“Some people think that there is a monopoly on success, but there isn’t. If you work hard, you can be successful,” says Gary
“The restaurant business is the ultimate team sport,” says Gary Brackett, former NFL player and CEO of American-based sports bar franchise Stacked Pickle. “Everyone must work together to make it a great party.”
You may know Gary Brackett as the Indianapolis Colts’ defensive captain and Super Bowl Champion. However, since his retirement from professional football in 2012, he has kept busy transitioning into a successful franchisor of up-and-coming sports bar brand Stacked Pickle.
His first foray into franchising was when he purchased a competitor sports bar. However, it needed to be built from the ground up, spending $2 million on the location. “That wasn’t something I felt comfortable with because I wasn’t 100 per cent sure,” he explains. “I then met with the founder of Stacked Pickle, Chris Long, we started a business relationship, and I was able to invest.”
Since Gary got involved in the Stacked Pickle franchise operation, the business soon went from two restaurants to six, while he also got his MBA in Entrepreneurship/Entrepreneurial Studies from George Washington University. He then bought Chris Long out in 2013 and has been at the helm of the business ever since.
Gary currently owns 10 corporate locations and has four franchises, with the most recent unit being built at Indianapolis airport, which will open in January 2020.
As international franchising has always been the end goal for the ex-NFL player, Global Franchise sits down with the CEO to discuss the beginnings of his sports bar empire.
How did the process to franchise Stacked Pickle begin?
Gary Brackett: When I purchased the brand, my goal was always to franchise—I looked at our model as simple but not easy.
Over the years in football, we would implement playbooks and my goal here was to create a playbook so I could teach someone else, through franchising, to establish and run their own Stacked Pickle. I then got accredited as a CFE (Certified Franchise Expert), went to numerous conferences, and put in the work to understand what being a franchisor involved and how to successfully bring onboard and set up franchisees for success.
We are looking at franchising with the end in mind. We want to create a business that can expand nationally and with a sports bar, it is simpler as you don’t have to explain the menu to people. I see us opening 20 stores in a year. However, I want to grow responsibly.
From a neighborhood perspective, our food hits a big demographic and our systems internally are cloud-based. For instance, our training program gives us the ability to scale and train without needing something physical in our backyard.
Going international is definitely the plan. We have had opportunities, but it must be with the right partner. There are people that are with other brands and understand what is involved to take a business overseas. We are always open to the conversation and the goal is to be overseas.
The F&B industry is a highly competitive space. Since offering the model up for franchising, how has it been received?
Gary Brackett: People are excited. Most of the time people get discouraged when they look at the price tag for a full-service model. Some of our competitors charge anywhere from $1.5 to $2 million to open a restaurant. For someone that wants to grow or if it is their first-time franchising that number is just too large to even try.
“I wanted to be sure that we were going above and beyond for our franchisees.”
Our costs start at $450,000. In our model, we look at second-generation locations. These are locations that were restaurants once upon a time but closed because of something other than where it was based. This is a big cost-saver as I believe that more important than the visual look is what you do once the doors are open. It is about the quality of your food and service.
Why was it important to become a CFE?
Gary Brackett: It was important to figure out if we were even capable of franchising. I held back a few years because I wanted to make sure everything was ironed out. It was about educating myself, understanding the new regulatory laws and what could be said on discovery days. I wanted to be sure that we were going above and beyond for our franchisees.
What are some of the biggest milestones for the business?
Gary Brackett: Selling the first franchise in March 2018 and now getting Stacked Pickle into the Indianapolis airport. It is a prestigious honor as it has been named the number one airport for the last four or five years. Having our sports bar at an international airport will increase the visibility of the brand and show people that we are worthy to be part of that type of accommodation.
How does Stacked Pickle work with the community?
Gary Brackett: The first thing we do is sign up for the local chamber of commerce which helps us get involved as a local business. Next, we organize several ‘dine to donates’. Our grand openings are generally ‘dine to donate’ fundraisers, where some of the proceeds go directly back into the community.
It is a way to show that we are here to serve, and a part of serving is being a part of the community and doing what you can to help.
How would people describe you?
Gary Brackett: As a serving leader. I want to know how I can make their job easier. I look at it as they don’t work for me, but I work for them. My job is to serve them and if I make their jobs easier, they, in turn, will make mine easier.
Any advice for those deciding to take the plunge into business?
Gary Brackett: In life, everything seems difficult until you achieve it. If you are a franchisee or franchisor, you think that there is a monopoly on success, but there isn’t. If you work hard, you can be successful.
I believe in the notion that nothing is impossible if you work hard, smart and are dedicated. There are no limits. The only limits are the ones you put on yourself. If you put in enough time, you have a shot.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amanda Peters is a staff writer for Global Franchise and What Franchise.