Lauren Coulter is the Owner and Director of Franchise Development for Biscuit Belly. She and her husband Chad opened their first location in 2019 and now have five corporate locations across Kentucky and Indiana with several franchises on-target. Lauren is also a Doctor of Pharmacy, having earned her PharmD from South University.
Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:
- Lauren Coulter and her husband’s transition from the pharmacy to hospitality industry
- Did working toward her PharmD help prepare Lauren for entrepreneurship?
- Lauren reminisces about their first restaurant venture with Louvino
- What makes Biscuit Belly special?
- Lauren’s and Chad’s vision for future franchising
In this episode…
In this episode of the SpotOn Series, Chad Franzen speaks with Lauren Coulter about Biscuit Belly. Lauren and her husband Chad began the restaurant chain by creating a mouth-watering southern-style menu, an atmosphere of Southern Hospitality, and a fun, energetic environment.
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Chad Franzen 0:20
Chad Frandsen here co host for this show where we feature top restauranteurs investors and business leaders. This is part of our SpotOn series. SpotOn has the best in class payment platform for retail and they have a flagship solution called SpotOn Restaurant, where they combined marketing software and payments all in one. They serve everyone from larger chains like Dairy Queen and Subway to small mom and pop restaurants. To learn more, go to spoton.com This episode is brought to you by Rise25 We help b2b businesses to get ROI clients referrals and strategic partnerships through done for you podcast. If you have a b2b business and want to build a great relationship with clients referral partners and thought leaders in your space. There’s no better way to do it than through podcasts and content marketing. To learn more go to Rise25media.com or support@Rise25media.com Lauren Coulter is owner and director of franchise sales and development at Biscuit Belly with three locations in Louisville, Kentucky and one in Evansville, Indiana. She’s a pharmacist turned restaurant tour. After she graduated from pharmacy school she and her husband Chad Coulter opened Louisville’s first paint and sip businesses. In 2014. They shifted into the restaurant scene by opening Louvino southern inspired small plates and wine bar restaurant, they grew Louvino to five locations in Louisville, Indianapolis and Cincinnati before opening the first Biscuit Belly location in May of 2019. The coolers are currently targeting four to five additional corporate locations and at least 25 franchised locations it development by the end of 2021. Lauren, thank you so much for joining me today. How are you?
Lauren Coulter 1:51
Yeah. Thanks for having me.
Chad Franzen 1:53
Hey, so did you earn a Doctor of Pharmacy?
Lauren Coulter 1:56
Chad Franzen 1:57
Wow. So what made you decide to pursue that, to not pursue that as your career after you graduated?
Lauren Coulter 2:03
Oh, no. I mean, I did work in pharmacy for many years, we both both Chad and I are a pharmacist by training. And we both worked in the field of pharmacy for a number of years, Chad, fewer than I because he kind of slowly stepped out a lot quicker than I did to pursue these other avenues of just what we were gonna do, and I don’t think not often look back. And there was never a time when we were both like, pharmacy saints, we want to get out we want to find something new. But think as opportunities just became available for us to find new things that we love. We decided to take them. So it’s been good for us pharmacy, though, has changed and shifted a lot, even in the last with the I graduated in 2000. So even in the last 13, 14 years since I was really involved there. And I will say that more and more of my pharmacy friends are messaging me like, oh, I want to get out how do I get out? So healthcare is just a little differently?
Chad Franzen 3:16
Sure, I would imagine that you know, any doctoral degree or a doctorate or something like that is is difficult as the that degree or the difficulty of earning that kind of degree helps you in the business world or in the restaurant industry.
Lauren Coulter 3:28
I do think that it’s you have to be extremely disciplined. And I think from a work ethic perspective, definitely prepared us for, you know, the business side of things a bit. Just being able to project manage a number of things, you know, have multiple things on our plate and see them through I think is definitely been helpful. Having that background, having that time spent many, many years in school. I wish I could get some of the dollars back. But you know, it gave us something. I mean, I don’t forget, I don’t take for granted the fact that having those degrees for the first couple of years, gave us the primary incomes to be able to you know, save up some cash and try some new things. So it was okay for us to fail. We have, you know, great fallback options. So I don’t take that lightly either.
Chad Franzen 4:26
So your first kind of venture into entrepreneurship was in paint and sip, can you tell me what kind of what kind of led up to that?
Lauren Coulter 4:34
Well, and so and don’t take it. I’m not saying this negatively some of the pictures that you have in your background. I’m like, oh, one of those looks like one that we offered.
Chad Franzen 4:45
They probably they probably are and my wife does the paint and sip stuff all the time.
Lauren Coulter 4:50
Exactly. So we here in Louisville, there just wasn’t anything like that. And we just saw it as a fun opportunity. I think We were really appreciative of offering something that had an experience around it. It wasn’t necessarily, you know, just food but you know, something to do with your friends, I think people are often looking for that. So yes, I think every house in Louisville had to have two or three Florida leads, you know, hanging from them, that they would come in and do. But it really took off here it did well. And after, you know, two, two and a half years, we saw it though as probably what is, you know, somewhat of a fad. And so we decided to sell it, and we’re was able to do that just had a really good time, kind of a good high for us. After about three years. So we shifted those dollars in to Louvino, which is a very one focus restaurant, we had 60 to 70 wines by the glass and wanted it to just be a very fun, educational but approachable place to have good wine. Here in Louisville, everything is bourbon and, you know, somewhat craft beers easy. But to get a decent bottle of wine, you’d have to go to a fancy steakhouse and commit, you know, a couple 100 bucks. And so what our option was, was being able to get some of those fancy wines by the glass. And so that’s kind of what set us apart here. We grew that like as stated, or like you stated in the intro to five locations. But once we opened up Biscuit Belly, I think, you know, things definitely shifted a bit in our brains, we saw the opportunity for something that was a bit easier to rinse and repeat. Also just contrasting the breakfast, brunch lunch hours, as compared to a nighttime concept. We were, you know, pleasantly surprised at kind of the simplicity of that, you know, for the first time my husband could sit at dinner with us and not be you know, attached to his phone or things like that. So once we rolled out the second Biscuit Belly, we really realized we have something special on our hands. And at that point, begin to dig into going down the franchising path, also began looking at opportunities to sell Louvino, which we ultimately did last December, so almost a year now that it’s been sold to a great group. And just really put all of our eggs in these, you know, in this Biscuit Belly basket, if you will.
Chad Franzen 7:34
Sure. Did you or your husband have prior, you mentioned you’re both pharmacist did either one of you have prior restaurant experience. Prior to Louvino.
Lauren Coulter 7:43
I mean, I worked in a little chicken place kind of the predecessor to XXVII it’s called Guthrie’s, they’re still a thing. I think they’ve now started refranchising. But I worked there when I was in high school. But I don’t think Chad ever worked in food service. We are first like Tom working at a real restaurant was literally the night that we opened. So it was a learning curve. We learned a lot. But you know, restaurant people are some of the best people I think on the planet. And so it was easy to adapt, you know, to kind of work with them and learn a lot. And I love kind of that evolution piece of, you know, my husband, the first couple of nights like on the dish machine working harder than he’s ever worked in his life or dealing with a plumbing issue at our old old, you know, building and, and things like that. So
Chad Franzen 8:44
I’ve heard I’ve heard you already had some entrepreneurship experience with the paint and sip, but I’ve heard, you know, stories from restaurant tours about like, this is, you know, there are a lot of things are different than maybe you would have expected. Was there any kind of like, Oh, my God. moments where you’re kind of like I didn’t expect this to come up.
Lauren Coulter 9:05
I mean, I think just that whole kind of having to be on all the time. There’s not, you know, we’re so lucky we we always had I think one one thing I was shocked about it, I went into it probably thinking a bit negatively about not the people but about maybe their expectations. I always thought that we would have a whole lot of turnover and have a lot of people issues. But we never really experienced that. I mean, even now some of the people who are you know, managing stores started with us at that first store. So being able to really grow and develop people I thought was a lot cooler than I ever thought it would be. I thought it would just kind of be a rotating door. But we offered I think a good team that we gave, you know autonomy to you know, we hired people who did things well and we let them do those things. And then I think just our, our concept lends itself to having more of a committed, you know, lifer type of employee. And so that was a lot of fun. It’s very different at Biscuit Belly where, you know, Louvino, we had, we worked with chefs that were very creative and half of our menu was consistent, consistent, and all the stores, but the other half was unique to the area or the season. And so in Biscuit Belly, we, we’ve actually struggled because at times, because it’s much more rinse and repeat, you know, we need somebody who can come in and follow a recipe. And we brought some people from Louvino over to open our Biscuit Belly locations, the shifts specifically. And they had a really hard time because there wasn’t any way for them to have that creative outlet. And so, you know, we walk in one day, and there’s like 19 jams, all different types be made. And we’re like, we have one jam, just one. So I think we’ve learned a lot in that since since we’ve transitioned to more of this fast casual style
Chad Franzen 11:08
Tell me- So if you could just tell me a little bit more about Biscuit Belly, what can customer expect when they go there?
Lauren Coulter 11:13
Oh, yes, Biscuit Belly, we really focus on the big hearty Southern Style biscuits. So we have, you know, a big, buttery blankie like pea biscuit with a piece of fried chicken and topped with the overeasy egg and two pieces of delicious bacon and then all topped with our signature Goetta gravy comes out to you, you know, we we have the mindset that the phone eats first or you know your eyes eat first. So as that biscuit is being delivered, people are staring at their food, it gets dropped in front of them, often they’re pulling out their phones, snapping pictures, posting on social media around where they are and what they’re eating. We really even though we are a fast casual concept, we level up the experience. From a surroundings perspective, the aesthetic is a lot of white subway tile, and blues and yellows. So supposed to be calming, yet energetic and fun. We also level up the experience by offering more of a full service, fast, casual concept. So you order at the counter and sit down. But then we bring your drinks out, we bring your food out and we clean up after you. So we try to table touch, talk to people as much as possible, make sure they enjoy themselves, you know, if they for some reason don’t like something or something is not up to their expectations. If it doesn’t meet their expectations, we want to make it right. And I think that it’s been really fun to even in this in this segment. So in the fast casual in the breakfast scene, we have gotten these people who are really bought into the brand and bought into the culture and they want every you know, table to leave having had the best experience. And so they’re going to do what it takes to make things right. And I just I love that the food is excellent. It was our menu was designed by primarily by Tavis Rockwell, who is also the head culinary director for Louvino. So he helped create the menu. We have a couple throws to him we have a Rockwell and Rockwell supreme named in honor of him. And so that’s just really special knowing that, you know, we met Tavis for a beer eight years ago and see kind of where it’s come to now is pretty amazing.
Chad Franzen 13:40
Yeah, it sounds like it. So what were the early days like for Biscuit Belly as you were transitioning from that to from Lovino to you know, the breakfast business?
Lauren Coulter 13:52
I think, you know, we’re we’re so used to being able to be not creative, because I feel like we are creative, but to have a fair amount of flexibility. And so like I said that transition into something that’s a little more rinse and repeat it has been more difficult, I think than I anticipated. It’s been easy or in the sense that we don’t have five different menus that we’re redoing every, you know, 12 to 18 weeks, but it’s still a lot. So when you’re looking at processes and making sure certain systems are consistent, making sure experiences you know, the biscuit that you’re going to taste at one store is going to be exactly the same biscuit that you tasted at another store. That’s pretty tough. So in addition to them in to the experience that we want the customer to get, we you know what every piece of food to taste consistent everywhere. And so, having to work through a lot of that has been challenging. Also, I mean, obviously, with COVID all the kind of ups and downs The last 18 months had brought. We’ve learned a lot. But I think the the one perk to it has been that it gave us the time and the bandwidth to be able to roll out the franchising side really, really well. So, prior to COVID, we were not, we were thinking about franchising, but had just kind of started down the path. And if you know anyone who is an early stage franchisor, they can tell you, it’s a lot of work, you know, a lot of legal documentation that has to be done and Systemising and marketing efforts that are totally different, you know, who you’re marketing for a, franchisees is a totally different skill set than what you’re marketing for, for a, just a customer, you know, so all these different things that you have to do a lot of work and pay a lot of time and attention to detail to do it, right. And so the one Practicode is that it gave us the bandwidth to be able to do that. And I think that now, we are reaping the rewards of how much work we put into it. Before we started. I now kind of giggle when I hear people that say, Well, I wasn’t planning on franchising, but these people wanted to franchise. So I just drew up the paperwork to do one and I’m thinking, oh my gosh, you’re nuts. Because it’s so much work. To not go into it with that mindset of, you know, we’re going to to win this and we’re going to go far with this is just crazy. With Louvino, it was a lot of let’s just see what happens. Let’s just see where this takes us. A lot of just, you know, good ideas. Let’s try this. And that. Whereas with Biscuit Belly, I feel like we’ve been a lot more strategic, strategically minded, and really figured out, okay, let’s not figure out what works for three stores, let’s think about what’s going to work for 30 or 300. Stores. Let’s go ahead and start putting in those systems now. So that we can, you know, hopefully, hopefully have fewer pain points in the future. So I feel like we’ve really leveled up that experience. And the way that we’re seeing the fruits of that labor is, as we’ve had franchisees potential franchisees come in for discovery days or, you know, see our team and see our processes, they’ve really been impressed by all the work that we’ve done. And every one of them have said that we’re further ahead than many concepts who have, you know, 50 or 60 units, just because we’re already thinking with that mindset, that growth mindset. So yeah, I think that’s
Chad Franzen 17:47
how did the I’m sorry, how did the How did the idea or the vision for Biscuit Belly come about when you’re, I’m sure you’re pretty busy when you’re pretty busy to Louvino?
Lauren Coulter 17:57
Yeah, I mean, this is funny, people do not believe me, but our chefs can attest to this. The first, maybe the second weekend that we opened up Louvino our first one, we were we bought the building, and we were in half of it. And we were trying to figure out what to do with the other half we could lease it out, or should we do something else to and a couple of our shifts and chats were like, we should open a biscuit place. Now we’re from Georgia originally. So having you know, biscuits at the corner. Gas Station is very normal there. But here not so much. I mean, if I walked in, you know, a number of gas stations, like I’m not going to go and try to get a bacon egg and cheese, but that’s very common where we’re from. So I kept saying to my husband, you’re crazy, you know, this would do well and that does well in Georgia, it’s not really going to do well here. Time goes by and we start seeing the emergence of some of these other concepts. So out of Nashville, there’s like biscuit love maybe Asheville, I think has biscuit head, we went to Oregon for a chip and there was a place called Pine state biscuits, I think was there. So of course my husband’s like say, I’m just kind of shaking my head like Alright, you’re right. And so we, when we were initially thinking about it, we knew okay, we’re going to do this a different way than Lupino and we spent a lot of time doing you know, branding and looking at the colors and what does our name gonna be and figuring all of those points out so that again when we opened we were kind of good to go so just a lot of time and attention to detail on those fronts was was really key. How did you
Chad Franzen 19:47
know what what kind of sent you know you’ve got the first one open when did you know like, Okay, this is this is going to work and then maybe it was time to expand?
Lauren Coulter 19:56
Yeah, we did the first one in May of 2019 and pretty quickly, it was just like what you see on TV, you know, lines around the block. And I remember driving to or buy a Hattie B’s in Nashville one time. And I think it was Hattie B’s and seeing this line, you know, down the block in the rain and me thinking, I would never stand outside, you know, for an hour and a half for some fried chicken. Just I didn’t get it. And that’s what we started seeing these people were standing in line. Now, our line moves a lot faster than an hour. But anything that would be an hour and a half. But getting people in getting them said, they leave very full. And they were just generally happy and excited. So we we were able to open a second store in December. And I think that still seeing that level of excitement at both those locations. Just gave us this like, wow, you know, we’ve got something special here on our hands. And I’m not going to name names. But when we’ve gone to other similar concepts, I feel like our experience is just hand over fist better been so many out there. I feel like our product is better. But also just that experience of people coming in really enjoying what they’re having. And having a great time. That’s what we offer that maybe you don’t get it some of these other similar breakfast concepts.
Chad Franzen 21:30
So then you’ve you’ve expanded some of the to some of the location and other locations. And then I talked about your franchising. In your introduction. You’re the director of franchise development for Bescot. Bella, you talked a little bit about franchising. Can you tell me maybe what you’re looking for and some of your goals in terms of franchising?
Lauren Coulter 21:47
Oh, yeah, we are really, at this juncture, trying to attract a franchisee, who is already in the multi unit restaurant game, people who they know what they’re doing, they’re experts in their own right, and that we can, you know, be partners as just this early on in this brand, we think it’s really important to establish a partnership with people who know ins and outs, who have tried other things who know what works, and what doesn’t, and who can help really be a resource for us. So our first group is in 30k, FCS and, you know, 1012, Long John Silver’s, our second group is in probably eight to 10, different franchise restaurant concepts, they own the markets where they are, but they, you know, it’s been, it’s awesome, because we, we’ve learned so much from them, and they’re so willing to lend a listening ear, tell us what they’ve done in the past, tell us what franchisors have done successfully, and what has, you know, failed. And so we’re learning a lot from them at this point, again, same, you know, our third and fourth groups, multi unit restaurant franchisees already, we hope, you know, in the next 1218 months to get to a place where we can say, with good with good feeling that we can bring on somebody who’s never been in the restaurant industry before. But I think just being you know, at this juncture, we didn’t want that to be a hurdle that we would have to teach at this point.
Chad Franzen 23:33
So, you know, you talked about wines out the door for someone who’s a good franchisee candidate, what makes Biscuit Belly a good investment.
Lauren Coulter 23:43
Our, our unit economics are solid. And I think if you, you know, when we got into our second site, it was previously a Zoe’s and were converted this Zoe’s. And so in in the restaurant space, you can see price tags of two and a half million dollars $3 million, you know, to get into a space and we’re nowhere near that. Restaurants are innately expensive, restaurant equipment is expensive. But that return on investment, you can get a good bit quicker with us than you can with other concepts. And I think to at this point, being a part of something that’s new and exciting, definitely has its perks. So you know, where we’re sitting right now we’ve got stores in Tennessee and Alabama and in Georgia, and so there’s a lot of real estate, you know, still left and still available. And we we just really believe that if we can give these first couple of groups, the best experience that all it takes is for them to call up some of their KFC buddies or bad guys bring And so you know, and say, Hey, I got this great concept, you should do it. And we’re kind of off to the races. So from a goals perspective, our goal for this year was to do three to five deals, each doing three to five stores. So we’ve done four of those deals, and we’re at 20, stores and development based, you know, from COVID, everything that’s kind of come from that, what we’re dealing with, and I know what a lot of people are dealing with, is finding the real estate. So you know, we, we’ve done these development agreements with a couple of people, but we would rather people get in the right spaces than just open stores. So we’re working with a group at a Chicago to help us really identify what those locations are, and just building out from there. So I think, initially, when we went into it, our goal was whatever we did this year to double that to have doubled the number of stores in development next year. And I think that that’s a reasonable goal, but we just did strategic planning last week, and so much of what we’re focused on is making sure these people open open will have great experiences, so that then they have something, you know, to call on, make that referral for,
Chad Franzen 26:15
how did you guys survive? You know, COVID had a pretty big effect on the restaurant industry. How did you guys survive through it?
Lauren Coulter 26:23
I mean, it was tough. We here in Kentucky, things were pretty shut down for a long time. And, and then when they would start open back up, you know, it was like 25%, and then 33%, and then 50. And then we went back down and back up. And it just always kind of felt like this roller coaster. And there was never good, good, you know, solid information given at all times. And actually, even over Thanksgiving. I was, we did Thanksgiving Day stuff, and then made myself available to be able to work on that Sunday after Thanksgiving, just thinking it would be chaos and got there. And it was busy. But it wasn’t just psycho, crazy. And I said, Oh, I should. I said, I’m gonna, I’m gonna look and see what we did last year. And the GM at that store reminded me she said, Lauren, we were really shut down last year at Thanksgiving, and I had totally, probably just mentally blocked it out in my mind that we were we we were shut back down from like the Wednesday before Thanksgiving till mid December. And so it’s been a whirlwind of a lot of, you know, just all different information. I think the most frustrating thing was often feeling like business owners, particularly small business owners were kind of put in the middle and having to you know, play this good cop bad cop. Gotcha, don’t gotcha sort of thing. And I never particularly liked that. But I know, you know, our team was amazing and really worked hard and came together and you know, did what they had to do to make sure everybody was comfortable. Making sure everybody stayed safe is was definitely the highest priority for all of us. I think, you know, we had to make some tough decisions when this all first came down and were shut down and we didn’t know what happens so had to really close things down and then strategically open back up as as the volume kind of permitted. I think what we’re seeing now is still we’re at 28 to 32% takeout still but our when we’re looking at our comps, you know 2020 is a bus but when we’re looking at it, we’re comparing it to 2019 and we’re up so that is that least positive in my eyes that okay, what we’re we’re hoping that we comp same in store and then increase that 20% would be great but for takeout but you know, we’re dealing with a lot of what everybody’s dealing with supply chain and the cost of bacon and chicken and and all of these things have have definitely played a part and so navigating all of this has been trying and My poor husband has been you know, every day just absorbing as much information as he can or as he could especially during those first couple of months with PvP and I think we were able to do some cool things for our staff. Once we we got the PPP to, to kind of validate it, you know, and reward some people who are worked really hard and stuck in there that whole time, but it’s not been easy.
Chad Franzen 29:59
I would imagine What is it about the restaurant industry that you find particularly enjoyable? Maybe even compared to pharmacy and running, paid? And sips?
Lauren Coulter 30:09
Yeah, I mean, I think I’ve always been the type of person when I worked retail pharmacy, you know, there’s something, to me that’s special, I’m a type A checklist, person, I get a lot of joy out of okay, checking these things off. And I feel like in restaurant world, it’s similar to retail pharmacy in that, you know, you always have a rush that you work through it, you kind of come together, you do what you got to do, to achieve, you know, the best outcomes that you can. And so that familiarity to me is all of us coming together and just working super hard. And then being able to check off like all of these people had a good experience. And I think that’s probably the most similar, same and in the paint and sip thing, because, you know, they left with the painting that was the checkbox that was checked off. So all of that I think his is been good for me and why I think I kind of enjoy it and thrive in this industry.
Chad Franzen 31:15
I have one last question for you. But But first, how can people find out more information about Biscuit Belly about becoming a franchisee
Unknown Speaker 31:24
Biscuit Belly, we have got a an amazing Instagram, if anybody is on Instagram, Biscuit Belly biscuits, we have our consumer side is actually we’re giving the final checks on a brand new consumer site. So depending on when this goes live, there will either be a brand new, amazing, just sick site out there, but it’s just a biscuitbelly.com. And then from a franchising perspective, BiscuitBellyfranchise.com is really where you can find out a lot of information. And people often get on there. I mean, I’m the owner, when they you know, contact me, I answer my cell phone. So I think just being available is really been cool to meet a number of people. And our biggest source of referrals comes from people who come in and dine with us. So if anybody is around, they often are saying, hey, oh, this would be great in my town, and then they look and sure enough, we’re franchising. So every weekend, I usually get a referral or two, just based on that.
Chad Franzen 32:35
Okay, wow. So, last question for you. What are your favorite books or maybe a podcast that maybe you or your husband have just found valuable? Kind of, especially through your entrepreneurial adventures?
Lauren Coulter 32:48
That’s a good question. I read a lot. My husband doesn’t read it all. We have, I would say from a business perspective, we’re, you know, obviously very small, very lean group. And we started this year in February or March using the traction, the EOS model book by Gino Wickham. And it has really transformed how we all work together. It’s also really helps clarify priorities. So from a hiring perspective, what what are we focused on, it’s just really been amazing to work through their system. And now to set us up for success. So that’s probably been the most beneficial from a, from a professional perspective. Now from a fun I love like, Oh, I love to read. I like historical fiction. I like it all. But I think learning how people you know, especially during COVID, I think I learned a lot more about empathy and being empathetic towards other people. And I read a couple of books, a wide variety, a variety of books, one of my favorites was, maybe you should talk to someone and it was all about the therapist and kind of the things that she saw in some of her clients. But it definitely gave me an appreciation for more of, you know, all of our feelings and what we’re dealing with on the inside, which I think we carry so much of that, you know, to our workspace, and if we can provide a safe space for our employees, I think there’ll be more loyal in the long run and just shows, you know, vulnerability and whatnot. So that would be my, my personal one as
Chad Franzen 34:43
well. Thank you. Thanks so much for sharing both of those with us. Hey, Lauren, I really appreciate your time today. It’s been a pleasure talking to you. Thanks so much and best of luck with Biscuit Belly moving forward. Thank you. So long, everybody.
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