that are 10-plus years old now, and you have to reinvest in your brand," says Jeff. "This TV up here is going to have to be replaced at some point with something better, and who had even heard of Wi-Fi 10 years ago? You have to try to stay ahead of the curve."
A Winning Combination
In addition to the business being something of a family affair, both Brian and Jeff hark back to their gridiron success in talking about how important working together is to making their Buffalo Wild Wings locations operate smoothly.
"To relate it back to football, a good coach has a vision and gets others to believe in that vision," Jeff says. "One of our goals when we started to expand was to keep a high percentage of our management within the ranks of our staff. Somebody can sit across from me and interview really well, but I don't know their day-to-day habits, their passion for the service side. We can teach servers and bartenders the business, but you can't teach passion."
Brian agrees. "Team is my number one focus. That's what I learned from Ferris -- both in academics and athletics. Paying attention to the basics helps separate you from the competition."
And, in case you haven't yet picked up on the importance of the Carmody brothers' experience on the football field and the central part it has played in their successful business careers, the next time you're in their Big Rapids location, look for Jeff's framed jersey and the poster-sized photo of Brian in uniform. During the Carmody era the Bulldogs went 71-31-3. On the scale of the 14 different sauces you can get at Buffalo Wild Wings, that record is at least Mango Habanero hot.