Smokey John’s owner is fired up to succeed

Brent Reaves, owner of Smokey John’s in Dallas, reviews orders with his staff. (Photos: DCCCD)

Smoke and fire have been part of Brent Reaves’ life ever since his father, John, founded Smokey John’s in 1976.

He never dreamed that a different kind of smoke and fire – one that literally gutted their Dallas restaurant this September – would bring all of the lessons he learned last year in the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses (10KSB) program into play as they rebuild.

Never mind that the September 9 fire occurred just when Brent was preparing for one of the busiest times of the year for Smokey John’s: serving barbecue from four booths at the State Fair of Texas (and also running two additional booths for Ruth’s Tamale House, part of the restaurant); catering for Thanksgiving; and taking orders for the winter holidays, too.

“When the fire occurred, we already had thousands of dollars in catering on the books – and it was only two weeks before the State Fair was set to open,” Reaves said. “Our company usually brings in 30 percent of its gross annual income during that 24-day period.”

He had to come up with a plan that would keep the catering business open and customers happy while restaurant repairs and rebuilding would begin. That’s where his experience with Goldman Sachs 10KSB helped – plus a two-day coaching session in New York that would enable him to develop a new business plan.

Out of the flames comes a plan

A typical day for Brent Reaves involves leaving his home in Cedar Hill, Texas, to drive to the Dallas County Community College District’s Bill J. Priest (BJP) Institute. He’s using a small kitchen at the facility to cook for his catering operation.

Barbecue, pans of macaroni and cheese, and other delights on the menu are delivered to catering events for hungry customers. He’s even rented additional facilities to make sure the restaurant can meet the demand, especially during holidays.

Reaves also used the BJP kitchen to keep food flowing to his State Fair booths this fall, plus a second kitchen in town.

In fact, one of Reaves’ frequent customers, Royalyn Reid, suggested that he sign up for the 10KSB program when she saw more and more people coming to Smokey John’s – lines were going out the door, and he needed to learn how to take the family business to the next level.

“My dad is a first-generation business owner; my brother, Juan, and I are the second generation. I graduated from the University of North Texas with my degree in hospitality management,” Brent said. “I knew I needed to learn even more in order to expand the business, and that’s why I was excited to be accepted for the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program.”

10KSB program participants learn financing, marketing, negotiating and leadership skills. In addition, some business owners learn how they can access loans and capital that may not be available to them through traditional channels. They also attend an orientation, followed by 10 classes, or modules, and five clinics, plus networking events. They develop a growth plan for their companies. Classes are taught at the BJP Institute.

Appreciating team members

Reaves started in spring 2016 and graduated that August from 10KSB. Among the lessons he learned taught by DCCCD faculty was one titled “It’s the People” – a module that “taught me how to look at my staff, how to create a culture for our company and how to do that intentionally.”

Brent Reaves and his staff prepare food orders at the Dallas County Community College District. He is temporarily using culinary facilities at the district’s Bill J. Priest Institute following a fire at his restaurant.

He added, “The food service industry requires a certain type of culture that creates values and perspectives. The module taught me about core values and culture. I believe that the number one core value (for our business) is humility.”

Other modules helped Reaves, too.

“Through my 10KSB classes, I learned how to read a balance sheet properly, as well as P&L statements, what percentages and ratios actually mean, and how to calculate them,” he said.

And the modules gave him a banker’s perspective as well.

“Now I know what they see (when you sit in front of them to ask for a loan) and how to answer the questions they will ask – and especially how to persuade them to invest in my business with a loan,” Reaves added. “The ‘You Are the

Leader’ module also helped me see my strengths and weaknesses. Businesses succeed or fail, based on a leader’s strengths and weaknesses.”

Building and rebuilding

With his eye on a possible June 2018 reopening date for Smokey John’s, Reaves also wants to expand to include two or three additional local locations. That’s where the New York trip for a two-day coaching session from Goldman Sachs helped him develop a plan for the next phase of the business.

“During my visit to New York, I met Michael Bloomberg and Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs. I was assigned to work with five different executives from Bloomberg and Goldman Sachs. We looked at the goals for my family’s business; then they gave me the steps I need to follow to meet my goals. It was an amazing experience,” Reaves said.

He is now developing a matrix for the business to rebuild with a strategy.

“The 10KSB timing couldn’t have been better,” Reaves said. “My wife attended the coaching sessions with me, too, and now she wants to help me attack those plans and put them into practice.”

About the Author

Ann Hatch
is district director of media relations for the Dallas County Community College District in Texas.