Tom Fricke is the CEO of Bar Louie, a gastrobar with over 70 locations across the US. Tom has a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the United States Naval Academy and an MBA from Stanford University. He was a Naval Intelligence Officer in the US Navy for five years and has over three decades of leadership experience in multiple industries, including consumer products, retail, and restaurants.
Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:
- Tom Fricke talks about what makes Bar Louie different
- How does regional culture influence each Bar Louie location?
- Tom discusses how the pandemic reshaped the bar experience
- Tom explains how his naval career helped him excel in food and hospitality
- Tom’s thoughts on the future of Bar Louie
In this episode…
In this episode of the SpotOn Series, Chad Franzen speaks with Tom Fricke about Bar Louie and the effects that the pandemic had on the gastrobar experience. As the company’s CEO, Tom dives deep into the challenges he faced and the changes that kept Bar Louie successful during and after the height of the pandemic. Stay tuned!
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Welcome to the Top Business Leaders Show. Powered by Rise25 Media. We featured top founders, executives and business leaders from all over the world
Chad Franzen 0:20
Chad Franzen 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 spot on restaurant where they combine marketing software and payments all in one. They’ve served 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 great relationships with clients, referral partners and thought leaders in your space, there is no better way to do it than through podcasts and content marketing. To learn more, go to Rise25media.com or email us at [email protected] Tom Fricke is CEO of Bar Louie, a gastrobar was 72 locations across the United States. He’s an energetic, versatile Senior Operating executive with over 30 years of experience and living transformational change in multiple industries, including consumer products, retail and restaurants both domestically and internationally. Tom has a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the United States Naval Academy and an MBA from Stanford. He spent five years as a naval intelligence officer in the US Navy. He’s been with Bar Louie since 2017. Tom, thank you so much for joining me today. How are you?
Tom Fricke 1:41
It’s my pleasure. How are you?
Chad Franzen 1:43
Good. Thank you. So tell me a little bit about Bar Louie. I’ve I’ve been to a couple locations in Colorado 72 across the country, what kind of an atmosphere is it? And what can people expect when they go there?
Tom Fricke 1:54
Well, you know what, it’s a magical atmosphere. And I think that’s what drew me to Bar Louie in 2017 when the opportunity came up, work gastrobar. So it’s actually a new segment that we spearheaded it’s spirit led beverage program. So most people have heard of gastropubs gastropubs are typically beer led from a from a beverage standpoint, where spirit led We’re known for our martinis, We’re known for our cocktails, which are were absolutely terrific. You know, we’re the kind of environment where you just go to forget everything, you know, you go in with friends, or you go in by yourself and you make friends. But it’s this really truly magical environment where you just sort of forget everything, you have this great time and you know that they’re your concerns or your worries or your thoughts are waiting for you at the door. But while you’re in Bar Louie, it’s just as a it’s just as a place to relax and have a great time.
Chad Franzen 2:44
On Bar Louie’s website. It says we listen to our neighborhoods and let them shape us not the other way around. What does that mean to a customer?
Tom Fricke 2:51
Well, you know, it’s, it’s unlike other chains, our bars are all a little bit different. You know, we have we have a similar look and feel to them. But but they really kind of fit into the, into the, into the local environment. With the music department, they play with the people we hire, and now with our menus. So you know, even though we’re a national chain, we have regional content now on our menus. So you go to the south, there’s there’s food unique to the south, you go to the north, there’s food that’s sort of unique to the north. And it’s been it’s something we’ve been working out for a while. And this menu that just launched two weeks ago is the first time we have a concerted effort to have regional content to the menu now. You have
Chad Franzen 3:33
you’ve been there since 2017. As I mentioned, how does how do the challenges that you faced, you know, being part of the restaurant industry and with Bar Louie during during that period, compared to maybe some of the other challenges you faced as an executive during your career?
Tom Fricke 3:48
Yeah, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s not the intensity of the challenges we face, it’s the duration of the challenges we face, right. So so I’ve had an opportunity to do a lot of transformational work. And any, anytime you do transformational work, there’s intense problems. It’s just that with COVID, they’ve been going on for two years now. So, you know, for us, it’s it’s that I think more than anything else, and just the the need to constantly be reinventing yourself, you know, through these last two years have been it’s really been the biggest challenge we’ve faced
Chad Franzen 4:19
it tell me about the kind of impact COVID has had on the Bar Louie brand.
Tom Fricke 4:24
Sure, you know, I mean, if you look at Bar Louie coming into COVID We didn’t have a delivery business and we did it on purpose because we felt our environment was so special and so unique. We wanted people coming into the bar to experience the great atmosphere and everything going on at Bar Louie. So when COVID hit we literally at at Pearl in early 2020 had every bar shut down. And so you know, we were being told, hey, this you can still deliver but we didn’t have a delivery business. So, you know for us that really set pace of change for the next 24 months because we literally had to create a delivery business overnight. So from the time we first shut down, within six weeks, we had delivery partnerships established with six different providers. And we’ve been changing and evolving ever since.
Chad Franzen 5:16
How has the in store business gone? You know, since things have, I guess, kind of lightened up loosened up?
Tom Fricke 5:24
Yeah, our last bars sort of were able to open in July of this year. So we have bars and California bars in Michigan, but in bars in Illinois, which are the sort of the last three states to to open up. In our case, we made the conscious decision and strategic decision to really focus on guest experience. So we continued to restrict access to some of the bars, or were reduced capacity and some of the bars if we couldn’t staff adequately enough to take care of a guest. That was particularly you know, keen in late night. So our late night business continues to evolve as we, as we try to get bars open and is. And look, a lot of our late night business came from industry around us. And a lot of retailers were closing early. And you know that what we talked about a lot. During COVID, United States really became a nine to five business nine to five country, right? I mean, there wasn’t a whole lot of late night, anything going on anywhere, during COVID. And I think we’re really still as a country trying to reengage that late night element to our economy. And so you know, our late night business, our three day parts, lunch, Happy Hour and dinner doing terrific. You know, that just is great, but we were still a little soft. On the late night side,
Chad Franzen 6:42
you have been, you’ve held numerous C suite executive positions, as I mentioned, you were CEO of HMS host, which is part of the restaurant industry, and also CEO of cartridge worldwide, which is not how is the restaurant industry in terms of just, you know, managing or working or leading an organization different from maybe an organization that’s not in the restaurant industry.
Tom Fricke 7:06
You noticed that direct link to your guests. And because I was also CEO in three different locations at Frito-Lay, right. So there’s a consumer element to restaurants, you’ve, you’ve always got to be innovating, you’ve always got to make sure that your guests, but even with Frito-Lay there was always an intermediary. So you were working hard on the on the packaged goods for the guests, and you were really responding to changes in taste, tastes and preference. But you were still going through store owners. So I think with restaurants, what I really enjoy about restaurants is you you interact with your guests, there’s no intermediary, it’s a it’s a face to face interaction at all times. And that’s exciting. Because you really can control that, that that, that interaction and, you know, work very closely with your guests to make sure you’re meeting their needs.
Chad Franzen 7:53
Is that something that you even as a CEO, think about on a day to day basis? You know, if people might think of a CEO or somebody in an office somewhere, you know, not worrying about how one customer feels?
Tom Fricke 8:05
No, we worry about every guest, you know, we we consolidate our online reviews, we look very closely at our online reviews. So we have a service that consolidates the top 1012 online review sites. We look at it every week, we talk about it every week, we have our general managers respond to guests who are dissatisfied as quickly as they can. And so, look we’re in we’re in that business. I mean, we take we take the guests interaction extremely, extremely serious here. And it’s a big focus for us.
Chad Franzen 8:40
You talked about the atmosphere at Bar Louie, my wife and I were we were at we were at Bar Louie and we were watching a game maybe getting a drink before a movie. And then we went to the movie. And then we thought, well, we don’t want to just show back up at the same place. So we’ll go to a different place. And we we went to a competitor nearby. And then we walked in, looked around. We’re just like, we’re just going back to Bar Louie. What what is what is it about our How do you what kind of an influence do you have on the culture inside the restaurant?
Tom Fricke 9:11
Well, that’s first of all, that’s great to hear. So that story we appreciate hearing that. Well, look, it’s It starts by what we talked about. We talked about guest experience every week. You know, we talked to our our team members, we talked to our general managers about guests experience, it’s what we do. I mean, we’ve really worked hard to revamp our menu menu has been revamped to make our guests happier. We talk about our certain levels of service. We have strict programs in terms of how our team members are supposed to interact with guests, we train to it. It you know, we start unfinished with guests experience and it is absolutely something you know, that we focus on at all levels of the organization and I think it’s my focus on it and you know the But the fact that we continue to talk about it makes the difference.
Chad Franzen 10:03
What goes into setting the culture in terms of, you know, each each location if, you know if you want it to be a positive experience for the guests what goes into setting that kind of atmosphere?
Tom Fricke 10:14
Well, that’s a I mean, that’s a great question. And we leave a lot of that to the general manager and the team because the because our locations are so different. So you know, we have a location just outside of Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, or we have state we have locations just between the two stadiums Pittsburgh or North Shore location, you know, what goes on in those bars are completely different than what goes on in a bar that might be located in a Lifestyle Center in one of the suburbs, right, it’s a it’s a different atmosphere, it’s a different challenge. And so it we really work with the general managers and teams to make to kind of morph what we do to fit that location. And it’s interesting, we talk to our guests, they all know Bar Louie national chain, but they all feel their Bar Louie a little bit different, you know, and a lot of our guests have gone to multiple locations will come visit us when they’re traveling around the road or visiting friends or relatives, and they all kind of like their Bar Louie and feel their Bar Louie is a bit special. And I think it’s because of the way our teams worked really kind of integrate themselves into the local market.
Chad Franzen 11:18
You earned an engineering degree at the US Naval Academy and you were a naval intelligence officer for five years, how did that experience and that education help you over the course of your career? And even so right now?
Tom Fricke 11:31
Well, you know, I think the engineering degree really teach us the scientific method, I haven’t really done a lot of mechanical engineering. Since I left school, I did a little bit when I was in the Navy, but for the most part that just teaches you how to assign apply the scientific method to problem solve. And I think, you know, when you look at sort of how leadership in general has changed with the emergence of data, I mean, the data involved in making decisions now, when you go back 30 years ago, you know, we have far more data far more instant read, you know, there’s a lot more analytics and what we do now than we did when I started 30 years ago. And so that certainly was helped that the Navy experience really is, how do you manage change? How do you manage complexity? How do you how do you lead organizations? And so I think it did it did those two things. For me, it really taught me the rigor of the scientific method, and then it really, from a leadership standpoint, that experience was second to none.
Chad Franzen 12:28
Who are some mentors, if you can think of any that have been valuable for you over the course of your career?
Tom Fricke 12:35
Yeah, I would say to, you know, when I left consulting, and went to work at Pepsi, I had the great fortune of working on the this, the Chairman of the Board staff at PepsiCo, the chairman at the time was Wayne Calloway. i He’s he’s still to me is the role model of what a what a CEO or Chairman of the Board should be. I mean, he was just was just a remarkable, remarkable business executive. And then they have the opportunity to present him twice a month and spend so much time with him, I think, really, is the role model in terms of how I try to act from a from an executive standpoint. And then the second one would be Haley Oviedo, who was the head of international snack foods at Pepsi, and there was no one. I’ve never run across anybody who’s a better operator than Rayleigh was. And so, you know, he really taught me you know, how to how to run a business and how to manage your business from an analytic standpoint. And from a from a thoughts to strategic standpoint. So those two would be the two that I would hold to the highest regard.
Chad Franzen 13:42
COVID has taken a toll on restaurants is probably taking a toll on Bar Louie, what are some goals that you have kind of, you know, moving forward in terms of with Bar Louie, and how it how it will look in the future?
Tom Fricke 13:54
Yeah, our our first goal we’ve achieved so we’re now you know, driving growth in excess of 2019. So, you know, the, the first one was, just to try it? Well, our first goal was to get back over again. So we’ve gotten everybody back open again, then the second goal was to try and, you know, start showing positive comp growth, which we’ve done, so we’re in good shape there, we now want to get the rest of the bars open to a full operating schedule. So we still have some bars in some of the last markets to open where we’re working through staffing challenges and some of the other issues to get fully open. We expect to have that happen in the next three, four weeks. And then next year is going to really be around trying to figure out how to manage the middle of the p&l a little bit better, because obviously, cost the sales is inflating at a pretty high rate, labor, labor costs are going up at a pretty high rate. So we’ve we’ve got some middle the p&l challenges we’ll have to work through next year.
Chad Franzen 14:47
I have one last question for you. But first, just tell me how people can find out more information about Bar Louie.
Tom Fricke 14:52
Well, we have a website. So please come to the website. You can find the nearest Bar Louie. You can see the menu right agreed things going on and then come visit us. Because if you come visit us, I know you’ll become regulars.
Chad Franzen 15:04
So my final question, what are some of your favorite books or podcasts that you kind of have found valuable or you’ve enjoyed reading or listening to?
Tom Fricke 15:12
Well, you know, it’s funny, I read a lot of nonfiction. So I read. I just finished Marcus Aurelius memoir, you know, his his notes, which was a fascinating read. I read a lot of military history, because business and military, there’s a reason that they’re analogous. Right. And so, I read a lot from the great leaders in history. In, you know, I was somebody asked me the other day about business books, and I don’t really read them, because I think, you know, what you’re really doing is paying an author to go through non history, nonfiction them and draw their own conclusions, I’d rather go through it myself and draw mine. And so yeah, you know, so mostly,
Chad Franzen 15:59
what is it about military history? Can you give me an A specific example of maybe something that you take from military history that you found valuable, you know, day to day or in your career?
Tom Fricke 16:09
Yeah, you know, I think reading military history, you know, what the things that I pick up on is just the resiliency, you need to be successful. There isn’t a military leader, famous military leader that hasn’t suffered losses, there isn’t a famous military leader that hasn’t, it faced situations that most people would have thought were impossible that they haven’t been able to overcome, overcome. And I think if you look at the COVID challenge, it was interesting, early in COVID, we made the decision early on that it was the greatest opportunity we ever had as a business, not not the worst opportunity, but the greatest opportunity, because it allowed us to rethink the entire business. And when the bars were closed, and you were running, just delivery only, we had time to fix things that we just had never been able to fix did. Unfortunately, an old naval officer, the analogy I used was, you know, that was like putting the boat dry dock. And, and, you know, when the boats in drydock, you get the most work done, and you get to do things that you can’t do when you’re underway or at sea. So from our standpoint, we really looked at it as this greatest opportunity that we ever had. And we completely transformed ourselves. And when we were in that process, and we concluded early on, nobody was going to help us. Right? It was interesting when I was going through podcasts, and I was on calls, and I was on, you know, group discussions with other CEOs. So many of the other businesses, were looking for somebody to save them. And they were saying I need PPP money, or I need landlords to give me rent reductions or you know, whatever it was, and they were just sort of almost sitting back waiting for somebody else to save them. And we took it early on that it was on us. And we were going to side we were going to survive because of our efforts. And if people helped us great, but we weren’t counting on anybody’s help. And in fact, we didn’t get round one TPP money. So we that’s a lesson for military history. You know, I mean, just the fact that you got to fight through it on your own. Nobody’s going to save you, you know, and your fate is in your own hands. And that’s certainly something that comes through. You read anybody, that’s what you come across. You know, whether it’s Churchill, Washington, you read about any of them, they faced impossible situations and just work through it on their own with what they have.
Chad Franzen 18:29
That’s a great perspective. I appreciate you sharing that. Hey, I really appreciate your time today. Tom, thanks so much. It was great to talk to you. It was my
Tom Fricke 18:35
pleasure. Thank you. Thank you so long, everyone.
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