Don’t recognize his name? Jeff Lobdell is the owner of Grand Rapids gems like The Omelette Shoppe, Bagel Beanery, Beltline Bar, and Sundance Grill. Yes, pretty much the only places in GR that I go for breakfast; and I’m sure I’m not the only one. He is now involved in 14 different restaurants and gets calls all the time with offers for more. He was born in Flint, MI, but grew up among the cherries of Traverse City. His dad was in the fast food franchising business, so you could say he was born to own a restaurant. His first taste was a job working as a busboy, which he said, “hooked me on the restaurant industry.” That lead him to major in Hotel Restaurant & Institutional Management at Michigan State. After that he worked at Cooker Bar & Grill, helping them open a couple restaurants.
Nugget of wisdom #1 for future entrepreneurs: “Work for someone else right out of school, so you can make mistakes with someone else’s money.”
In 1996, he decided to go out on his own and start his own business. He started the Bagel Beanery (on Michigan St) from what used to be an abandoned gas station. A couple years into owning the business, he found that starting a business from scratch was a lot harder than he thought.
Nugget of wisdom #2: Jeff recommends you buy an existing business if you can, rather than starting one from scratch. This has been where most of his success came from. One reason is that banks are more apt to lend money to a business with history.
In 2002, Jeff bought Beltline Bar, the owner was 63 and wanted to retire.
Nugget of wisdom #3: Networking is key. Jeff is a member of the Michigan Restaurant Association and has met a lot of his contacts in the industry though the organization. That is how he heard about the Beltline Bar.
So. moving forward t0 2004, Jeff bought The Omelette Shop, which started in Traverse City. Now there are four; two in Traverse and two in Grand Rapids. He also bought both Sundance Grills, Boone’s Prime Time Pub, and more recently Forest Hills Inn, bringing his total to 14. Now we have come full circle. Here are some final parting nuggets of wisdom from Jeff.
Nugget of wisdom #4: Jeff thinks coupons devalue your product, making it a place where people only go because they have a coupon.
Nugget of wisdom #5: “People who try to hold the reigns of the business too tightly do not allow it to grow.”
Nugget of wisdom #6: The hardest part about starting a business is cash flow management. You will inevitably go over budget and you have to be ready for it. A lot of restaurants stop paying their payroll taxes when money gets tight and go under when they are hit with the fines.