What it’s like to do business in the high country

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May 8, 2014
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Talking Shop Dave Freeman of Sagebrush BBQ & Grill

David Freeman, General Manager and joint owner, Sagebrush BBQ & Grill, 1101 Grand Avenue, Grand Lake

How long have you been in business? We’re just beginning our 16th year. We started on April 20, 1999

How did you get started in this business? I began as a waiter at a brand new Hyatt a million years ago. Even before the Hyatt opened I was promoted to the Assistant Food & Beverage Manager. That started me on my way to managing restaurants. In 1999 I found an opportunity to open a new restaurant in Grand Lake and took it.

Business mission statement: The customer comes first. Satisfy customers with a total positive experience: food, ambiance and service.

Success in the mission: We’ve always followed our mission which has allowed us to be consistently successful over the years. This is true even when the economy crashed in 2007-2008.

Challenges to the mission The biggest challenge to our mission is managing the seasonality of the business by providing consistently excellent service and food year-round to Grand Lake resident and the vacationer.

How do you cope with Grand County’s seasonal surges? With difficulty. We used to go from day-long waiting lists in July to a few locals in late November, April and May. But now we’re busier in these slow periods which helps us maintain quality staffing and outstanding food freshness. We are committed to staying open all year long, every day from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m. We are only closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas. This means that we lose money during the slow season.

What do you think is the biggest business barrier in Grand County? I believe that it’s the seasonal nature of Grand County’s business.

What do you think is your biggest business barrier on a state and/or national level? I don’t believe that there are any insurmountable barriers at the State or national because everyone in our business has to face the same rules: inspections, sales tax collections, employment rules, state and Federal taxes, etc.

What can government here do to help? I believe that our local government could help by providing grants to struggling businesses. In fact Grand Lake has initiated such a program. Further, it’s really important for our state and local governments to market the incredible experience in Grand County that will help the entire County grow at a reasonable rate.

How does your business give back to the community? We are a soft touch. Whenever a local fundraiser comes into the restaurant, we generally find a way to provide them with support — gift cards, a donation, advertising space, etc. All we do is local advertising. We’ve stopped all out-of-county advertising. For example, we have sponsored the Fire Department’s Chili Cook-off for several years.

Give examples of how you are environmentally responsible. We have all our grease recycled; we have all our paper/cardboard products recycled through Waste Management; and we try to use environmentally responsible materials in the restaurant.

How do you support other local businesses? We try to support all local businesses. I’m always available to help other businesses. Whether it’s another restaurant or a retail business. For example, we recently helped another restaurant have Peggy Mann perform at their restaurant.

How do you feel about direct competition? We believe that it’s really important to the overall success of Grand Lake to have a number of successful restaurants operating year round. This draws more customers, both tourists and other residents in Grand County. Overall, it makes our community stronger.

What business products or services do you get outside of Grand County? We buy our food from Sysco and US Foods, both of which are outside Grand County.

How do you market yourself? First of all, we market ourselves by following our mission: provide a quality experience to our guests at a reasonable price. And rely on word of mouth marketing by those who have experienced and like Sagebrush. Of course, we have a website and use FaceBook. Further, we only use local advertising.

What’s the main thing you have you learned in your years in business? You improve by learning from your mistakes.

Where do you go for help when you need it? I turn to others in the business, my employees and anyone who I think can help me. I love to bounce ideas off of anyone.

Who is your biggest business influence/mentor? I believe it was the early years in my restaurant experience with Hyatt.

What do you think is the most significant economic driver in Grand County? Local residents are the glue that holds our community together. This is augmented by tourism and second homeowners.

If you could go back in time and start up your business venture all over again, what would you do differently? Nothing. We started slowly and have grown in the same manner.

What’s the best compliment you received from a client/customer/guest? It’s hard to pick out one, but this one stands out from Travel Advisor: “My husband and I went for dinner on our vacation….We are from Iowa and know good beef. This is one of the best steak I’ve ever had. My husband’s barbecue was wonderful. Corn bread was like cake. I can’t say enough wonderful things about this meal.”

What do you consider to be your biggest mistake in business? I’m always reluctant to raise prices when food costs increased substantially. At times I’ve failed to make needed price increases. This caused some financial difficulty for us.

What organization(s) is (are) most useful to business owners? The Grand Lake Chamber and the Town of Grand Lake have been very helpful.

How much of a role does technology play in your business? We’ve had a point-of-sale system in place since the beginning. Last year we added a online system for booking reservations. I’m always looking for ways to use technology to improve the overall restaurant experience for our customers.

What are the technology challenges in your business? We’ve been on the cutting edge from day one and have found that technology is our friend. I believe that the most difficult challenge is anticipating what technology change will come to our business sector in the next few years.

What’s the general key to making a customer happy? Meeting their expectations: whether it’s the time they want to be served, the ambiance in the restaurant, the service or the quality of the food. In other words, the entire dining experience.

Is their any certain trend you’ve noticed in consumer habits lately? I believe that consumers are both looking for new things yet at the same time enjoying the tried and true.

What are some tricks such as signs or window displays that you’ve noticed work in attracting customers to your front door? The most important point is to ensure that you’re easy to find. Our location and signage helps ensure that.

What are some ways to keep up staff morale? I listen to their concerns and try to balance their personal needs with the requirements of the restaurant.

What are some ways you train your staff on an ongoing basis? For example, we had the State Food Inspector provide a briefing on food safety. We also ensure that any new server spends time as a busser. Further, our kitchen staff start out as food preparation and gradually work their way up to working on the line.

If you could give advice to a novice entrepreneur, what would it be? Make sure you know the basics and start small and listen to your customers. Also, don’t be afraid to make mistakes at this level. Small mistakes at the beginning will set you up for success in the future.

Most significant economic drive in Grand County?

“Local residents are the glue that holds our community together.”
Dave Freeman


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The Sky-Hi News Updated May 9, 2014 11:08AM Published May 9, 2014 11:05AM Copyright 2014 The Sky-Hi News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.