Jimmy Seidel from Snarf's Sandwiches Talks About Growing His Business
In this Stickers on the Mic episode, Hamish sits down with Jimmy Siedel, the owner and founder of Snarf's Sandwiches. Tune in to hear the history of how Snarf's got started, and has grown to multiple locations on the Front Range, and all the way to St. Louis, as well as the exciting new launch of Snarfburgers.
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[00:00:04] Announcer: Welcome to the Stickers on the Mic Podcast brought to you by stickergiant.com. If you're joining us for the first time, welcome, and if you're a regular listener thanks for tuning in as we talk about business, marketing, and growth with our customers.
[00:00:18] Hamish: Welcome back to the Stickers on the Mic Podcast. My name is Hamish and I'll be your host for this episode. I'm really happy to be back in the studio and welcoming a new guest. Here with me today is Jimmy Seidel, the founder of Snarf's Sandwiches. Jimmy, welcome to the show. We're obviously really appreciative of you here, and we want to hear all about Snarf’s, a little bit about your own personal story before you led up to opening the restaurant.
[00:00:43] Jimmy Seidel: I was living in Chicago, really enjoying the city but it was time to make a change and decided the best place to get out of a city would be come to the mountains, come out to Boulder, was familiar with Boulder and been developing the concept of Snarf’s for some time. I wanted to make that move, I made it in the spring of '95 just on a whim, never really worked in restaurants before. I spent a lot of time in them. I love food, I love hanging out in the bars and restaurants, just thought I got something to offer with this concept, and thought the best place to do it would be coming out to Colorado, that's what led up to me being here instead of doing it in Chicago.
[00:02:05] Hamish: Yes, really, you were after a change of pace, get out of the city and maybe follow a passion project-
[00:02:11] Jimmy: Absolutely.
[00:02:12] Hamish: - that you wanted to do. Aside from obviously being a patron in restaurants and stuff like that, did you have any experience in catering and restaurants, anything like that?
[00:02:22] Jimmy: I think when I was 16 my first job was a busboy in a pretty fun little restaurant and bar in St. Louis, but beyond that no, I had zero experience in a restaurant.
[00:02:43] Hamish: Cool.
[00:02:44] Jimmy: I've been trading options and derivatives in Chicago after college for about eight years when I decided a change of pace was in order.
[00:02:57] Hamish: After you moved to Colorado, how long was it until you actually pulled the trigger on opening your first location?
[00:03:05] Jimmy: When I came to town I immediately took a job at a subway on Pearl Street Mall, then spent the time when I wasn't working there further developing my restaurant, putting together sourcing of products, looking for the right location, and nothing really popped out at me in the beginning. I was really spending time trying to understand the market, even back then in '95, rents were considerable. My financial abilities were restricted let's say, ended up finding a little shack on Pearl Street that was 650 square feet and pulled the trigger on that, made that my home.
[00:04:12] Hamish: Nice. I guess rent seems like it was a big challenge on those early days, talk us through that process of idea to actual storefront, you were obviously designing menus, suppliers, things like that.
[00:04:27] Jimmy: You have an idea about what the sandwich should be and how it should taste, the textures from the meats to what type of mustard you want to supply, you end up tasting a lot of different things. You want to source the best products, the cleanest products, at least for Snarfs, different sandwich shops have different perspectives on what they're trying to achieve, we were trying to achieve a really incredible sandwich, a wonderful product.
I have a picture of every great sandwich I've ever had in my head, I carried that around with me and when I was trying to recreate what I remembered, I didn't create the hot dog bacon and cheese sandwich but I've been carrying that around for years and I loved it so much, when I recreated it at least I wanted to achieve that from my memory, I wanted the feeling that I had for the first time I had it and bring that back to life. Pretty much all the sandwiches that I've added to my menu over the years they're recreating something that I've had that I really enjoyed at some point in my life traveling or in other restaurants.
[00:06:27] Hamish: I think that's a really great personal touch how you've designed all of the recipes on the menu and you obviously have a really strong focus on quality, a way to stand out in what it's probably a very crowded market to really put your stamp on delivering really high-quality food to people.
[00:06:46] Jimmy: Well, it's been a lot of fun and you have to really-- If you're going to compete at the highest levels, it's got to be on quality and having a clean product that makes you feel good after you eat it. Otherwise, you can battle at the other spectrum, at the bottom of the spectrum for price. I never really considered that as what I was trying to achieve here, I wanted my sandwich to be the best, to be as good as any other sandwich out there, that you can't say that there's another sandwich better than Snarfs. We want to be considered right there at the very top with other good brands.
[00:07:37] Hamish: Yes, I think it's a great approach. There's plenty of fast food places at that lower end of the spectrum and you would really be entering a very crowded market if you came in there. Speaking from experience, you guys deliver that promise of quality.
[00:07:51] Jimmy: Yes, absolutely.
[00:07:53] Hamish: I'm a big fan as well.
[00:07:54] Jimmy: Thank you.
[00:07:56] Hamish: I think it's quite unique about you is you have this really unique branding like these quirky cartoons on your cups and the bright colors in the store that was obviously a strategy you used to stand out in the beginning, talk to me a little bit about that, how did you come up with it, how's it evolved over time?
[00:08:14] Jimmy: It's more of like who I am, it's my flair, it's what I-- I think of myself as a little bit of an artist, a little bit of a creator of sorts. I like fun places where you relaxed, I want a relaxed place but I don't want it sterilized. I want people to feel comfortable when they enter a Snarf's shop. A lot of people don't understand it because the colors are bright and fun. They're used to going into these institutional or corporate facilities, everybody's got a little of the same cap on, everybody's got the same uniform, and we wanted it more casual, more about us and who we are, who the people that work for us are. I think it works really well for what we're trying to create.
[00:09:30] Hamish: I think you guys definitely deliver a culture around Snarf's. You have a great following and that's part of how you build your customer base is having something unique about the business that people are really drawn to.
[00:09:44] Jimmy: I thank you. It's always great to really develop a cult-like following, I think we've achieved that in spades. People really have taken it as their place and not even so much. It's even more than Snarf's is their place. It's which Snarf's location they identify with because when we were out there and meet people, they tell us that Pearl streets, their Snarf's location or their store rather, and/or Capitol Hill or with South Broadway. They really take ownership of where their story is and they think that their Snarf's shop is a better Snarf's shop than all the other ones.
[00:10:38] Hamish: Yes, they're all competing against one another. I think that's a great transition as well. Obviously, you started out with this one location and you said before you were drafting there for three or four years, every day. How did you transition into a second location and then a third, a fourth, and so many more that you have now?
[00:10:58] Jimmy: That's a very difficult problem. I think that a lot of entrepreneurs get caught when they do make those moves. They've worked very hard and they've created a very successful business and trying to replicate that or grow it, there is many, many problems that are faced by them. I guess what I would say, what's been most successful for me is the ability or the luck of having great employees. They took ownership and really we were able to develop them and maintain the feeling as we moved it.
The original feeling of the original place and then replicate that in different locations, in different neighborhoods and keep the Snarf feeling, the “Snarfiness” of the place. We were lucky when we were able to achieve that and people bought it and embraced it. It's all about the people that we have in the stores, the people that greet you when you first walk in, to the managers and the AGMs (Assistant General Managers) that make the place run.
[00:12:28] Hamish: Yes, it sounds like your staff really drive that culture rather than it being a top-down thing, it's almost like a bottom up.
[00:12:34] Jimmy: It's absolutely. The guys that are on the line that make the restaurants work.
[00:12:41] Hamish: How did your role change then as that happened from being in the trenches every day for three years and then suddenly you're maybe a little bit on top of things, looking at multiple locations and I guess managers underneath you and then staff as well?
[00:12:58] Jimmy: Well, I couldn't have done it without friends and people that worked for me, that helped me let go because I was answering every question. Everything that came up came through me but first four or five locations, essentially we had managers in the stores with no systems wrapped around the business and the people that were managing those stores were directly trained by me and worked for me. Over time, there were people who left and did other things and we replaced them with other people that hadn't spent the time with me.
They started to drift and then every little thing that came up, I would have to answer how to get to answer, how to achieve to move beyond the problems that we were having. Then a miracle, I brought somebody in that helped me build systems around, all the things that we did, day-to-day operations and had people that could handle the issues that came up. We have different directors and marketing and operations and maintenance and all these things we know would eat up my day, my phone would never stop ringing. Letting go and putting people in place and letting them do their jobs was a difficult transition for me as the creator and the guy that just was managing everything at the time.
[00:15:00] Hamish: I'm sure that's tough for you personally to let go, but also you have to have build those processes before you can hand it off and know that you're handing it off to the right people. We talk a lot here about our proven process and there's no shortcuts, there's no magic formula. It's like you have a process and you figure it out and then you teach it to everyone and then it works.
[00:15:24] Jimmy: Right, we had to create all that. For a time, we were struggling with the answers and how to get it done and we didn't have any experience in multi-units or really running a business of that size. We were making sandwiches and that's what we focused on, but now we have been running a business in a corporation now. It went from a sandwich shop to a business. Now we're running a corporate structure, but we don't want that corporate structure to interfere with the original concept of having a sandwich shop and having a local feel to it. That's a balancing. There's a lot you want to maintain, things that have to be achievable every day.
[00:16:25] Hamish: Would you have any advice for other business owners who might be in the same situation between balancing-
[00:16:32] Jimmy: Don't do it.
[00:16:32] Hamish: - and being able to run a business and trying to maintain your kind of family feel that you started with?
[00:16:39] Jimmy: No, I think that that's the right thing. I was kidding. It's difficult and you challenge yourself every day to make the moves, but you don't want to give up the control that you've built and that you understand. People need that, they need that growth of the people that you bring around you and for your business to thrive, you're going to have to step back, take a breath, give these people an opportunity to do the job that you've obviously think they can do.
[00:17:24] Hamish: Yes, absolutely. Delegate to elevate is the phrase that gets thrown around here a little bit.
[00:17:29] Jimmy: Yes, I agree.
[00:17:30] Hamish: You have to let that stuff go. In terms of growth, tell me a little about Snarfburger because that's a new avenue for the business.
[00:17:40] Jimmy: We're having a lot of fun with that. For years, I've been running around visiting my stores and I'd come in and make hamburgers for the staff and we really enjoyed them and it was just a fun thing for me to do, but this little shack on Arapahoe became available. The Ol’ Daddy Bruce location, which is a total of 350 square feet and just fell in love with the location and the shack and I thought that this would be a great place to bring to life the burgers.
I've had a lot of fun doing it. We're going to have two more here in the next few months and looking for other opportunities to expand the burgers. We'll have two in Denver and one in Boulder and looking for opportunities to grow it. It's well received, again, we focus on food and I think we hit it.
[00:19:01] Hamish: Let the food do the talking, I guess.
[00:19:03] Jimmy: Yes.
[00:19:05] Hamish: I guess it's a good transition to-- I know you said you brought on teams like marketing and stuff like that. How is that structured now? You have a marketing team that's out there promoting Snarf's bugger in your new locations?
[00:19:20] Jimmy: We have a marketing team that's promoting everything Snarf, so Snarfburger, as you break into other markets, we don't have the recognition that we have in this market, it's very difficult. It's a hard job, it's like starting all over again and you need a good team. You need a good marketing group behind you and I can't say anything more. I mean, really marketing is a key to your success to continue to grow the concept. Especially as you try to open up beyond where you're well-known.
[00:20:11] Hamish: Yes, I think that's probably both geographically and sort of, maybe burgers versus sandwiches. You're in a new location, and you're also kind of in a new category of food.
[00:20:23] Jimmy: Snarf's have been lucky because we have a lot of people that really feel very strongly about Snarf's. I could leverage Snarfburger, that was definitely a help. Launching Snarfburger was much easier than bringing Snarf's up.
[00:20:42] Hamish: You already had that kind of household, sort of brand name. That had some weight behind
[00:20:46] Jimmy: That definitely helped.
[00:20:48] Hamish: Yes, definitely safe to say you guys are pretty famous here on the front range. This is Stickers on the Mic podcast, we couldn't do it without talking about stickers and labels. We've got a few here today. What are you doing with those stickers? How are you using them to build your culture?
[00:21:05] Jimmy: Well, for the culture and for our customers we have several great little stickers, bumper stickers, just little fun things we give out for free to our customers, they take them. We have lots of labels. We have to have an organized restaurant and the back office and in the kitchen. Everything is labeled. Top to bottom, to shelves, every container. We don't not label a thing. I think they label the light switches.
[00:21:43] Hamish: I can imagine. Just looking at your menu, you got so much stuff on there. I bet it's quite the organization that goes into making all that happen.
[00:21:51] Jimmy: Also, when the time product comes in the door, we put a sticker on it to the time we prep it, it gets a sticker and it doesn't never not have a label so we know exactly when it came in, when we cut it and when we have to use it.
[00:22:15] Hamish: I guess that's the two sides of it. That's like the fun side of stickers and then as the kind of functional side of you have to just organize all that stuff that you've got going through the shop. We were sort of touching a little bit but what's next for Snarf's? Obviously, the burgers. Any new chains or any new stores or other popping up in Colorado, further afield?
[00:22:37] Jimmy: We are focused on Denver and Colorado the Front Range. We would like to see five to six store openings in the front range for the next six to seven years.
There's plenty of opportunity right here. We were working on Austin. We have two locations in Austin and four in St. Louis, and we will continue to develop those markets and probably try to find a fourth market to go into. We haven't identified any city yet, but continue to try to push the development of the brand.
[00:23:31] Hamish: What was the thinking behind Austin and St. Louis? Why did you choose those two places?
[00:23:36] Jimmy: First of all, I grew up in St. Louis and my sister lives there and her husband run those stores. Austin is such a great Boulder-like city with people who really enjoy and like food, very foodie city. It just seemed like a great natural place to go. It's very funky, cool place and we thought it would be an excellent fit for us.
[00:24:09] Hamish: Sure. Obviously, you had your family in St. Louis, how did you go about Austin? Did you have any connections down there, or was it a start from scratch situation?
[00:24:16] Jimmy: It was a start from scratch, mostly. We were approached by a gentleman down there who wished to partner with us and he's providing the seed capital for building stores down there. We agreed that Texas is an awesome market and a great opportunity for us.
[00:24:42] Hamish: Yes, I agree. I went to Austin for the first time last year and it definitely has a kind of foodie vibe. A lot of young people there. I think, yes, when you say Boulder-like, I see a lot of similarities between the two places. Definitely, definitely seems like it makes sense. That's us wrapping up for today. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk about your business. Just to finish off, where can people find you if they want to learn more, just shout out websites, social media, stuff like that.
[00:25:12] Jimmy: It's eatsnarf's.com is our website. We have 16 locations, Snarf's shops in Denver and in Boulder and we have one Snarfburger in Boulder. Shortly, we will be opening two in the next two months in Denver. We will continue to develop the area.
[00:25:38] Hamish: Yes, keep a lookout. It sounds like you're going to be everywhere.
[00:25:42] Jimmy: Well, I hope you're correct.
[00:25:44] Hamish: It definitely seems like it's going that way. I can vouch for the sandwiches. I've not had a burger yet, but the sandwiches are excellent. If they're anything to go on, the burgers will be great. Well, thank you very much, Jimmy. We've really, really appreciate it. Taking the time out today to talk to us and sharing your story and I hope our listeners picked up some tips and some insight and yes, they take something from this as well.
[00:26:07] Jimmy: It was a lot of fun spending time with you.
[00:26:09] Hamish: Thank you very much.
[00:26:10] Jimmy: Thank you.
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