Entrepreneur and Dealmaker Greg Cutchall
Recently I posted a story I did on Godfather’s Pizza founder Willy Theisen, and here’s a piece on a friend of Theisen’s, Greg Cutchall, who’s made his own mark in the restaurant field in Omaha and beyond.
Entrepreneur and Dealmaker Greg Cutchall
©by Leo Adam Biga
Originally appeared in B2B Magazine
As a boy working in his father’s South Omaha A&W drive-in Greg Cutchall couldn’t imagine anything else besides being a restauranteur. His dad, Ray Cutchall, and uncle, Bob Cutchall, owned several A&Ws and Kentucky Fried Chickens.
Helping out at his father’s A&W in the summers became a rite of summer for young Greg, who lived the rest of the year in Tucson, Arizona with his mother and siblings. His folks divorced when he was small. He recalls working trash cleanup and dish washing details at the restaurant. He wanted to be just like his dad when he grew up and run his own fast food joint.
By his late teens though he found a new passion in photography. He enrolled at the University of Nebraska at Omaha fully intent on staying one year and then furthering his photo training in California. But his studies took a back seat to earning money from the portraits he shot and from an Indian jewelry shop he and a brother opened at the Westroads Mall.
The lure of restaurants changed his plans as he ended up managing one of his dad’s KFC stores. A catering program Cutchall developed there caught the attention of KFC big-wigs and he soon became a rising star in the national chain.
“We were doing catering but pretty haphazardly. There were no systems in place. Nobody had really gone after the budget or economy niche. I saw the opportunity. I redeveloped the packaging, came up with a marketing plan, and it just took off like gangbusters,” says Greg. “It went from $20,000 to a half million dollars a year in like three years.”
That success led KFC corporate to hire the college drop-out to consult executives and franchisors, many of them twice his age, on how to exploit this untapped market. He also presented at the National Restaurant Association convention.
He was only 23. Such early affirmation confirmed for Cutchall his future lay in food.
“That gave me credibility. Confidence is important in this business. You’ve got to have faith in yourself and then work really hard to prove you can do it.”
After his father’s death, his uncle and partners looked to retire and in 1986 Cutchall purchased KFC’s Omaha franchise. He raised $1 million from investors to secure $4 million from RJ Reynolds Tobacco, who owned KFC at the time. He says “it was unheard of” for someone his age — then 35 — and with limited assets to land a loan of such size. “Only because of my track record in the industry was I able to organize a $5 million leveraged buyout. That’s how I was able to put that deal together. I was actually the youngest KFC franchisee in the country. It felt like the fast food version of a rock star.”
When, in 1989, he was bought out by his then-partners, he found himself starting over.
“I was a little bitter the way I was pushed out.” But he’s friends today with those ex-partners, who he now views as doing him a favor. “I look back at it as they really gave me an opportunity to have my own company.”
He formed Cutchall Management Co. and quickly built a portfolio of properties. Today, as president and CEO, he has 55 restaurants in six states, with Sonic, Famous Dave’s, Paradise Bakery & Cafe, Domino’s Pizza, Tin Star sand Twin Peaks stores.
“I’ve opened a multitude of different concepts, but I’ve always had at least one or two restaurants or franchises in my portfolio that were my own creations and right now its Burger Star.”
For Cutchall to invest in a concept, he says, it must be “best-in-class.”
CMC’s restaurants and catering division do combined sales in excess of $1million per week. His restaurants are strategically placed around the metro. His cateringomaha.com caters several of his concepts’ product lines at everything from weddings to air shows and at many popular venues, including TD Ameritrade Park, CenturyLink Center and Werner Park. Catering corporate events is a big segment and one way CMC feeds the demand is with Progressive Park, an 18-acre corporate picnic facility on the Missouri River.
Cutchall’s success is not surprising given how long he’s been steeped in the industry. By the time he was 13, he says, “I was fully trained on line to cook everything” on the A&W menu. Besides, the business was in his blood. His dad and uncle are both Omaha Hospitality Hall of Fame inductees. Greg may end up there, too. “I am in no hurry for that honor,” he says.”I still have more things I want to accomplish first, but it would be a great honor.”
Just as his dad and uncle experienced ups and downs, so has Greg. Through it all, he’s learned what it takes to realize a vision.
“Having the right idea, having the right product, having a great business plan and sticking to it,” he says. “Not being afraid of putting everything on the line. My first 10 business deals when I went on my own I put my own house on the line.
“Now I’m a little smarter about it, but when I first got going I was really stretching, opening too many restaurants too fast, undercapitalized, but that’s how you learn, and the motivation was there not to lose my house. Sometimes my entrepreneurial spirit (still) does get ahead of my business sense.”
Good people are vital, too — in the office, the field, the kitchen, behind the counter. He says as CMC’s diversified the importance of the right people in the right jobs has only increased. “I am fortunate to have surrounded myself with great people that go the extra mile when needed to make things happen.” His vice president/COO, Tim Griggs, is also his managing partner in Sonic.
“He is probably the best deal maker I have ever seen,” Griggs says of Cutchall. “He’s the kind of guy that just never slows down. He looks at more deals in probably a month than I do in a lifetime. When he sees opportunities it’s amazing how he can get it done and bring it to reality.”
As a “pretty hands-on” owner Cutchall stays abreast of his divisions’ performance via real-time, on-line monitoring and nightly reports.
“I’m not as technically sophisticated as I should be for the size of my company,” says Cutchall, “but I have people who are and I know where to find them. But in the big picture, I understand all the moving parts of the business.”
He says his experience in so many facets, from food quality and customer satisfaction to location development and marketing to securing financing, “has helped us be successful.”
He has a knack for finding the right location and turning around under-performing sites.
“If your basics are there, if you’ve got a good product, a good name, good service, the thing that takes you from a $2 million restaurant to a $3 million restaurant is location. We get calls every week from franchisors who want us to develop their brand or from somebody who wants to take over their restaurant that’s not making it.”
With four locations under progress to open in 2012, Cutchall is plenty busy. As CMC evolves and adapts, he says, more new locations may arise but for now “our real focus is how can we improve what we have.” When not in the office or traveling on business he enjoys golfing and spending time with his wife Molly and their son. The family has a winter home in Arizona.
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